It Is Forbidden

Superior electro-acoustic composition from Texas musician Thomas Bey William Bailey on his cassette La Production Interdite (ELEVATOR BATH eeaoa049). Anyone who names his musical work after a painting by Magritte is an okay guy in my book. On the face of it, the two sides of the tape seem to present two “versions” of the same thing – an instrumental mix and a vocal mix, but they both strike me as radical remakes of the original source materials, and each one can stand on its own as a separate work. I very much enjoy the “instrumental” side, which is packed with content and ideas…maximal surfaces, multiple changes, deep layers…and a real intrigue and mystery that invites the listener to keep studying it and attempting to follow its unexpected developments. Unlike some contemporary exercises in studio-based sound manipulation, I never get these sense that it’s process for its own sake, nor that we’re being led down a pre-programmed tunnel where the outcome is already known, because the composer has already chewed the idea to death through a hundred revisions and hard resets on their over-warmed computer console. There’s a real sense of excitement, discovery even; quite rare commodities in experimental music these days. I also liked the rough mixes of emotions and moods here, music that seems at once uplifting and joyous yet also melancholic and forlorn. Good bite of bittersweet chocolate orange to sink your back molars into…

The “vocal” side wasn’t quite as compelling for me on first spin; very prominent is the vocal component, which comprises a reading from some impenetrable and recondite text of a scientific nature (connected to the theme; see next para.) to the accompaniment of high-speed whirrs and motorised robot crickets. The voice turns out to be that of Alex Keller 1, fellow composer and fellow Texan, who has wowed us previously with his dark-room and grand-scale pieces (not to mention his association with the Texas wing of the phonography brigade). This vocal mix soon picks up speed, using its low-key noises and forward motions to invite the exploration of yet another fascinating subterranean lair. I can’t help hearing this as “underground” music, a motorised mole machine boring through strata, but that’s just my imagination – one of many possible associations. If we compare this with the work of Pierre Henry, who in his later works also made used of the “intoning voice” to narrate his abstract musical inventions, then it’s interesting to speculate about how different Bailey’s results are, and why. For one thing, Bailey isn’t telling a “story” (far from it; the vocal element comes close to distancing the listener, rather than drawing us in); for another, he’s less formal and stiff in his arrangements, and the music flows with the ease of a hot geyser in a National Park. While not as eventful as the first side, there’s a purity of intent to this vocal side that equates to a state of very deep concentration, of intense focus.

The theme of this La Production Interdite is quite specific, and the intention is to depict or say something about “autoscopy”, which is a phenomenon to do with seeing doppelgangers. Edgar Allen Poe wrote a story about this (William Wilson) which is a real shocker, and now I come to think of it the Magritte painting by this name could be read as a visual pun on same. Even Captain Kirk once had to do battle with his own double, and what a memorable episode that was. It takes a brave man to try and realise such a strange psychological event in sound, but Bailey doesn’t flinch from the task. The press release informs us the music “oscillates between moments of narcotic consolation and moments of sharp poignancy” in pursuit of this goal. Apparently Bailey has form in this area; most if not all his work has been concerned with “extremes of information” and he is working towards his own personalised take on avant-garde music, free from traditions, that lays great store on a “high-intensity form” of sound. Presumably this means he’s a larger-than-life risk-taking fellow who makes the most of charged and tense situations, often saying “read ‘em and weep” even if the occasion doesn’t really require it. He’s worked in Japan, Europe, and the USA; and parts of this record were made using the Buchla modular system at EMS in Stockholm, evidently a monster of a synth that inspires awe amongst those “in the know”. Excellent release; if you’re fed up with vapid, content-free electronic music, start here for a powerful antidote. From 15th June 2018.

  1. Wrong; please see comment below, received 21/03/2019.

One comment

  1. The voice featured on side B is actually that of Thomas Bey William Bailey, himself. Alex Keller facilitated the voice recording and then mastered both of the finished pieces on this tape.
    Thanks for the thoughtful review!

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