Geoff Mullen: Armory Radio
Barge Recordings

NY-based Barge Recordings has established itself as an experimental label of note after only three recordings: the 2006 Innature compilation, The Fun Years' Life-Sized Psychoses, and now Geoff Mullen's double-album set Armory Radio. The Providence, Rhode Island guitarist and sound sculptor presents an uncompromising vision on the limited-edition release (it's an extended reworking of an original CDR version, with each of the new 500 vinyl copies hand-screened, hand-stamped, and hand-numbered) which was generated from electric guitar as well as scavenged bits of broken and obsolete equipment (boombox, radios, cassette players, speakers). Named after an old Providence armory in Mullen's neighborhood, Armory Radio is variously white-hot, scalding, volatile, violent, and volcanic but it's also much more.

The concoction Mullen generates is so thick and densely detailed, it becomes a veritable Rorschach; one seemingly hears in the opening fifteen-minute piece, for example, a dying animal's agonized moan, tormented souls wailing, and a thunderous train that brings the side to a barreling close. The opening piece also includes a cyclone of blurry noise that swells rapidly into an immense cauldron of molten material. Side two opens with an extended orgy of hydraulic creaks and groans that's slightly more subdued than the first piece. The intensity level escalates in the second half, however, as waves of blurry noise swell in size and force, though not so much that they prevent a jazz bassist's walking line from rising to the surface, and for other musicians to be faintly glimpsed too. Side three begins with a slow-burning, monolithic drone that hums for ten minutes like a German tank but the mood shifts thereafter into a broodingly atmospheric episode that'sóbelieve it or notóeven downright placid during its remaining eleven minutes. The fourth side likewise opens in a subdued textural mode where simmering ripples of buzzing noise drone quietly and radio voice transmissions emerge. Almost imperceptibly, the piece builds in density and volume, becoming ever more thick and hazy with each passing minute, until controlled blasts start trying to wrest free of the sonic mass and blistering noises begin to broil aggressively. But just when it seems on the verge of exploding into a cauldron of relentless activity, the sound flattens again into a thick droning haze at the center of which guitar lines are heard.

Though nominally Armory Radio aligns itself to the noise genre, Mullen's material is far more musical than that term implies; if anything, the set shows naysayers that brutal noise can also be immensely pleasurable. Throughout Mullen's set, the listener is drawn into its vortex and rapturously vanishes into its center.

November 2007