DJ Olive: Triage

Robbie Avenaim: Rhythmic Movement Disorder

DJ Olive's final “sleeping pill” in his ROOM40 ambient trilogy (2004's Buoy and 2006's Sleep the others) is as strong an argument as one could imagine for the concept of “headphones listening.” Heard at low volume sans headphones, the material might sound like little more than a modestly evolving hour-long piece, in this case one created as a soundtrack for the Triage tent (Triage itself an installation made for the 2008 Whitney Biennial), but close listening reveals a wealth of detail that keeps the listener fully engaged for the duration. Waves, vaporous whooshes, and washes function as connecting threads on top of which vocal murmurs, ARP and Moog synthesizers, guitars, harmonica, turntables, and even bagpipes appear. Don't get the wrong idea, though: you won't hear anything as conventional as a bluesy harmonica or guitar solo; the myriad, often-processed sounds are blended into the mix, resulting in a dense totality that we hear as an ever-changing mass that generally hews to a consistent dynamic level throughout. Helping to flesh out the sound are David Watson (bagpipes), Vija Brazus (percussion, guitar, vocals), Karl Franke (harmonica, vocals, ARP, Moog), DJ Reaganomics (turntable), and Christian Fennesz (production, processing) while Olive himself (“audio janitor” Gregor Asch) contributes guitar, turntable, keyboards, and more to the mix. Evocative turntable additions sometimes extend the palette into ghostly territories, while gentle guitar strums and “real-world” field recording elements (footsteps, voices, insects, and outdoor noises) help naturalize the material. Textural traces of Olive's “illbient” past also surface throughout, giving the material an aqueous, even amoebic character.

That Robbie Avenaim's Rhythmic Movement Disorder is percussion-driven is clearly borne out by the list of instrumentation listed on the inner sleeve, with drums, junk, e-sticks, vibrators, tuned percussion, and concrete cutters apparently the sum-total of resources Avenaim draws upon for this four-part, half-hour release. There's an experimental and open-ended feel to the material, which doesn't surprise given his collaborative involvement with kindred sonic explorers such as Otomo Yoshihide, Oren Ambarchi, and Keith Rowe. The release, which collects material created over the better part of a decade, couples prepared percussion workouts and atonal electronic settings. The album title refers to a documented syndrome associated with involuntarily movement of limbs and certainly the opening piece, “Headbanging,” brings the concept to sonic fruition via seven minutes of agitated, freewheeling rhythm patterning. But Avenaim quickly shifts gears in the pieces that follow: “Headrolling,” for example, eschews rhythm elements altogether for a five-minute cruise through the upper galaxies. In this case, shimmering tendrils of electronic streams stretch across the light years in an electroacoustic setting one could easily have imagined Kubrick incorporating into the final third of 2001: A Space Odyssey. The twelve-minute “Bodyrolling” impressively integrates the various strands of Avenaim's music-making into a singular culminating statement. Diverse percussive noises punctuate slowly unfurling waves of electrical sound, resulting in an atmospheric portrait of gloom and desolation that's powerfully evocative.

January 2009