Quaff, oh quaff this kind Nepenthe

The sound artist Raymond Dijkstra is highly regarded by many. I admit I have always found his work, what little I heard, extremely austere and difficult to process. Around 2008 he sent us two of his hand-made art objects releases Die Sonne and Die Wille. which resembled case-bound books in black buckram, and were both as foreboding as a necromancer’s spell book. More recently, we received an LP by NIvRITTI MARGA on 9th July 2013 and this is mostly played and performed by Dijkstra with the help of Timo van Luijk, the Belgian player who I associate with Noise-Maker’s Fifes and the droney art-trio Onde; and Frédérique Bruyas, who contributed the voice work to the record. At any rate, it’s more eventful than the ultra-minimal and perplexingly cryptic LPs I heard in 2008, which isn’t to say it’s exactly “listenable”. On one level, Nivritti Marga (ÉDITION LE SOUFFLEUR) is a spoken-word record showcasing selected texts of the Comte de Lautréamont, the 19th-century French poet who wrote Les Chants De Maldoror and had such a big influence on the Surrealists (and later, the Situationists it seems). I suppose André Breton and his crew tended to favour anything that was an affront to polite society, and with his fixations on dirt and filth and dung and parasites and nasty insects living in the dung, coupled with his apparent wish to annihilate the entire human race, Lautréamont fit the bill and was instantly elected as a poet maudit by the Surrealist cabal. I’m not here to tell you how Raymond Dijkstra interprets these bizarre texts, but this record of his disturbs and troubles the mind as soon as the needle is dropped. Eerie formless semi-musical noises produced by means unknown are set out in a lurid, spooked-up framework enhanced with judicious smears of grisly echo; it’s electro-acoustic music creeping out from the most extreme regions of the composerly soul. On top of this disjunctive and tuneless musical arrangement, the voice of Bruyas is dropped in, remorselessly intoning the texts (spoken in French, although printed translations are provided) in a crisp, unemotional manner; to add to the general malaise, the tape of his voice has been speeded-up ever so slightly to make it less human, and more like the voice of a malignant goblin spitting out curses against the world.

But this isn’t an especially shocking record, on the surface. Dijkstra executes his plan without any outright sonic violence, and in fact the work is not especially noisy, nor explosive in its emotional range. Instead, it remains distant and cold to the point of reaching near-zero temperatures, and very few familiar toe-holds for the intrepid listener can be found as we try to scale this forlorn, rocky peak of alienation. The sense of disjuncture extends to the sleeve collage; a “tasteful” array of antique chairs, furnishings and stucco walls has been shattered, through cut-ups, negative images, and tilted horizons, to induce instant visual nausea at first sight. This monochrome image puts me in mind of Last Year in Marienbad, and could almost be read as a still from that cinematic work which arguably carries the torch of surrealism into the latter half of the 20th century. In both music and imagery, I would guess that Raymond Dijkstra is attempting to undermine all that’s bourgeois, safe and mainstream, doing so by subverting normality; the record is a nightmarish parody of classical chamber music, and the cover art is pretty much a direct attack on our cosy homes – by way of the centuries-old European traditions of furnishings and decor. In doing this, I’ve no doubt that he aligns himself 100% with the nihilistic spirit of Comte de Lautréamont. Outside of that, I don’t pretend to understand one iota of what this record proposes, but I’m still feeling quite sickened after a single listen to its inhuman tones, and the memory of what I heard brings an involuntary shudder to my pallid flesh. If any of this appeals, by all means check out this disturbing and marginal art statement.

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