Spectrum Is Black

I’ll admit to a soft spot for the music of Swedish composer Åke Parmerud ever since hearing his 2015 Growl release for this label. Much of the selection on that set satisfied our unhealthy lusts for noise, metal, sampling and industrial music, even if he was doing it in a rather stilted manner. Subsequent item Nécropolis missed a few opportunities for making a truly dark occultist statement (though that was far from his intent), and then there was Grains, a nifty item which showcased earlier compositions predicated on voice experiments.

Today’s record Bruit Noir (empreintes DIGITALes IMED 22179) has such a great title it’s amazing it hasn’t been used before in noise / rock contexts – although I find there’s already a French rock duo by this name, and also a label Bruit Noir Records in Marseilles which put out a tiny number of extreme-Techno EPs. Here, Parmerud gathers together three compositions, leading off with the main event ‘Louder Than Life’ from 2020-21. It’s in five “movements” much like a classical concerto, even using conventional terminology for tempos, like Largo and Presto. We’re not told much about it except that it’s dedicated to his friend Anders Blomqvist, who died in 2020. Blomqvist was a Swedish electronic composer often associated with Fylkingen, and while not exactly prolific he was held in high esteem by many; his ‘Jaguar Revisited’ has proven an enduring hit since 1984 and is even shown on the telly. While ‘Louder Than Life’ might not be as extreme as I was hoping for, I am getting the sense that Parmerud is expressing a deep connection with his friend, and attempting to evoke difficult emotions through this strange, layered music. He hopes we’ll listen to the entire 33 minutes in a single sitting, but also allows for each separate movement to work on its own terms and stand up to scrutiny. The ‘Largo’ movement is particularly affecting, for reasons that aren’t at all clear; even more nightmarish is its neighbour ‘Presto’, which comes across as a confusing post-modern jumble of ideas, even allowing the ghosts of serialism and 12-tone composition to swim into the murky mix. It’s all very abstract, gloomy, and held together by an unfathomable structure; we might even call it “intellectual dark ambient”, though naturally Åke Parmerud has no connection to that genre and remains entirely unhampered by its clichés and stereotypical sounds.

After that, we go back to 2013 with ‘Raw’, a piece written for a commission by the Geiger festival. Apparently the curators of this Swedish event favour “noise” music (probably because they’re based in Gothenburg), so he attempted with this composition to cater to their predilections. He decided to have a go with one of these new-fangled synth software apps, and settled on something called Skrewell from Native Instruments. The world of digital workstations is far from my personal comfort zone, but from notice boards and forums I get the impression that Skrewwell (part of the Reaktor suite of tools) is pretty chaotic – eight noise oscillators capable of modulating each other simultaneously and producing a much scarier version of the generative-synth environment which Brian Eno has made his own. Parmerud had much the same experience, and was evidently chagrined by the “uncontrollable” nature of this Skrewell. He decided to relinquish control and just go for the raw outputs of his experiments, hence the name – settling on a kind of composed-improvised work. He also has to admit he failed on the “noise” benchmark and missed the target by a mile. ‘Raw’ isn’t especially raw or wild at all (Carlos Giffoni, for one, would use this kind of material as a soothing balm in his hot bath), but it’s still possessed of an eerie quality. One might almost say Parmerud were on the verge of possession by a mysterious ghost or phantom oozing out of his laptop screen.

Also rather fascinating are the weird faceless tones we hear on ‘Dark Matter’, even though the method behind this one – searching for inaudible sounds produced by waves of energy from microwaves, computers, or lightbulbs – is old hat, having been investigated since 1996 by Disinformation, John Duncan, CM von Hausswolff, Joe Colley, Scanner, Hafler Trio, and just about anyone on the Fault in the Nothing compilation. Once again Åke Parmerud doesn’t favour a “sensationalist” approach to the subject, and there’s an open-ended quality to the quiet brooding sounds here that is quite attractive. From 14 November 2022.

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