There are albums you can describe as “difficult listening”, and then there are albums where it’s difficult to decide whether they qualify as music at all. The latter’s the case with Pekler’s third album, Strings + Feedback; if “music” requires elements like modality, melody, and harmony, then this ain’t it. Pekler’s previous work has been described as Tortoise-meets-Pole, but Strings + Feedback makes those “difficult” acts sound like early Beach Boys by comparison.
Not much can arouse a critic’s—or any music lover’s—self-doubt like a high-minded, highly unorthodox album such as this: Am I insufficiently familiar with the complex mathematical equations behind the compositions? Has all the pigeonholing and cross-referencing left me unprepared to deal with this? Or am I just too closed-minded to “get it”?. One may ask these difficult questions before considering the other option: This isn’t music at all; it’s high-minded bullshit.
Maybe all this would make a little more sense if you knew how Strings + Feedback actually sounds. Well, the title isn’t too far off the mark, actually. Pekler pokes and prods his analog synthesizers until they yield a series of eerie, disturbing tones and bursts of white noise. If you’ve ever gone to your public library and checked out dust-covered albums (they do still have LPs at the library, don’t they?) of the experimental electronic recordings made in the 1950s, you have an idea of what Pekler’s getting at. For all synthesizers’ myriad uses and ranges of sound these days, those early recordings present the instrument as a creepy, creepy noise-making machine.
Or you could just do this: imagine Radiohead’s “National Anthem” without the guitars, bass, drums, or horns. Then imagine it going on for 40 minutes.
To be fair, “Ogonook” does have staccato synth-strings playing a couple recognizable chords, and “Organist” features an organ droning away and again playing something almost harmonic. “Mirrorise” uses that earliest of electronic instruments, the theremin, in an old-science-fiction-movie way. But by the time they reach their conclusions, even these tracks are overwhelmed by overdriven oscillators and general freakiness.
You could say, then, that Strings + Feedback does achieve and sustain a certain mood and feeling, however unpleasant. Maybe that’s enough to make it music. It could be a masterpiece that some ears are just not sophisticated enough to decode. Or it could be your younger brother playing with his Vintage Keys program for the very first time. The truth is, you probably won’t want to listen to it long enough to be able to decide.