Reviews by Massimo Ricci

The A23H chronicle


ALFRED HARTH - Nu:clear re:actor (0 Back)

This double helping of intelligent chaos and refined cut'n'paste, a fundamental chapter in Alfred Harth's "Mother Of Pearl" series, is essentially a computer music treasure trove containing an awful lot of messages camouflaged in its complex, often impregnable structure. In this case, the composer's political statement is very clear, as the two discs are respectively an aural manifestation of his thoughts about the North Korean nuclear issue and a "sonic time-lapse/slow-motion of 911 twentyhundredone & its aftermath" (sic). By the way, the sum of 9, 11 and 2+0+0+1 totals 23 - not the first coincidence that parallels the author's life (and favourite number) with historical events. Even the record's title comes handy for multi-reference purpose: Harth used indeed sounds of reactors among the various sources, but the double dots divide it into "New clear (re) actor" which is a hint to Kim Jong II, ruler of North Korea, notorious film fanatic and "one of the first guys (after the Cold War) before Iranians to re-act to US politics in a very astonishing self-conscious way". Who else could have ever concealed such a wealth of information in two words? Harth reports that he also utilized "distorted shouts of Korean shamans, archaic sounds, voices, trumpets as well as the plateaux of clicks and cuts". Especially in the second CD, the results of this preparation are breathtaking, eliciting a sense of acute, if conscious anxiousness. Additional contributors include Olivier Griem, Yi Soonjoo, Choi Sun Bae, Joe Foster, Phil Minton, Domestic Stories. With "Nu:clear re:actor" Harth confirms himself to be one of the most perceptive artists around, in constant search of definitions for something that looks evident on the surface but hides lots of obscure, often undesirable truths instead. Those who can't decode his forebodings and consequent elucubrations will find this music difficult to penetrate, despite the presence of several elements that sound familiar. Speaking about the first disc, "Tat tvam asi (das bist du)" is built upon a deep vocal growl whose mystical nuances become pretty scary with the passage of time, while all around percussion and electronics create a series of drops and bumps that contribute to the painting of a desolated landscape of hopeless abandon, the whole surrounded by an electronic mantle that causes the receivers to remain stuck to their seat, uncapable of changing their mind about the next gesture or even the next thought to be made. The subsequent "Nodong" contains elements that border on the primitive, yet the studio treatment deforms those possibilities into utter distortion and outlandish degradation until our mind enters a real-time nightmare of the worst species. "Vestiges of Japanese imperialism" is a wonderful trip through premonitory whirlwinds and minimalist melodies of a remodelled song, constantly scarred by shortwave frequencies and definitively altered by what sounds like a dozen radios playing all at once. "Magic lantern" uses irregular drumming and shapeless utterances to build its momentum amidst interferences of any kind; one feels compelled to close the eyes and travel through uncommon psychic dimensions. "Stellen des Todes" features whispers that are impressively similar to the ones used in Frank Zappa's "Are you hung up?", opening track of "We're only in it for the money", and is terminated by some kind of looped mechanic seagull. The second disc - whose titles all begin with the letter "T" - immediately finds Phil Minton's employment as a strangled shouter introducing amorphous rappers in "Trace". "Tower" is a clamorous juxtaposition of explosions and various dramatic noises, probably the most detailed aural photograph that Harth could have taken to represent "the moment"; everything seems to dissolve and self-destroy in a growingly apprehensive audiodrama, an electronic low drone underlining the whole in selected moments of the piece. "Tat" gives hiss a rhythmic significance, the music based on an incessant propulsion highlighted by almost incomprehensible disturbance and omnipresent distorted voices. The superimposition of trumpets and menacing buzz in "Tinctur" is an important juncture in the totality of this record, demonstrating that we can never expect anything foreseeable from this outsider. Particularly fascinating to these ears is the use of "fake Hollywood" soundtrack snippets in this segment, a shot to the "many American cinematic models of the real destruction of the skyscrapers". "Tube" mixes drum'n'bass and no-input counter-sociology to wake us up from the narcotic belief in a "better world", while "Tang" is, purely and simply, a masterpiece that I'll let yourself to discover and enjoy. I'd need another thousand words to better explain something that, more than a sheer "release", is basically the detailed portrait of an artist's awareness. This music punches hard and sharp, still retaining its ferocious drive and documentary power after years from its release (in 2003). "Nu:clear re:actor" is an unsung gem that needs to be heard, one of the very best efforts by Alfred Harth.

In Touching Extremes