The concept of “place” is often crucial to our understanding of certain artists/works. In pop music, the role of place can occasionally overtly drive the musical/lyrical content of a song. Van Dyke Parks’ Song Cycle is a great example of this with its specific yet abstracted mentions of Los Angeles landmarks. Of course, this notion of location can also be much more esoteric in more popular realms of music too. Often a particular place can be used to define a particular musical style or zeitgeist; the development of Norwegian black metal and the slight variations in early blues music (i.e. Delta vs. Chicago blues) are instances of this more abstract notion of place. However, all of the distinctive characteristics in the above instances of place based music can still be analyzed and understood in theoretical terms. So, how can experimental and noise works evoke and reference a particular place without being directly programmatic and/or theory driven? One such way is through the aural philosophy driving regional movements such as the respective worlds of Houston noise and onkyo music but geography also seems to play an implicit role in the creation of abstract work when looking at the sonic differences between the catalogs of folks like Kevin Drumm and Merzbow.
During the last several years, the American Southwest (and particularly Albuquerque) has seemingly given rise to a distinctive style of experimental music and Mesa Ritual (the duo of William Fowler Collins and Raven Chacon) is an excellent example of this new place driven music. Like Collins’ recent solo work and many of Chacon’s various projects, Mesa Ritual’s music focuses on slowly unfurling sounds that manage to pummel the listener, not so much with volume, but with an overwhelming sense of tension. Their track “Procession VIII” builds on and processes a singular repetitive rhythm that eventually gets consumed by distortion and electronic/acoustic drones. It always seems like it might explode at any given second, but instead builds until it collapses.
While the title “Procession VIII” in conjunction with Chacon and Collins’ band name may immediately bring to mind some sort of pagan ritual with the track’s repetitive rhythms and string drones, “Procession VIII” seems inextricably tied to the landscape of New Mexico for me. The type of developing stasis heard here is also present in the works of many Sicksicksick artists from the area and seems to almost come directly out of the monolithic presence of the desert. Sure, there’s a similar sense of dread and stasis in the work of artists like Thomas Köner but the aural differences between his music and the work of Mesa Ritual are immediately apparent. Köner’s sounds have an icy distance to them while the work of Chacon and Collin’s is dusty, smudged, and flat with mountains of noise looming in the distance. With “Procession VIII”, Mesa Ritual has created a piece that captures the essence of a place through abstraction.
“Procession VIII” will be available on Mesa Ritual’s self-titled record for SIGE Records on May 20. You can stream the track below: