Three Legged Race Living Order / Mourning Order

[Tone Filth; 2008]

Rating: 3.5/5

Styles: DIY electronics, minimalism, drone, noise
Others: Nautical Almanac, Kites, Hair Police, Burning Star Core, Eyes & Arms of Smoke
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Most widely known for his work in Hair Police and Burning Star Core (and to a lesser degree, Eyes & Arms of Smoke), Robert Beatty's Three Legged Race project doesn't so much transcend the works of his noisy contemporaries as it does complement them. On Living Order / Mourning Order -- a vinyl-only collection of a cassette and CD-R from 2006 -- one gets the sense that Beatty's aesthetic isn't concerned with romanticizing any tired notions of progression. Its signifying capabilities are so indebted (and consequently restricted) to the current experimental electronics aesthetic that it swiftly renders adjectives like "forward-thinking" and "experimental" redundant or moot. In other words, Beatty's music chooses continuity, not disruption.

Not that it's something to lament. If Three Legged Race isn't notable for puncturing the concepts of Music and Art, it's certainly notable for its restrained economy and lack of conceit. Tension and release, mainstays in noise due to its frequent lack of rhythm, propel the music on Living Order / Mourning Order, but trying to weave a narrative out of its composed sound pieces and occasional randomness is best left to aspiring storytellers. What I hear is perpetual struggle -- between commodity and performance, entertainment and artifact, clarity and the obtuse -- and Beatty's refined approach is the most compelling aspect. He's done his time, and it shows.

Although recorded separately, both sides of the record fit well together. The first movement of "Living Order" (Side A) explores the sonic range of Beatty's "primitive" electronics, favoring high-pitched tones that bend, swerve, and fidget along to produce something resembling aggression, while the second movement -- my favorite moment of the record -- trends toward minimalism through the repetition and eventual exhaustion of a simple theme that's an elbow's length away from tonality. The movement's resulting overtones alone are enough to warrant a listen. Meanwhile, "Mourning Order" (Side B), picks up where "Living Order" conceptually left off, the track once again emphasizing repetition before deteriorating into a feedback drone. It then goes through several permutations, flirting with dynamic contrast and trying its best to not let the random flickering dissipate into the sonic ether.

Three Legged Race's music isn't necessarily a warm invitation into the world of experimental electronics, but it's also not an abrasive "fuck off if you don't understand this" either. In fact, it seems to come from a background just as much influenced by noise rock's roughness as it is by minimalism's purism or modern composition's intellectualism. Of course, the negotiating process between the listener and the sound-maker is not one without bumps, and trying to both understand its language and internalize it as your "own" will require open ears. Put another way, Living Order / Mourning Order isn't that one album that'll convert the non-believers, but it does underscore that the state of "noise" has survived as a viable alternative, even though its aesthetics are grounded comfortably in familiar frameworks.

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