Mimikry is the first full-length to emerge from the collaboration between sound and visual artist Alva Noto, a.k.a. Carsten Nicolai, and composer, voice-artist, and former Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds/Einsturzende Neubaten alumnus Blixa Bargeld. For three years they’ve focused on live performance, stressing improvisation in situ, with 2010 seeing the release of an EP, Ret Marut Handshake.
Here, they again break the silence with opener “Fall,” beginning with a thin, strangled whine, animal and pained. It does what its title says, descending into a choral caterwaul reminiscent of Mike Patton’s hotel-room multitrack suggestion “Inconsolable Widows In Search of Distraction,” from his Adult Themes For Voice.
The sound builds and terrifies. It’s exactly the kind of sound you’d make if you were asked to imitate a trapped cat, at that kind of party. It’s the kind of sound I imagine the feline-mantis-lifeform on the album’s cover would make, cocking her head slightly, beguilingly, before biting yours off. It is an example of the sound that emerges from the versatile glottis of Bargeld, a set of syllables beyond sense that, on opening and noticing, are found wormed throughout the leaves of the collection.
Nicolai, renowned for his work in cymatics, the visualization of sound, and compositions that stress duration and delicately held sheets of crystalline texture, matches Bargeld’s echoed, layered, quietly genocidal soundswell with his own ominous clarion. The sound of massively pressurized gas escaping through a pinprick. Just when the combined, oddly harmonious, and well-spatialized descending (ascending?) sound becomes overwhelmingly tactile, the gas a mylar membrane away from Hindenburg II, and the single cat reduplicated into a litter struggling in a bag halfway down an infinitely deep zero-degree Kelvin lunar seafloor vent, both parties choke back.
Far from the unrelenting side-long pummeling that we might expect from the likes of Merzbow, and despite this opening resonance, ANBB offer quite a varied sushi-set of sonic compartments. After the hackle-raising — but only two-odd-minute-long — descent of “Fall,” there are at least four or five other discernible ‘movements’ in the track’s 10 minutes. Stuttering fragments of each movement contaminate the other, Bargeld’s voice ranging from the softest whisper to strident, Carstein’s electronics moving from supercool gas to supernal warmth and back. Minimal piano lines emerge, recalling Nicolai’s (Alva Noto’s) collaborations with Yellow Magic Orchestra’s Ryuichi Sakamoto. Splinters of Nicolai’s trademark metallic and percussive microsounds needle through the layers. In all its richness and diversity, the beginning bento box indexes the remainder, the “other story, the new,” in those rare words of Bargeld’s that here don’t adhere to the form of pure, non-signifying utterance.
Industrial rears its head immediately thereafter, Nicolai tapping into the beefier sounds of his alter ego Byetone before settling back into a brilliant cover of Nilsson’s “One.” The original inspiration for the Nilsson song — a telephone’s busy signal — transfers nicely into an electronic setting, and Bargeld’s voice is a gentle, perfect balance between plaintive and playful. Clearly he respects his source even as he relishes the chance to transpose it into a setting of icy synthbergs and, yes, a small burlap sack of slow-poisoned cats corralled into a backing chorus.
Whistling LPG and veterinary nightmares wend their way again across a field of wonky time-signatures in the EBM-inflected “Ret Marut Handshake,” but are entirely anesthetized and burnt off for the restrained, razor-and-sawtooth rendition of classic US folk number “I Wish I Was a Mole in the Ground.” Over an ice-cold bed of stereo-panning, uncluttered, clipped, and percussive machine funk that wouldn’t be amiss on Autechre’s Tri Repetae, Bargeld plainsongs then snarls through the verses. The exercise has a far more disquieting tone than the cover of “One,” dispensing — as you might expect in the hands of these collaborators — with any shred of banjo-and-barndance folk jollity to expose the starkly disturbing narrative knotted into the grassroots of the song’s origins and mythology.
This sense of disquiet is amplified on the title track “Mimikry,” where Bargeld intones that “You as an insect/ Mimic yourself” alongside the kind of matter-of-fact Speak & Spell vocal sampling that littered a thousand industrial and hip-hop records of the cut & paste Ninja Tunes bent. It feels a tad trite, even as it recalls the insectoid conceit of the cover art and supposedly ‘incorporates the words’ of that same model — the model simply known as Veruschka, who has made a career of contorting herself in the name of art, most famously before the camera of David Hemmings’ photographer in Antonioni’s Blow-Up.
After a forgettable lull on the penultimate track — notable only for an alarm-clock reawakening to attention in its closing seconds, where it does indeed sound as if Merzbow or at least Alva Noto at his most caustic had been recruited — Veruschka contributes ‘vocals’ (those cat sounds!) to a great finale. “Katze” hears Veruschka and Bargeld prowl around each other in a way I can’t help but compare to Lydia Lunch and James Chance’s pre-linguistic slow burn sex & phone sax duet “Stained Sheets,” with Bargeld gently coaxing and both of them meowing, sparring, hissing, and purring as the track dissolves first into dizzy muted organ chords and increasingly bit-crushed electronic textures.
It’s an infectiously odd end to an album that is strangely unsatisfying in the best aesthetic sense, if only because such a sense provokes anticipation. Perhaps ANBB were wise to thrash out the mesh of their individual sonic peccadilloes in live-improvisation before committing them to disc. As such, it hangs together inasmuch as a dystopic ruin can. As “Katze” winds out like an exhausted dynamo, Bargeld’s last lines — “What is this? Where am I?” — are a tantalizing indication of what could — and should — be an ongoing exploration in sound by these two seasoned, well-suited experimenters and their coven of familiars.