vectors of infection: graham williams and <1March 11, 2016 at 3:52 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
Tags: graham williams, less than one, r0[nought], tungsten grasshopper
R0[nought] – pestis (self-released download)
R0[nought] – pestis [Gram-Negative Reversion] (self-released download)
<1 – Lost Carcosa (self-released download)
<1 – 17 miles from Willard (self-released download)
<Tungsten – Malfeasance (self-released download)
In a state of sleep-deprived delirium, following a long night nursing a vomiting child, I found myself on the bus to work listening intently to an album about the Black Death sweeping across Medieval Europe. Ah, Graham, I thought, great to have you back…
Graham Williams is a comrade of old. Back at the turn of the century I released two albums by his Tungsten Grasshopper project (see here and here) on my microlabel fencing flatworm recordings and his ungraspable refigurings of film audio made up ten percent of the oTo tape catalogue (see here – T04, T11, T26, T33 and T37). Over recent years we have maintained a sporadic and entertaining correspondence comprised mainly of war stories about the state of our health and a mutual love of weird tales. Graham is a scholar of the Lovecraft circle and his erudition in this field, and others tangential to it, is dauntingly comprehensive. The seriousness of intent, patience and attention to detail he exhibits as an autodidact is equally evident in his music. I’m very happy to see him return and very glad he is taking the sensible option and making his stuff freely available via his own Bandcamp site – the enigmatically named <1.
Five albums up so far: a retooling of unearthed, previously unreleased Tungsten Grasshopper material, a second reanimation (following oTo T37) of the Night of the Living Dead soundtrack, an exploration of the wind-scoured ruins of Carcosa, the aforementioned wave of 14th Century contagion and a different mix of that same material. Despite, or rather because, I’ve been looping the lot on my mp3 player for about a fortnight I probably couldn’t name the tracks nor assign them to individual releases with any confidence (journalism, eh?) but, that said, my idea of the music has the hallucinatory clarity of a decision made at 4am. This stuff is crystal sharp.
As for what it sounds like, well, some moments recall the 1990s electronica heyday and would not be out of place on a FAX release from the time, others could be described (indeed, have been self-described) as ‘dark ambient’ but that is all a bit literal for this blog isn’t it? I’m going to talk about temperature and bacteria instead.
One of Graham’s great skills is his ability to evoke cold. I don’t mean a tragi-comic, porcelain-skinned, dyed-black-Hitler-fringe, euro-electro metaphor for alienation or misanthropy. I mean what it is like to be fucking freezing. As a description of hurts-to-breath, fingertip-blackening, arctic conditions his work rivals that of Culver. The difference is that whilst it always seems to be blowing a gale across the tundra towards Lee Stokoe’s black walled castle, Graham’s research station is out on the ice surrounded by nothing but glassy stillness and long buried secrets – it’s the safest place for what is in his test tubes…
…into which we now descend. I can’t help linking Graham’s recent interest in illness, infection, vectors of contagion, microscopic near-life and so on to his abiding interest in weird fiction, especially the Cthulhu Mythos stories. Yes, I could be all smart and harp on Lovecraft’s terror of invasive otherness and how it manifested in his fiction as a racist fear of swarthy foreigners and a hanky-waving disdain for the working class. It’s an unpleasant aspect to his work that has to be addressed, I admit, but given the scope and influence of these stories it is reductive and unrepresentative to focus on the man at his worst. It’s also not what comes to mind when listening to this music – I’m not thinking about horror fiction as mistaken cultural commentary on the existential threat of the other, I’m thinking: woah, monsters!
When reading, say, Lovecraft’s ‘From Beyond‘ I always pictured the creatures revealed by the inter-dimensional-gateway-opening-machine, bathed in ultra-violet purple, like the inhabitants of a drop of pond water on a microscope slide – albeit on a terrifying scale and with a growing suspicion that they are being observed. Likewise, it is easy to picture Azathoth – the blind idiot god, ruling from the centre of the cosmos – as a gigantic, gelatinous, writhing bacterium, flagella whipping mindlessly. I looked up the cause of bubonic plague – the Yersinia pestis bacterium (see, I can do journalism a bit) – hoping to find a terrifying picture of crawling chaos but sadly this germ is merely jelly bean shaped:
That said, and despite the surface innocuousness of this picture (it could be of any number of things), I found myself staring at it, increasingly unnerved. Having also made the mistake of looking at some pictures of victims and reading some statistics I was panic stricken by this glimpse of the utterly indifferent mechanism at the root of it all. It is this feeling of being surrounded by implacable hostility that is the essence of Lovecraftian ‘cosmic horror’ and it is this feeling that Graham’s music captures so efficiently.
It sounds grim, I know, but it is important to note that, even at its bleakest, under the ice the despair is borne of empathy. Deep down is something human and that is what makes this music cinematic rather than purely documentary. Graham recognizes the seriousness of the situation but doesn’t revel in it. He unfurls a chart of a limitless ocean, taps his finger on a tiny dot and reminds us:
You are here.