Nelson’s Column

Over one hour of heavy drone-grind can be yours for price of First (PICA DISK PICA038), the debut “proper” album by the young American musician Benjamin Nelson. Nelson comes from Boston, a city known for breeding wild and woolly types who would smash your face in for the price of a cold beer, and his ferocious escapades have spread consternation throughout that city. Small wonder he moved to Oslo, where he currently operates, since the Norwegians are capable of processing insane, lawless behaviour without letting it trouble their benign, Nordic composure (many of them are secretly chaos wizards in disguise). In Oslo, Nelson’s black brooding countenance must have come to the attention of Lasse Marhaug, a known magnet for freaks.

This is my way of explaining the release of first on Lasse’s Pica Disk label. It’s an intense marathon of remorseless, slow, torture…somewhat like enduring a disc-grinder applied to your skin in slow motion. Yowch. Stylistically, Nelson professes an interest in “reductionistic” techniques for electronic music, which is a fancy way of saying he’s doing as little as possible and peeling away any extraneous effects, leaving nothing but a coarse and ragged bone behind. In terms of his compositional approach, his starting point involves all sorts of discomforting ideas, including “perception of time”, “interference patterns”, and “hearing fatigue”. He’s also preoccupied by the idea of rooms, in this case meaning a room which you can’t bear to be inside, and wish to leave as soon as you possibly can.

In fine, Nelson is out to punish the listener six ways from Sunday…using every possible perceptual sense against you, turning your hearing against you, and inducing states of claustrophobia and psychological anxiety. Hard to credit he cites Eliane Radigue as an influence, since her minimal drones are usually so benign and meditative, where Nelson is clearly out to destroy the human frame with his pathological ways, and won’t leave you any room to think while he’s doing it. Matter of fact he’s proud to abandon all of that airy-fairy “pseudo spirituality” as he calls it, and won’t let the listener off the hook with “passive listening”. No curling up on the big cushion for you…you must face the harsh truth of this “objective listening”, which resolutely refuses to become transcendent art in any shape or form, insisting on its own coarsely textured materiality.

Nelson is also a trained cellist and lent his bowing skills to Cold Pin, a composition by fellow New Englander Eli Keszler. Since discovering his taste for severe electronic drone, he self-released a few items on his own behalf, with foreboding titles such as Life In Blue and Gray and Heat Field Modulation For Pathetic String And Electronics…there was also a very limited cassette called Two Rooms For Four Tones. But these weighed in at 30 minutes. If you want to experience the full hour of death by abrasive noise, then First is the one for you. When I put it like that, it’s hard to resist, isn’t it? All black CD presented in a near-black cover, where only the author name and title are barely visibly printed in varnish. A drone to destroy all drones…buy it now and never smile again. From 9th August 2016.

Benjamin Nelson’s Soundcloud page

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