Grün ist grau: green gets ground out on this post-industrial dystopian music travelogue

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Ravi Shardja, Grün ist grau, Grautag Records, 2 x LP GTR#005 (2013)

Aye aye, Captain Shardja … green is grey according to this French improv musician who has been let loose on a bewildering variety of instruments here: electronic bass, guitar, mandolin, various hand-me-down synthesisers, a broken-down Yamaha mixing table and other musical and non-musical gadgets of varying ages and music-worthy (or unworthy) condition, to create monumental audioscapes of noisy post-industrial improv. Fear not! – the result is a travelogue through dystopian post-apocalyptic soundscapes where steel skyscrapers and other monuments to the Age of Oil now lie in ruins and are over-run by Nature exacting her due on presumptuous humanity, now long gone. While the mood of the album isn’t bleak or hopeless, the general feeling tends to be one of clinical curiosity, as if listeners have been invited as disinterested tourists to survey this devastated world as a lesson in not what to do before travelling to the next planet.

On the four tracks, each of which gets a 12-inch vinyl-platter side to itself, Shardja surveys a different part of the post-anthropic Earth: one track might pass for a quick lookaround of India, to judge from the presence of a sitar (courtesy of Jean Marcel Busson whom Shardja roped in from their band GOL to assist) which appears at various points throughout the track. The music can be dramatic in parts but it’s generally approachable and light in tone and delivery. There is sometimes a playful quality and even the most doom-laden sections never sound really very heavy or morose. The mood sometimes seems quite wry and deliberately down-played, the music appearing very po-faced at what it may be observing.

Track titles range from the absurd and amusing like “Bombay Boobies Battle” to the deeply disturbing like “Attaque sournoise du Kopassus a Wamena” (“Sneak Attack by Kopassus on Wamena”), the latter covering some sinister spoken-voice field recordings as well as some toy-box melodies that seem quite out of order here. While the music on this track can be quite jaunty in parts and becomes shrill and intense in its final moments, listeners should be aware that Kopassus refers to a crack special forces unit in the Indonesian Army that conducts unconventional warfare, counter-terrorism and special intelligence gathering activities and as such has committed human rights violations in various parts of Indonesia including Papua where Wamena is a major town. Why Shardja should give this piece such a startling title I’m curious to know: is he trying to stir up listeners’ jaded sensibilities, dulled by always expecting to be entertained by one short-lived thrill after another, or is he merely commenting in a casual, almost noncommittal way on one aspect of the chaos and almost banal repression and violence that always seem to break out in at least one corner of the globe every so often? (This would assume that human violence is something that happens because … hey, it’s human nature to be brutal and violent and we just have to live with it. Move on folks, nothing to see here. The notion that violence of a brutal and vicious kind is something we are taught through our total and involuntary immersion in modern Western culture from the moment of our birth never occurs to people.) Whether the listener can be bothered to find out what messages or non-messages Shardja is trying to convey with the various track titles (given in English, French, German and Italian) and the music they attach to is another thing altogether. At the very least, it’s disturbing that we have a track called “Attaque sournoise …” with no further explication from the artist (I admit I don’t have the actual double LP artwork which might explain a lot more in front of me) which leaves me as a listener guessing at what Shardja’s intentions may be – but possibly the fact that I have to guess may be the intention itself: it at least has roused my curiosity and interest.

Some passages in the four tracks can be very intriguing and enjoyable to listen to but on the whole this quartet can be something of an endurance test and attention levels can flag very quickly. This double LP set is perhaps best digested in separate chunks. Each track could almost be substituted for one another and you would not notice much difference. I feel a bit debilitated each time I listen to the album and I think that’s due to the dabbling and dallying out stretched out to an interminable length.

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