The Formanex Box, part 6: Out, Demons

We’re at disc nine of the Formanex box set (MIKROTON CD 84). Kasper T. Toeplitz (the French-Polish musician and composer) was one of the first in the list of contemporary music people invited to bring their wide-ranging interests into the Formanex fold, and two bottles of ginger ale. As such, he wrote ‘Demonology #11’ for them in 2001. Before we get to that supernatural blast, we’ll hear ‘Szkic’ at 19:06 mins, one of those remorseless music-on-a-long-wire compositions that proceeds unflinchingly towards a hideous ending, building up insufferable tones as it proceeds. Monotonous throbbing drones are employed to unleash this aural torture, inducing stress and bad feelings in all who dare approach its stern vibratory zone.

I haven’t heard the music of Kasper T. Toeplitz too often, but I can’t help associating it with some form of cruel scientific experiment designed to stress-test the human form. I shudder to think of the prose instructions that were given to the Formanex crew to execute this particular instance of enervating terror. Maybe they had to play it wearing hoods. I had to do a quick online translate to find out the English equivalent of the word Szkic, expecting to find something like “scalpel” or “skewer” or other nasty sharp instrument, but it simply means “sketch” or “outline”. If one can imagine the grey-walled 100-foot-high tower of doom that could be built using this music as a blueprint, then we’d not be far away from the apocalyptic doom that this stern Pole envisages for mankind. I may be exaggerating somewhat (parts of this monolith in music do have a certain macabre beauty), but I’m also thinking of that 2016 LP he made called Stacja Nigdy w Zyciu with Anna Zaradny, and it was a cold gloomer with no small amount of pain implied, or even stated outright, in its grooves. Toeplitz used his bass guitar through a computer for that one, a strategy which may have gone down here (I hear traces of strums and plucks from his implacable thumb), but mostly this music seems to have been built from cold winds and blocks of steel.

‘Demonology #11’ is the main Goliath in this arena though, standing tall at a hefty 54:04 mins. In case you wondered, this devil-seeking theme has surfaced before in the man’s work, and ‘Demonology #10’ – a solo bass and computer performance from Chicago – was released in 2001 as a CDR in France. I guess the previous nine experiments in the series are buried in Aleister Crowley’s secret tomb. This one’s quite the weighty beast – at times, its heavy tones are so physical they threaten to crowd you out of the picture and tip you over the parapet, but it’s all to the good.

Though we may start out with some ear-piercing tones in the higher register (and they will return, so be warned), a lot of this demon-fest comprises some good purring rumblers and groaners, some with deep tones that can churn the bowels of an ox, or other ruminant of similar size and heft. There’s also a lot more variety and dynamic in the way these abstract hunks change their shape, move around, and pass from one mystical dimension to the next. Where ‘Szkic’ above just leads you to your doom by means of a single steel chain, ‘Demonology #11’ simply proposes to swaddle you in nineteen types of suffocating asbestos cladding. At first, you’ll appreciate the warmth and softness of this cladding, but wait until the toxins begin to bite, and then…you follow? Good! I seem to see the fingerprints of Kasper T. Toeplitz all over this one, and the first track; but Formanex were still at an early-ish stage of their formation I do suppose, assuming this is a 2001 recording (actually ‘Szkic’ was recorded in 2012, and ‘Demonology #11’ in 2002), and their approach to group playing may not have yet coalesced into the more nuanced and open-plan method. As such this disc, squatting purposefully halfway between benign drone and evil industrial noise, may have some continuity links with the self-styled “Early Works” of disc eight.

A fine set and one I expect to be returning to when in need of a bracing, pessimistic brood-a-thon. Released in October 2019.