John Atkinson: Asasin în Lege

Though Aa (Big A little a) member John Atkinson created Asasin în Lege (Killers Inc. in the English-language version) as an instrumental soundtrack for an investigative documentary about organized crime in eastern Europe and the assassination of an influential Russian businessman, it holds up very well as a standalone work of ominous electro-acoustic character. Issued as the inaugural release on the NY-based experimental label Florabelle and mastered by Andrew Weathers (of Full Spectrum Records), Atkinson's forty-four-minute recording effectively evokes the disturbing tone of the documentary that was broadcast on Romanian and Moldovan national TV in November 2014.

Atkinson moved from Brooklyn to Los Angeles in 2011, and since then has been composing instrumental music as a solo artist and occasionally performing under the Low Nox name. Jon Hassel, Brian Eno, Oval, and Tim Hecker are among those cited as influences, and it's certainly possible to hear traces of the lattermost artist in particular in the soundtrack's oft-unsettling soundscapes. With heavily processed field recordings gathered from natural and industrial environments wedded to digital textures and instrument sounds (organ, guitar), the eight settings on Asasin în Lege conjure an underground society infested with assassins-for-hire in soundsculpted material that's variously menacing, disturbing, and even claustrophobic.

The threat of violence always seems to be lurking close by, whether it be understatedly suggested as it is during the atmospheric scene-setters “Air Lock” and “Kestrel,” with their murky ambient gestures, or more overtly alluded to in “Voyager,” where rumblings and strangulated noises slowly build into a controlled roar of knife-edged dissonance, and “Backout,” whose high-pitched strings and loud, metallic accents generate a strong sense of menace. Interestingly, the ghoulish voices moaning in “Fireworks6” lends Atkinson's work the character of an Ingram Marshall recording such as Alcatraz or Hidden Voices, while “Glore” similarly includes seaside atmospherics that wouldn't sound out of place on Alcatraz.

To Atkinson's credit, he resists the urge to overstate, though it's possible that his creative approach was guided to some degree by the awareness that the material he produced would have to serve the documentary. Even so, it's refreshing to be presented with material that's allusive rather than overly explicit in its presentation. Concentrated listening and high volume are thereby recommended for Asasin în Lege to be fully appreciated.

September 2015