Seht & Stelzer Exactly What You Lost

[Intransitive; 2006]

Rating: 4/5

Styles: drone, ambient, psych-noise
Others: Growing, Wolf Eyes, Joseph Hammer

All too often the meetings of infamous noisemakers yield results that are not complementary to either artist’s strengths and end up somewhat analogous to a generic 12-bar blues jam. It comes with a great sigh of relief, then, that the collaboration between Seht (Stephen Clover) and Howard Stelzer is a perfect hybrid of the two entities. The collaboration avoids the traps of monotony through maximalism and sheer wankery, and is never too tepid or pandering due to the artists' respect for one another. Through this New Zealand / Boston tape exchange there was little verbal communication, yet the two work together perfectly, creating a singular force rather than flexing the muscles of each individual.

While the duo’s work can easily be classified as drone music, it’s quite the opposite of the monolithic tone easily associated with the genre. While most drones have a way of superseding the properties of the instruments involved and the human propelling them, Seht and Stelzer’s sound is something much more humanistic. Both basking in the sounds of magnetic tape, they are not bashful about exploiting the character of their instruments, and their vintage tone reeks of 30-year-old magnetic tape running across the heads of dusty old machinery. Their gradual crescendos rarely sound self-sustained, yet despite exploiting the inconsistencies of their motors, they carry the same weight as something seemingly more infinite.

There’s a certain pseudo-nostalgia that comes from the exploits of Seht and Stelzer’s tape medium, and judging by Seht’s blurry road-trip photos in the liner notes, this is not a mere coincidence. Their hypnotic homeliness isn’t immediately apparent judging by the album’s first two-and-a-half minutes: quite literally a decoy that sounds as though tape is brutally being rewound and unraveled at dangerously high speeds. Following an alarming introduction, their psychedelic buzz-saw tones are par for the course amongst the noise/drone core, but, again, it’s their process and the materials involved that give the duo the feeling of a yellowing photograph. Occasional footsteps, outdoor noises, and the fumbling of a tape recorder all help emphasize the mysterious, lived-in character of Exactly What You Lost.

Despite its curious ambience, it’s not ambient music by a long shot. And as it plays out, it’s not without the brooding density and sonic complexity found in most successful drone music. Track 5, the final piece (and by far the lengthiest), introduces an unfamiliar keyboard sound into the mix, and over a 22-minute build up, their music finally jumps out of its murky fidelity and takes over the speakers. Like the album's disorienting opening, this final apex ends by fading into primal rhythmic pulse, throwing yet another small curveball into the mix. Like being awoken from a deep sleep by an alarm, the beat starts out as disorienting but quickly becomes a reality, flushing away the haze that once was. Through fragility, high-end-deprived wow and flutter, and thrift-store memories, Seht and Stelzer have come together as a singular unit and created nothing short of a humble monster.

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