In his treatise on the nature of the physical world, Timaeus, Plato describes khôra as neither being nor non-being, but a space or interval in which “forms” are held. Falling into the wormhole that is philosophical discussion—especially in relation to topics such as hermeneutics, weak theory, and deconstruction (all terms I came across in a simple search through Wikipedia to fully understand what the term khôra means)—is not really a plausible option. People write books and base entire careers around mining this territory; I’m certainly not going to make a crackpot go of it in a review. Suffice it to say that Aufgehoben have either made a joke at our expense or they intend for Khora to reference its own aural destruction as being so massive as to leave only emptiness in its wake. This is sound tearing itself apart at the seams.
Over the course of the group’s four previous albums—The Violence of Appropriation, Magnetic Mountain, Anno Fauve, and Messidor—Aufgehoben have built a reputation as a band you just don’t fuck with. Each successive recording crests on waves of noise somehow louder and more blown-out than the one before it. Aufgehoben don't mask musical inability with murky recordings, either. The listener is bombarded with screeching, high-pitched feedback, stereo guitar work, and skillful drumming through a clear recording that allows one to take in the music's full breadth and depth. Khora's also not the work of a group that shits out every random recording made in its practice space. While most groups in the noise community are hellbent on suffocating their fans with wave after wave of CD-Rs, tapes, and other random releases that generally follow the same innocuous, safe paths, Khora was instead recorded in 2005 and took three years of grueling editing and re-editing until deemed “good enough” to be heard. That kind of attention to detail is what gives Aufgehoben’s music such a strikingly rich quality, a full-force brain-bashing on the first listen, with enough layers to be enjoyed repeatedly.
The first half of the album is built around three shorter pieces, “Ignorance Oblivion Contempt,” “Annex Organon,” and “A Bastard Reasoning.” “Ignorance Oblivion Contempt” begins Khora unassumingly with what sounds like over-amped, muted guitar wrangling and the sound of the band’s two drummers playing off of each other, building into a pattern. The recording itself is LOUD; you'd think this initial intro sounds like a dare between band members to crank the volume. After a few seconds, Aufgehoben lurch into a maelstrom of ear-piercing static, two-channel guitar and electronics, and those drums which have now mutated into a synchronized beast. “Annex Organon” features the sound of a mic’d up shopping cart and various bits of brick and stone. “A Bastard Reasoning” stretches out over 10 minutes, and what begins as an exercise in squalling electronics and concussive drumming eventually subsides into minimal abstraction before tapering off into near-silence at its tail end.
The second half of the album is a single, unedited piece entitled “Jederfursich,” which lasts approximately 30 minutes. The title, which in German would be “jeder für sich,” translates to “every man for himself,” and attempts to encompass the musical themes of the piece. Several themes are introduced right at the beginning, all fighting for space in the mix. Over the course of the track, each theme eventually takes precedence over the others before disappearing, being folded back into itself or compartmentalized. For example, a grinding guitar part that is the closest thing resembling an actual “riff” on Khora is introduced in the initial moments of the song, etching out a pattern for the listener to grasp onto before slipping away elusively into the abyss. The length of the piece is seemingly short, considering the ground covered here. Crumbling electronics and distorted percussion slide across one another like tectonic plates, simultaneously competing for space and destroying one another. It’s the antithesis of a band playing on as the ship sinks in elegy; this is more like madmen laughing maniacally at death while they’re burned alive with instruments in tow. In other words, if you’re going out, you might as well do so with a bang.
In an interview I conducted last year with Aufgehoben’s Stephen Robinson, he stated that Khora is the sister album to 2006’s Messidor. Even though the albums were recorded a year apart from one another, the editing process for both albums took place at the same time, leading him to think of them as counterparts. While both are absolutely excellent, it’s here on Khora that the band really brings all of the ideas present on previous recordings to fruition. There is an inherent beauty to the way Aufgehoben’s members function as a unified whole while retaining distinct personalities within the context of such abrasive music. No identity is lost in the mix, even as the sounds approach an apex of sonic violence.
In Khora, Aufgehoben have constructed a masterpiece based on an argument. If we know anything about philosophy as a whole, it’s that there never is an answer, only questions that inevitably lead to better questions. I can just imagine the kind of heated arguments and discussions that would take place over the course of three years of editing for a record like this, everyone defending his position to keep or cut very distinct pieces in relation to the whole. It’s that constant trimming and re-trimming of the fat that eventually leads them to come to something resembling a resolution. If Khora is Aufgehoben’s idea of a begrudged compromise, then at least we can be excited about the results. And, like any good philosophy, theirs poses yet another question: What’s left after the deconstruction of noise?