Perhaps one way into Pharmafabrik's latest compilation, a comprehensive, two-CD collection featuring over two hours of music, is to consider how the label name itself originated. In a 2009 interview with Connexion Bizarre, the following was offered by an unidentified label spokesperson: “The name is only an artificial construct of the object. In this case it's about mystifying the famous poster of Bayer Pharmaceuticals from the year 1899. That's why the name was a logical choice for the label that produces a way out of reality and into the illusion.” Not that that helps clear things up completely, yet it does clarify that the label's material takes the listener away from conventional reality and into something far more illusory, and in that regard the quote's accurate enough.
Much of the collection pushes experimentalism to the extreme, with contributors from around the globe—everywhere from Japan and Russia to South Africa and the USA—questioning what constitutes music and making a typical Autechre exploration seem tame by comparison. The first half presents a bruising array of audio-psychic investigations characterized by fractured rhythms, aural shrapnel, and convulsive electronic patterning and an almost complete rejection of conventional notions of melody, harmony, and structure, the zenith of which is reached in Tokyo-based Yoshihiro Kikuchi's “Waves of Vermiform,” a spasmodic five-minute collage that could be taken for the sound of a machine choking on its own data. That the second half is wholly different in character comes as a welcome relief, especially when its emphasis is on an immersive dronescaping style that's relatively easy on the ears.
The first disc is the heavier and more aggressive of the two, and the one more likely to fray one's nerves. Japanese experimental noise artist KK Null sets the tone with a nightmarish blend of screeching birds and synthesizer sequencer patterns (“Metamorphosis de Toki”), after which Slovenian producer Neven M. Agalma gives birth to a writhing universe of hyperactive micro-textures and granular sounds (“Treget”). Believe it or not, some tracks flirt with accessibility, such as “They Give Us Body” by Nova Deviator (Slovenian artist Luka Princic) wherein something faintly resembling a funk groove underpins a stabbing splatterfest of flickering noise flourishes, and South African Chris Wood's inexplicably titled “‘G._-^..: : Dr::ne,” which, despite its collapsing, slow-motion rhythms and splintered melodic fragments, somehow manages to make some warped kind of sense. Vega Stereo's ambient-styled excursion “Morning” proves to be more soothing than harrowing, and foreshadows the tone of the release's second half, even if one must first endure the howl and screech of “Sneaker Blues,” a brutal nine-minute power-noise evisceration by Osaka-based Norihito Kodama under the NRYY name, before one gets there.
Like some primordial cavity emitting ooze, disc two opens with the carefully measured ambient-drone crawl of Velge Naturlig's “Transmortorium”—a not unwelcome move, coming as it does after NRYY's mind-melt. Moscow duo Olga Nosova and Alexei Borisov hew to Naturlig's restrained template in their Astma setting “IgE,” as does Analog Concept in the fluttering drone workout “Aliens Love This Melody.” Italian producer Fabio Orsi and Cezary Gapik contribute two of the disc's most psychotropic droneworks in “One's Own Eyes” and “#0466” respectively, the first nearly nine minutes of dark, field recordings-derived textures (industrial tones and drilling noises among them) and the second characterized by cresting waves of micro-tonal sound planes. Later pieces by Mike Browning, Audioworx, and MaCu guide the listener through grime-laden lunarscapes before an unidentified creator ends the recording with nineteen minutes of ambient turbulence and ghostly swirl that often plays like a single-piece distillation of the recording's nineteen tracks. It's experimental music, alright, and not for everyone, of that there's little doubt. But astral travellers intent on exploring the outermost limits will find Fabriksampler | V4 a rewarding trip indeed.