Windy City noisemaker Kevin Drumm makes challenging music, but you knew that already. If you saw Drumm’s name, recognized it then clicked on this link, you know that his stuff is the hair on the knuckles of avant-garde’s guard. Wrong Intersection is no exception. With the Trouble release from same calendar year, Drumm showed us how quiet he can be. Wrong Intersection brings us back to splitting the difference between quiet and noise and, consequently, splitting our ears in the process. And while this style of art definitely has its fans, outsiders will wonder what makes a release like this one, or any other one from Drumm, that unique. Does the thing have a narrative? Is there some proverbial wrong intersection that prompted him to make this? Is there a higher purpose or is it just static?
Those are questions best directed to Kevin Drumm. While the grand purpose of Wrong Intersection isn’t clear, a listener can still trace the piece’s shape. There is one track only, spanning 47 minutes. Drumm develops it at a rate he sees fit. The first three-plus minutes are the desolate landscape exposition where high winds combine with a low, vibrating tone. White noise interrupts at 3:52. It rises and falls in volume, bounces from one side of the mix to the other and makes room for a few prehistoric growls. At least that’s what I think they are. The scrambling becomes increasingly more agitated before they drop out at around the 7:50 mark. “Wrong Intersection” is now riding on a sinister hiss into its own little unknown. The hiss turns into waves. The waves turn into thunder crashes. There is a quick electronic squeal at 11:09 and all goes silent.
The track awakens in a glowing graveyard, wandering for the next four minutes, pondering what to do next. Around 15:18, it decides to become a monolithic digital hum. What were once washes now turn into buzzes at 21:21. This makes things tenser, sounding like a swarm of bees that want to shift to the left side of your head but something keeps pulling them back to the center. In other words, something is slowly chasing something else. As the buzzes die down around the 26:30 mark, “Wrong Intersection” begins to sound more like an ambient piece than musique concrète. But these ghostly tones are swallowed by tin can static at 30:17. After more unnerving silence, the track wakes up very woozy, swaying electronically while trying to find its footing. Then it’s deathly quiet ambient music for nearly four minutes! The ghostly tone is back, hovering like the lone light bulb in a freaky basement. There are a few teases along the way, like a soft mechanical clatter, but the deafening quiet holds court until seven minutes from the end. At the forty-minute mark, the static slowly fades into the mix. And just before the track is out, it reaches full volume.
Wrong Intersection isn’t a quiet piece but it plays with the idea of quiet within the avant-garde. For the first half of the track, the quiet is an introductory device and an interrupter. For the second half of the track, quiet is the set of rails on which the sound rides. Anyone can make racket. But it takes a whole different league of artists to freak you out in the empty space. Kevin Drumm has been in that league for a while and Wrong Intersection shows his batting average remaining high.