Oct 04, 2010, 08:06AM

A View From Nihil's Shape-Shifting Mood-Ring Noise

Notes on the mysterious Northern Ireland's Triumph of the Broken Will and the nature of static.

Static is a funny thing. Static is literally everywhere: the AM radio dial, the fractious flat-screen when the cable signal gives out, the margins of certain low fidelity recordings, in-play construction sites, aging public address systems, live performances, bad cell phone connections. Static is interference, annoyance, a hallmark of surmountable failure. Static is irksome, incidental, temporary: it’s there, then it just isn’t, and in most instances it only takes a couple minutes to forget that you even had to acknowledge it.

Static-based noise music forces the listener to confront static on its own terms, to figure out how to interact with or accept it on a sustained basis. Can you commit to static? Can you live it and breathe it, as it’s happening? Or is it like a transparency slide projected onto a wall, coloring slightly your experience of the wall-as-a-wall? I’ll confess that beyond two or three or four minutes, I’m as static-squeamish as anybody, and my attention wanders—even if I ultimately am in no rush to press the STOP button.

Of course, not every noise artist or troupe approaches static in the same way or with the same intent or expectations. For the aptly-named, U.K.-based Pollutive Static, static is a weapon, a tool used to exact a psychic/karmic vengeance. For Arizona’s Jeph Jerman, who specializes in ambient found-sound collages, static is a multitudinous palette from which he daubs large-scale, intelligible landscapes. For outfits and soloists like To Live And Shave In L.A., Leslie Keffer, and The Hospitals, static is a byproduct, an unavoidable accent that frames the desperately scrawled nub of the music that writhes beneath nicks and dents and scrapes.

Like visual art, static-based music is in the inner ear of its beholder. Yet there’s something slightly different about A View From Nihil, though, about this mystery-shrouded project’s Triumph of The Broken Will (Order of the HNW). (Not to be confused, or seen as an endorsement, of Leni Riefenstahl’s Nazi propaganda film, Triumph of the Will, unless I’m missing something, which I well may be.) The album, which is free for download on the band’s last.fm page, is divided into three not-so-distinct movements; the first runs for 12 minutes, while the second and third each hover near the 23-minute mark. Will holds the distinction of evoking from me a different impression every time I listen to it, every time I cue it up on my iPod, unleashing thousands of gallons of ravaging static, flooding my cerebral bachelor pad with varying extremes of hiss.

The possibilities, in sum, can become overwhelming. On some occasions, the untitled first track suggested the artless ripping of an Maui-sized sheet of construction paper, while on others it seemed like I was listening to an ominous, gathering storm via a police scanner or witnessing the unzipping of a mile-long zipper or listening to someone else’s intense, champion-level flatulence from another wing of a mansion by way of intercom. The choppier second track is less textually consistent, and seems to be composed of many, many short bursts, as though the plugged-in static of Stereolab’s “Brakhage” was re-appropriated. Short-circuiting amplifiers. Sheets of metal torn asunder, Incredible Hulk-style. Again, short bursts, which puts me in mind, under the proper conditions, of very small bites made by very small creatures or insects, specifically, I’m thinking of those foot-powder commercials where fugus motes are represented by yellow, monstrous little beasties. (You know the ones.)

At this point in Will, A View From Nihil acknowledge what anybody with the fortitude to grapple with five minutes of static—static, I should mention, that’s by-and-large fairly multi-dimensional, static that’s sort of architecturally structured so that you have a kind of light static fringe on the edges, and staid baseline static, and also neurotic, trembling-with-rage gear-grinding rage, all working together in harmony to project a sense of inchoate grey gnawing or what have you, very intense—realizes fairly swiftly. Static is numbing. So while the third untitled track opens with a more gravelly or throttled static than the previous pair, it’s studded here and there with fake-out fades that are downright startling in this context; it’s the closest the band comes to cracking a smile. Otherwise, the track simulates being buried alive under an avalanche of small stones when it doesn’t remind you how long it’s been since you went in for some Orville Redenbacher popcorn or the sound of a semi-detached muffler scraping the surface of an interstate. Little by little, as track three approaches its denouement, something hidden in the mix—a malevolent synth, perhaps, or an impudently sustained bit of guitar feedback—inches north in volume, only really breaking into aural view at the bitter end. By which time, of course, you’ve come to realize that the titular triumph of the will has nothing to do with A View From Nihil.

It is, in fact, entirely yours, and yours alone.


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