Stoch’! (In the Name of Dove)

Stochasma, In Abysso (2012)

The Sueco-Georgian avant-gardists Stochasma were formed, in their own words, “to interrogate, eviscerate, and exterminate the ultimate experimental envelope of acoustic idiosyncrasy”. That’s “Sueco-” as in Sweden and “Georgian” as in the Eurasian nation, not the American state, by the way. Going one up on some bands from Wales, Ireland and Scotland, who issue their material bilingually, in English and one or another of the Celtic languages, Stochasma issue all their material tri-lingually, in English, Swedish, and Georgian. The strangeness and beauty of the Georgian script match and enhance the strangeness and (occasional) beauty of their music, but, unlike their last two releases, there’s no spoken English, Swedish or Georgian here: In Abysso is intended to be an “abhuman listen”.

Front cover of Stochasma's album In Abysso 

Believe me, it is! The title of the album is Latin for “In the Abyss” and the liner-notes extend thanks to H.P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith and Stanislaw Ulam for “infernal inspiration”. If the last name makes you think “Who?” (or “U?”), you must be new/nu to Stochasma, who draw inspiration not just from art and literature, but from mathematics too. Stanislaw Ulam (1909-84) was a Polish mathematician perhaps most famous for inventing the “Ulam spiral”, a graphical representation of the prime numbers that reveals mysterious patterns in this strange and fascinating set of integers. Ulam stumbled across the spiral while “doodling” during a boring lecture at a scientific meeting. That kind of serendipity has always been important to Stochasma, who explore the musical abyss/chasm partly through random, or stochastic, techniques. For the first track, “Pr1m4l Skr33m”, the five members of the band had electrodes attached to their nipples before being asked, at random, to indicate, with a nod or shake of the head, whether a randomly selected number between 1 and 10,000 was prime or composite (for example, 1,433 is prime, being divisible by no numbers but itself and 1; 1,434 is composite, being divisible by 2, 3 and 239). If they were wrong, they received a painful electric shock.

The resultant collection of grunts, gasps, and screams was electronically worked over in fully traditional Stochasma fashion to create “Pr1m4l Skr33m”, which sounds like a fully traditional Stochasma track: fucking weird and unsettling! Is the irregular chorus of voices in agony or ecstasy? Are the band being tortured in a hell run by sadists or pleasured in a heaven run for masochists? Or both? It’s hard to decide, and at times hard to listen, but as Stochasma themselves put it: “We’re queasy listening, not easy – easy listening is for cubes.”

Elsewhere, the band have used the ultra-sensitive microphones they first experimented with on 2003’s AnguisaquA (sic – it literally means “SnakewateR”). This time they’ve recorded the bloodflow of a dove and the movements of parasites in its feathers for “Täubchen”, which sounds even stranger than it reads. That and “Pr1m4l Skr33m” are the first two tracks: the next fifteen are entitled “Ignisigil I” to “Ignisigil XV”. Stochasma used a fire-proof microphone to record the sound of books being burned. They selected fifteen wildly different authors for this literally incendiary homage, from “J. Aldapuerta to J. Archer, from K. Marx to K. Minogue”, as they themselves put it. (That’s the über-trangressive Spanish horror-writer Jesús Aldapuerta and the über-cruddy British thriller-writer Jeffrey Archer, and the Anglo-German philosophaster Karl Marx and the Australian pop-pixie Kylie Minogue, for those unfamiliar with the names.) And the band insist, perhaps tongue-in-cheek, that the sonic textures of the recordings are dependent not just on the physical nature of the paper and ink being burnt, but also on the ideological and aesthetic nature of the burning text.

It’s hard to agree: the “Ignisigils” all sound pretty much alike to me, though that sound is uncharacteristically soothing and relaxing by Stochasma standards (on my first listen, I dropped off during “Ignisigil VIII” and didn’t wake up till “Ignisigil XI”). The album is rounded off with three of the strangest pieces of music I’ve heard this century: “Musgomorrah”, “Gradus ad Parnassum”, and “CoMoXoCoI”. The first sounds like a slowed recording of men in armour fighting in thick mud; the second like a choir of giant glass insects singing themselves to splinters; and the third like echoes chasing each another in a collapsing or burning maze. These three might grow on me or might not: for now, “Pr1m4l Skr33m”, “Täubchen”, and “Ignisigil IV” hit the sonic sweet’n’sour spot that Stochasma seem to have copyrighted. I don’t know why “IV” hits the spot and the rest of the Ignisigils don’t, but that’s often the way with Stochasma: you like the sounds they create and you haven’t a clue as to why. In company with a select band of other electronicognoscenti, I look forward to their seventh album, whenever it appears and whatever musical mélanges or macedoines it manages to mulch, mangle, and miscegenate.

Elsewhere other-engageable:

Musings on Music