Are you an experiment? Have you ever been an experiment? Regardless of your answer, regardless of the probability of screaming or crying, we are of the belief that our measly world can be transformed by the experiment of sound.
Transformation would seem to be an operative word within The Ocular Audio Experiment, given the title of the project itself, along with the title of the latest “experiment,” “The Witch’s Whispering Tomes.” We find ourselves face to face with this transformation, this audio-alchemy, on the aptly-titled “She Transforms,” a lurch towards (away from?) the lilting light, a lurch that precedes the funeral procession of (the also aptly-named) “Transcendor.”
More experimentally-minded still, these “Whispering Tomes” actually represent two albums, each featuring the same twelve songs in two different styles. In this way, The Ocular Audio Experiment is, for us, a living, transformative reminder of the most important teaching: “the oneness of the duality. Not two, not one.”
Whispering witches, experimental audio, the oneness of the duality – you’d be excused for thinking these “Tomes” transform toward an altogether chaotic journey. But chaos has a companion named harmony along for the ride – a ride that chief ocular-experimentalist Alex Pollack describes, in part, as “a doomed, satanic, Looney Tunes wagon ride into hell.”
But then, hell ain’t a bad place to be, sang one of the most learned philosophers of our time – and that realization came without having the great pleasure of hearing “The Witch’s Whispering Tomes.” In the hands of The Ocular Audio Experiment, hell in fact turns out to be a great place to be – a place full of panoramic beauty, languid vocal invocations, and an overall sound that finds its spiritual antecedent buried deep underground, comfortably lined in velvet. We’re unable to call this particular Experiment anything other than a complete, captivating success.
From these subterranean sounds we’re led to consider another experiment in sound, one that finds its birthplace underwater rather than underground.
Atlantean Runes is the title given to the latest project of Evan Sobel, the demented wizard of sound first brought to our attention while playing guitar with the mightiest manifestation of astral-metal, La Otracina, and somewhat more recently as the architect of the space-spiral sound found on Eidetic Seeing‘s “Drink the Sun,” easily one of the most brain-busting albums of this year or any other.
Given this sound foundation in some of the most foundationally-sound, massive, rocket-fueled riff-rides of recent years, it’s an unexpected thrill to find Atlantean Runes converging upon an altogether different stream.
Exploring sound in a manner that somehow articulates a simultaneously human, alien and divine presence, Atlantean Runes exists amongst the rubble of rock’s most radical remnants, krautrock crumbs and ambient debris – somewhere, somehow, pressed and formed together into a single force.
This force reveals itself again and again as being more than able to bring forth a certain amount of order amongst the chaos. Within the Atlantean Runes, all sound is submissive to the amboss, shaped and formed by continuous strikes against it. In this way, we find Atlantean Runes to be the sound of the ancient and the advanced, forever lost and always, undeniably, gloriously found – we behold these beautifully bent Runes as our new home.
Beauty, of course, is in the ear of the beholder, and our ears have also recently beheld the beauty of The Be Helds. Forget for a moment the explorations and experiments that have brought us face-to-face with worlds both undersea and underground, because The Be Helds bring sounds from an even more unexplored, perhaps even more eternal land: Montana.
Desirous as we may be to claim there being nothing particularly special about a rock and roll band hailing from any one of Les États-Unis, we’ve searched the record collection of the apes high and low for a single release hailing from big sky country, to no immediate avail. “Vol. 1“ – the appropriately named first release from The Be Helds – then fills the slot quite nicely, the simple, seductive screen-printed sleeve being our first sign of beauty beheld.
Once inside the cover, the beauty of The Be Helds follows along a similar path: simple and seductive, enormous and broadly pleasing in a way that befits their big-sky origins. Opening number “Leave It Be” sets the thump-and-jangle tone, with well-placed harmonica-huffing setting our mind between the buttons of The Be Helds.
The experiment of The Be Helds, to these ears, then, is the experiment of believing in rock and roll as a transformative experience, as a conduit for experiencing ecstatic joy, as a means for escape from or escape to. We’re not sure which side of fate’s flipped coin The Be Helds are on, but it’s of little concern – by the time the album-ending ode “Run Away With Me” hits some stunning “ohh-ohh’s,” there’s no doubt that the experiment is a success.