Dave Phillips & Cornelia Hesse-Honegger: Mutations

Sound sculptor Dave Phillips and visual artist Cornelia Hesse-Honegger pool their talents for the thirty-seven-minute vinyl release Mutations (available in 250 hand-numbered copies). Though the Zürich, Switzerland-based Phillips has a background in grindcore, doom-metal, and other radical sound ventures, his recent work has focused more on field recordings of animal sounds, while Hesse-Honegger, a scientific illustrator for twenty-five years at the University of Zürich, has been painting leaf bugs for many decades, and since the Chernobyl explosion, has been studying the mutated morphology of insects found in radioactive regions.

As a collaborative project, Mutations would appear, then, to be a natural fit for both of them. Hesse-Honegger's cover and insert illustrations depict the mutated and normal heads and bodies of flies and damsel bugs, the renderings reflecting her conviction (supported by formal study) that normally working nuclear power plants produce deformities in insects. Phillips, who created his two long-form settings from source material recorded in Thailand and Vietnam between 1994 and 2007, blends, stretches, smears, and layers the sounds into sprawling masses of vertiginous and hallucinatory design. Following a scene-setting shriek, the album's first side explores a micro-sound jungle of magnified insectoid thrum, bird chatter, animal croak, and creeping noctural atmosphere—a disorienting landscape drowning in detail. Midway through, an industrial drone suggests the presence of some lost tribe before the increasingly turbulent sound mass swells to a feverish climax that evokes the venomous attack of a prototypical noise artist until an abrupt flameout transpires. The nightmare carries over to the second side where the presence of wildlife abounds, whether it be the chattering clicks of an insect masticating or the swoop of animal cries. The disturbing ambiance grows when radio interference and churning machine noises join in, and the gradual increase in disorientation exemplified by side one's material repeats itself in slightly different form. Describing Mutations, as ini.itu does, “a lysergic trip to the heart of darkness,” turns out to be a succinct characterization.

February 2011