The fictional drug Cake, familiar to all fans of Chris Morris, slows down user perceptions to the extent that a second feels like a month. The experience requires a certain kind of music that, to soberer consciousnesses, sounds like an innocuous blip. Off your tits on cake, however, the granular details of that blip multiply like bacteria under a microscope: a spool of absurdist sound design unravels before your ears, of gabba noise interspersed with beatless mongdrones.
It’s not just that one-off moment of Morris man-mentalism that Fenn O’Berg’s In Hell brings to mind: the incessant thrum of its hyperactivity of reference suggests the dark glue-and-scissor mosaics of Arthur Lipsett illuminated by the light of a thousand laptops granulating culture. Both derive momentum from editing processes. Both reveal the guiding presence of an expert hand with bad-tempered outbursts of mischief. Neither is as daunting as their reputations might suggest: just as Lipsett’s montage vérité excites laughter before analysis, at least two tracks here — I’m thinking of “Omuta Elegy” and “Concrete Onions” — spend most of their time being beautiful.
Beauty is something Fenn O’Berg (Christian Fennesz, Jim O’Rourke, and Peter Rehberg) do well, the sort of queasy, convulsive beauty of the Surrealists: a beauty of disintegrated contexts and dislocated meanings. So the low-pitched gabba-hard kick drum that lands intermittently throughout “It Came From Nagoya” disperses a susurrus of backwards strings, a chamber music of squelches; so the mangled intro to Boston’s “More Than A Feeling” threads its way through the 40-odd minutes of opening pair “Christian Rocks” and “Vampires Of Hondori.” It is as aesthetically unlikely as any collection of objects whose only common feature is that they are for sale.
Despite having some claim to being a compilation of live recordings, one can only guess at the extent of Jim O’Rourke’s brief as editor. We are told that some rearrangements have been made, and it remains unclear whether the end product testifies to the integrity of its performers’ vision or the opportunism of its deus ex machina. It remains abundantly clear, however, that In Hell possesses a logic of its own, an inertial tendency if not actually a narrative. It could justifiably be described as a montage of montages or even the sound of all possible sounds: to take it all in one sitting is to open one’s ears to the sound of capital, that man-made force that chews up the data of the earth, finding a metonymical equivalence to Hell’s searing heat.