Israel Quellet Oppressum

[Sub Rosa; 2007]

Styles: industrial repetitive experimental stuff
Others: Pansonic, Stephen Vitiello, CocoRosie (only coz he uses those barnyard animal toy sounds)

From my limited experience with sound installations in museums, the artist’s objective rarely seems to be to entertain the audience. More often, sound art seems gestural: the artist uses sound to challenge your preconceptions, to re- or dis- orient your thinking, to, well, point you in a different direction. While I understand the necessity of such gestures (we wouldn’t have much of an avant-garde without them) they can be hard to take, especially in the context of an hour-long album. I’m much more accustomed to feeling some kind of fundamental sympathy with the artist, albeit one that’s often borne of an adversarial relationship.

Noise artists, for example, seek out new (and ever more painful) ways to challenge their audiences, but with good noise, a certain athleticism is at work in the rapport between listener and musician. The two grapple across the music, testing each other’s limits in an opposition that feels open-ended, indeterminate. However, with more strictly gestural music, like the relentless pounding and squealing on Oppressum, the adversarial relationship can take on teacher-student overtones. I recoil in such cases, not from an opponent’s unpredictable blows, but from the sting of a lecturer’s ruler hitting my palm. In the case of Oppressum, over and over and over again, for seven minutes at a time. The adventure of a good struggle-in-dissonance disappears: Israel Quellet seems to know the lesson he wants to teach you, his music contains its exercises, and he’s going to put you through them (here’s the worst part) for your edification.1 I’m not expecting Quellet to go looking for a hook somewhere in the racket he makes banging on cisterns and scraping metal sheets together in his backyard, but there is drama and novelty to be found in noise, and in these tracks it’s rarely realized.

The album packaging gives the impression that these tracks were put on disc more-or-less as they were recorded. Quellet mentions some light studio engineering, but claims that for the most part the sounds you hear exist as they did in the process of creation. My sense of Oppressum’s didacticism is frustrates me even more when I think of the record in terms of an at-home improvisation. Comparing albums made up solely of static, echoes, and distortion (the effects normally embellishing what most listeners would consider music) may be far more dependent upon such fickle impressions than I’d like to think.

The distinction I’ve made between athletic and pedantic oppositions is certainly subject to personal taste; another listener sympathetic to this genre may find some kind of abrasive, sporting pleasure in enduring Oppressum’s insistent repetition while a related record (Thomas Brinkmann’s Klick Revolution or anything from Finnish group Pansonic, for example) would leave the same listener cold or even annoyed. What can I say? I love Brinkmann, but Quellet’s unrelenting, saturated experiments fail to move me. From where I’m sitting, if you’re interested in locating the limits of your patience or in testing the finesse of your distinctions, this record could be a good one for you. Otherwise, your time’s much better spent elsewhere.2

1 This is especially evident on tracks like “07-50 Pour voix, orgue, et saturation,” where a heavily echoed voice intones postmodern boilerplate (in French) over unchanging, distorted salvos of organ tone. Stoner metal for Deleuze scholars?

2 With Yellow Swans, for example. Or some of the other recordings on Sub Rosa.

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