Parvenu (GRUENREKORDER GRUEN 178) is an interesting sound-construction piece put together by szmt, the new alias for German Tobias Schmitt, an electronic shrieker who may be familiar to fans of the Attenuation Circuit label (we like that label but were not sent any of his 2016 releases). Parvenu isn’t electronic music exactly but is based on field recordings of bees. More specifically he took the recordings from three beehives found in the Senckenberg Institut in Frankfurt, right where the bees are thickest. He’s given the four suites quite lengthy and loaded titles, each one like the chapter of a book, and he intends the package as social commentary – it’s a “work about authoritarian structures”. So once again the insect world becomes a microcosm of office buildings or business operations, or civil service departments.
As to making bee recordings, that’s a good thing to do, and as long as ago as 2011 I was wondering why more people don’t do it. I harboured this fatuous notion in reference to ‘The Bee Symphony’, a composition by Chris Watson and Marcus Davidson for the Touch label – a compelling blend of a vocal choir (The Bee Choir, so called) with field recordings of bees. 1 There’s also Eric La Casa and his Zone Sensible record – Olivier Darné apparently keeps hives in a suburb of Paris and La Casa couldn’t wait to insert himself, and his microphones, into that situation. Well, both of those are nudged into a slightly different angle by szmt’s unusual work – he’s not interested in giving us recognisable buzzy sounds as you might expect, and instead is all about heavy processing and editing. What emerges are alien sounds, cold and distant drones, and mechanical repetitions appearing as needed.
I assume all of this is to project his troubled fears about the authoritarian structures that surround us – unseen, unaccountable, almost unstoppable in their colonisation of everyday life. As already hinted, this critique could be made to apply to politics, capitalism, casino banking, online shopping empires, social media platforms, or indeed anything where there’s an evil power structure at play. Tough luck to the poor old bees who have to be the ones to carry this pessimistic metaphor, but I would like to think Tobias bears no grudge against our little stripey friends. Contrast and compare with the Ant-themed record by Big Blood which we noted some time ago, which takes a far more antagonistic view of the insect kingdom (and rightly so). On the other hand, what are to we make of szmt’s titles such as ‘The General Skepticism of the Constitutional Monarchy Was Justified as New Forms of Authority Surfaced’, a sentence which has many twists and turns, to the point where it’s not really clear which particular power-base szmt is intent on undermining. Then we have the track titled ‘His Primary Role Was to Mate with the Fertile Queen’, a phrase which is also quite the double-edged sword, implying something about conventional male power structures bound up with expectations of sexual prowess, but where all displays of healthy masculinity are undercut by the iron rules of some grim totalitarian regime.
All of this dystopian horror is delivered, as already mentioned, by music which is distant and chillingly precise, its implacable surface only occasionally disrupted by the humming of alien wings. szmt appears to have found another world by peering through his microscope, and doesn’t like what he sees; it’s far from being a pleasant environment and the populace are downtrodden, brought low in spite of their aerial ways. From 4th December 2017.
- It’s on a record called Cross-Pollination, TONE 43, should you wish to seek it out. ↩