I've always underscored the importance of context in order to rationalize or to "understand" or to make sense of music, especially styles removed from the identity-shaping music of your formative years. Equating merengue with salsa, for example, reflects ignorance more than anything else. But while listening to Bay Area resident Irr. App. (Ext.)'s Perekluchenie, the sort of calculated contextualization that can lead to historical appreciation and insight is eclipsed by its insular peculiarities -- it is certainly refreshing that an “experimental” album can depend on more than the listener's historical grasps of dissonance, atonalism, and arrhythmicacy for appreciation (though the album features all three, of course). Difficult? Relatively. Confrontational? Not necessarily. Perekluchenie unfolds invitingly, slowly unraveling its musical and contextual worlds like oil paints oxidizing on canvas to expose its intended visual depth: it’s a lengthy process in which the rewards are directly proportionate to your level of engagement.
While other so-called avant-garde albums play in a similar but distinctively cold fashion, the humanity of Perekluchenie is made manifest in "Nothing to It: A Pointless Theatrical Exercise in One Act Or Less," a short play printed on Perekluchenie's inner sleeve. Featuring a scene of a 19th-century donkey-headed dandy, a giggling man harnessed to a metal chair, and a contorted English peasant knitting a sweater out of a wet tangle of intestines emerging from the slit of a naked midget's stomach, "Nothing to It" trades the rational and explicit for the surreal and abstract. It's beautiful in the most disturbing way, a sort of muted shock deafened only by its calm sophistication and sublime imagery. Think Max Ernst, Sigmund Freud, Nurse with Wound, and Karl Marx. Then imagine them all in David Lynch’s Red Room.
Despite the penetrating visuals, the text of the play is the most fascinating aspect. A lucid conversation between the aforementioned peasant and dandy dominates, as they ruminate on such weighty topics as morality, rationalism, ideology, compassion, materialism/idealism, individualism, and human nature. Their debate reads like an internal dialogue, full of suppositions and contradictions. As such, the play feels like it exists outside a linear framework, working in the way a painting might "work" on the viewer or how ideology, or even theory, might work on society. Ironically, the play ends with the dandy and peasant criticizing modern theatre as "pointless" and confusing, missing the metaphorical moment that plays right before them (you'll have to read the play to fully understand the implication of the metaphor).
This is how one might also describe the music on Perekluchenie. Equally surreal, sublime, confusing, and intellectually stimulating, Irr. App. (Ext.)'s deft execution is both commanding and indeterminate, edited in a way that resists conventional musical narratives and avoids even the most avant-garde traps. And yet it's part of a dialogue of music, not a blind statement of Originality. The emphasis is on the tactile quality of the music, and it'd be difficult not to respond with intrigue. Sculpting sonic images and remapping music's spatial geography, Perekluchenie flounders languidly from ethereal drones ("Hypothetical Tardigrade Resurrection, Pt. 2-3") to organic/electronic voice snippets ("Perekluchenie"), pauses with a more overt musical passage ("Wretched Density"), weaves its way through the spastic, indecipherable wreckage of "Hypothetical Tardigrade Resurrection, Pt. 4-6," and shatters into "Milking the Dead for Distraction," perhaps the most unsettling of them all.
With both the ironic conclusion of the play and the unresolved tension that ends the music, Perekluchenie provokes more questions than answers. If anything, though, it becomes clear in my interpretation that this is the point. As the title of the play suggests, is there “nothing to” it all? Is modern art a “pointless exercise” when it is bound to be misunderstood or misinterpreted? How do these questions fit with the play's emphasis on individuality, ideology, morality, and compassion? How does my supposedly subjective interpretation play a role? What about the music? The meaning of the play and music is indeed “subjective,” but whether or not Irr. App. (Ext.) intended my interpretation (especially the tenuous relationship between the play and music) is moot. What’s important is how it means, not necessarily what is meant. So, yes, the appreciation of Perekluchenie is dependent on the listener's subjective engagement in its various texts and its wider, historical context, but with such open-ended opportunities and a wealth of material to wade through, what's left is infinite possibility.
1. Hypothetical Tardigrade Resurrection, Pt. 2-32. Perekluchenie: The Stairway3. Wretched Density4. Hypothetical Tardigrade Resurrection, Pt. 4-65. Milking the Dead for Distraction