November 12th, 2013
Nine biomorphic forms neatly arranged in a grid, looking like something you might find in a book of Ernst Haeckel illustrations, — among them a writhing anemone, an alien sponge clump, a spiky yawning pod, & new growth sprouting from seed — this is the cover of “Jochen Arbeit & Huan”, the 2013 LP by Jochen Arbeit (Einstürzende Neubauten member since 1997) & Huan (A.K.A. Víctor Hurtado from Qa’a, a band whose work I’ve previously reviewed here). And, in a way, these spare images aptly sum up the powerful music produced by this collaboration: ~18 minutes of carefully-arranged sound that call to mind the language of ancient lifeforms undersea & from the soil, lifeforms being born, flowering & dying across the sonic spectrum, from murmur & chatter to drone & pulse to shriek & howl.
Arbeit & Huan, using what sounds to be just guitar & drum machine, start the first of the LP’s two tracks with a steady heartbeat pulse & low ominous drone. Above that backbeat, spectral steam bursts punctuate gradually-swelling guitarscapes. The music gathers, howls, suggesting the primordial, the elemental: a vast red geyser-shot terrain that could be a world’s first hesitant centuries, or a barren dusty planet eons after wipeout. The sound of algae forming, trilobytes thickening their chitin under a violent sky. Late in the track, the beat & low-end drop out, giving way to long, sustained squealing distorted notes twisting & angling around each other. The track crescendoes to a rich complex noise-barrage.
Part two begins more delicately, the guitar squall thinned out & less dense, replaced by a background squeal & occasional clattering percussion. Recessed underwater grotto guitar explorations follow, accented with cavernous space droplets. The guitar’s midrange grinds back in near the end, intensifying the sound. The piece ends in a satisfying, delicate fade-out, a tiny mechanical underlying motif endlessly repeating.
What distinguishes this effort is its focus & sense of architecture across its relatively short running time. There’s no shortage of kosmic guitar-driven post-Kraut prog in today’s musical landscape, but it’s rare to find that aesthetic married, as it is here, with exceptional restraint & a sense of organization. Arbeit & Huan’s collaboration feels purposeful, departing from the merely ambient & moodscaping, sustaining interest by providing variety & detail of timbre, range, development, motif & dynamics. The music rewards close listening, its ideas, motifs & sound-cells arriving & departing with surprising, natural flow, like exotic unicellular critters sliding in & out of a microscope’s view. Preview the record here on soundcloud.
“Jochen Arbeit & Huan” is released on the not-for-profit, Barcelona-based Màgia Roja label.
For more about Jochen Arbeit, check out his site.
For more about Huan & the band Qa’a, and other Màgia Roja musicians, check out Màgia Roja’s Facebook Page.