Doing What Needn’t Be Done, Because they Must.
Aufgehoben’s fourth full-length release continues their method of brief improvised recording followed by lengthy processing, but they are getting quicker. The tantalizingly beautiful Anno Fauve was recorded in a day and processed for three years. Such attention to detail resulted in a fantastically chamfered maelstrom of sounds. The record was full of tension and release by turns uneasy, brutal, lovely, crushingly erotic, intense, uplifting, and agile. In the swirl, stutter and slam of twin drummers, electronics and guitar, I heard irritation, the layering of musical nacre, and formation of pearls. Surrendering to the implausible rhythm allowed for a strange relaxation to occur in the listener.
Messidor hastens into view a mere two years after it’s original recording session and rumors suggest that the follow-up (derived from an alloy pole, steel bars and a shopping trolley) is already done. Furthermore, The Wire magazine has interviewed a guitarist I refuse to name who joined them for the Messidor session, they have done several gigs, and generally the spotlight seems to be finding Aufgehoben. Regardless or whether or not they are enjoying all of that, if I had my way they would be doing exactly the opposite. They would be keeping total anonymity, never playing in front of an audience, and most importantly, increasing the time to process their recording. Cold showers and oatmeal would be optional.
Using terms like “assault” or “darkness” to describe the louder parts of Aufgehoben’s work cheapens their reason to exist. Their work is the tangible harnessing of sound without loss of spontaneity or wildness, but it is no more an attack, or allied to evil, than the music of Evan Parker. There are moments, though, such as around 90 seconds into “Co Anima”, when distortion threatens to overwhelm reasonable tolerance. Ninety seconds later and the first of several gorgeously brief, lucid, and sweetly fluid punctuation marks occur. Aufgehoben create brief structures which continually collapse and reform before our ears. Some aspects reveal themselves best through contrast. For example, beyond the 6:53 second mark of “Co Anima” and throughout the majority of the brief following track “Ruckfragen” is a special landscape accessible only to those who have taken the journey through the bewildering storm which precedes it.
As well as regular instruments, Messidor features three pieces, “Shibboleth”, “NoOrganon” and “UrOrganon” that involve the grinding of closely-mic’d paving slabs down to gravel, on a stone floor. Their website has some video of this, along with a clip of them playing in Porto (against my wishes of course). Not so terribly radical, perhaps, but an artistic achievement to transform such an action beyond mere shock value into something of beauty. As with any gig, by any band, the question of the threshold of parody is one which Aufgehoben must face.
Without looking them up, several of the tracks on Messidor have names suggesting an origin perhaps in some Biblical writing or Hebrew text, though “UrOrganon” of course is close enough to Organon to conjure images of the home, work, arrest, and trial of Wilhelm Reich. It also, by association (Cloudbusting), brings to mind images of Kate Bush—never a bad thing in my experience. Words can convey different meanings and although in some circles Ur depicts an ancient city the location of which is now in Iraq, to me it carries more than a whiff of Philip K. Dick—never a bad thing either. Anyway, the piece begins with clashes twixt metal and stone, a throbbing backbeat and a growling scrape, as if 23rd century mutants were trying to bury their dead when there is no exposed dirt remaining, only metal, glass, concrete and stone. Another highlight is “Ends of Er”, the closing piece. To hear it is to be returned to a womb-like state of possibility and comfort, with an encroaching nag of external danger.
Obviously we haven’t had enough of the reconstruction of musical jigsaw puzzles from well-worn symbols, familiar notes and chords, love letters, and yearning; yet in silly love songs even a casual observer might see old ceremonies for new skin, and rotting fruit for fresh vegetables. Those who demand more will need artists with the wit and spunk of Aufgehoben. For, incredibly, there are people who still believe that Cage’s 4’33” is silence, and a significant number who own records by Becker & Fagan’s band while not realizing it is named after a dildo in a William Burroughs story. Since many of them have computers, if Bill Gates wants to use philanthropy in part to shape people’s perception of Microsoft, he should consider sending a few million Aufgehoben records to some unsuspecting Amazon wishlists. Even if it reinforced for some people the notion that he’s the Anti-Christ, it’d probably shift his image away from Tech Anti-Santa for as many others.
Aufgehoben’s beautiful, almost extra-terrestrial sonic infiltration will continue regardless of whether or not you hear their music, or even if you demand to know when the fuck that racket will cease and race with flaming torches to their audio-castle to destroy that which neither you, I, or possibly they, fully understand. The only problem with Messidor is expectation. Anno Fauve was one of the records of the year, of any year, and the shock of the new can only occur once. That there were 200 (hand numbered) in a clear vinyl version with some changes in content, track order, and packaging, seemed splendidly fetishistic and almost sexually attractive. Aufgehoben continue to understand the enduring desire to possess objects with Axiologue/Thermidor One Five, the 7” vinyl slab that is also newly available on the White Denim label. It too is beautifully designed and seems to weigh more than most albums, almost as much as a cup of tea, actually. I’m as unwilling to put a needle on it as I would be to carve my name on the Avebury stones.
The version of Heaven which is evoked for me by Aufgehoben at their most sublime is simple: painlessly slipping away for all eternity while semiconsciously watching the sunlight illuminate a young nurse’s legs through her skirt as she bumps the bed with a moaning vacuum cleaner. Forever.