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Coelacanth The Chronograph

Sound Art: Conceptual Ear-Artists Build Walls of grey Styrofoam for the hard of hearing, but what is their reward? by Ed Pinsent


Sound Projector #11, 2003

A highly productive record of indistinct murmurs and brumblings captured live from unearthly happenings in the cityscape, performed by two magicians in search of hidden energies. This completely non-musical distorr-oh rumblesence picks up the story from where id battery left off. And I for one am happy (that the story continues). id battery were Americans Loren Chasse and Brandon Labelle - their work (solo or otherwise) has featured in TSP since issue three onwords. Brandon, though still qualified as a paid-up member of the Justice League of Avant-Maniacs, has since pursued a solo career and become a little flakey in my view. He took up an academic residency in London, and has occasionally veered into pretentiousness in his recent slew of hit-or-miss releases. He continues to mine the same ideas of site-specific environmental work, and personal explorations of urban landscapes inspired by the dérive wanderings of Guy Debord. Where Labelle fails on the latter score is that he lacks the political fibre to make good, I suspect.

On the present release, Loren Chasse is joined by Jim Haynes, the all-rounder good guy from San Francisco who works at Aquarius Records, contributes a column of high weirdness to The Wire magazin, and is now associated with 23five, a record label devoted to strange and unusual noise. "I rust things" is his motto - referring to his artworks, an example of which is inserted as an "individually rusted cover" in this limited edition of 500 copies.

This release is a derivative from ambiguous sources... "unspecified public and private performances from 1999-2001" is the only clue the artists will give us. Perhaps they think like Dave Knott and his secretive sound-sculptures situated in diverse parts of Seattle, which can only be discovered through precise instructions which might allow passers-by to commit "a lewd act of listening." To Chasse and Haynes, I would surmise that the term performance means something marginal and personal, perhaps making furtive visits at 4am to remote and forbidden zones of the city to seek what inaccessible information they may. Perhaps the location has an untapped source of energy, lurking in an unlikely setting. Joseph Beuys, the great German ecological artist (and one of the few men who could have actually assisted the world to improve, if he'd been allowed to proceed) also believed in untapped energy sources. Except he would tend to focus on objects, not places; a photograph in one corner of his studio depicts a pile of Irish peat blocks he'd collected, one of many ungainly objects which he took to be psychic batteries, or metaphors of such batteries. I suppos the compacted peat blocks would slowly release heat when put on the fire. It takes a loony artist to see this as meaning something more than it is.

Elements, the laws of physics, the erratic behaviours of nature... all of these are observed by Haynes and Chasse, and discerned anew through the flapping ears of art. Determined to find poetry in the city, they end up documenting and magnifying invisible or unknown events, and translating them into the sonic richness herein. The first track "A Peculiar Stone or the Iron Molecule" twitters for over 20 minutes in a relentless exploration of these very these very things, and is liable to hypnotise you into a trance. An additional distressed surface to the recording adds an extra patina of art, like putting filters over the camera lens, thus distorting source material which might otherwise be just another environment record. But I like to think that despite all of the feyness implied by the actions of these SF gonks, there is a mysterious magic at work here, a modern ritual performed with talismanic objects. They call this The Chronograph, but it seems to measuring something more than simply time passing. "Method of Extracting a Live Wire" is but one of their cryptic receipts for urban magic; "How Bodies Become Phosphorescent" is but one of the amazing results of their love-philtre. If you can get a hold of a copy of this marginal rarity, you too may be transformed from a frog to a prince.