remember seeing Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey as a massively big deal. Kubrick’s film communicated that there were no rules; one didn’t have to unveil all—or any—mysteries for the viewer’s advantage; one didn’t even have to make an attempt at forging a coherent narrative. It seemed like Kubrick had filmed everything out of sequence, gotten blasted on Absinthe one night, and pieced it all together, in random stabs, in the throes of a violent mid-morning hangover. From agitated apes to the bipedal space-suited Dave, to the deadpan delivery of the tyrannical HAL, Kubrick created a film out of the tension between the historically familiar and the wonder induced by the rotund doubt of the unfamiliar. But for all its misplaced sequences, all of its acute unawareness, it was relentlessly linear. This contradiction was like sticking a wet digit in a live socket: I landed a seriously heavy charge out of Kubrick’s mischievous juxtapositions of the known and unknown; it was something I didn’t experience again until a bemused friend cued up his copy of AMM’s The Crypt for me to hear.
Instrumental music, much less avant-garde instrumental music, is difficult to deal with. Without lyrical footholds one can’t get all discursive: attempts at delineation resemble inebriated games of charades instead of something like the taut style of H. L. Mencken: a well-dressed prose that drives straight to the heart of the matter, parks in argument, and lays a wheel in victory’s cadence. Dealing with AMM’s The Crypt was not unlike sliding down a mountain greased up with mucky misunderstanding. What the hell was this? What instruments are being played? Is that a radio in the background? —In the foreground? Determined to ‘crack’ AMM, I listened intently, stoically, and somewhat maniacally. As soon as I seemed to ‘get it,’ it receded. Swearing off AMM’s inchoate noise, I self-medicated with the laconic non-sequiturs of Pavement, the dreary pickings of Nick Drake, and ebullient bad boys The Ramones. The vacation from Cardew’s AMM did me a world of good: I realized that it wasn’t about listening as ‘activity,’ it was about listening as ‘passivity’: you have to passively receive the ‘music’ for it to ‘make sense.’ And nobody knows this better than Brooklyn’s Double Leopards.
Double Leopards’ latest offering, Urban Concussion, possesses some of the electric known/unknown dichotomy of 2001, and much of AMM’s reception as active passivity. Two pieces combine for just over thirty minutes of music that drifts out of grooves and into ears as benignly as a mate’s whisper. Yet, there’s something menacing about this music. Perhaps it’s too easy to read the title as a blatant reference to the 9/11 attacks, but seeing as Double Leopards do hail from one of the city’s boroughs, the connection is not easily avoided. Side A (both tracks are untitled) starts out with sputters and belches and general electronic fuzz, like a spacecraft trying to turn over, but ultimately stalled in space’s void. The chatter picks up considerably by the seven-minute mark, and we’re in a sound realm not unlike a slightly hushed version of La Monte Young’s shrieking ‘Poem for Tables and Chairs’ piece. And this is where that prickly charge of connection slips in again; for this could not only easily replace Gyorgy Ligeti’s ‘Lux Aeterna’ from the 2001 soundtrack, but respectfully stand ideology to ideology with any sort of verbose ‘manifesto’ Cardew could have penned to ‘inform’ AMM’s musical action(s).
Side B is slower going; its opening populated by an insistent popping phrase, like a futuristic telephone chime, urban emergency warning, or a tongue yet to be discovered. The menace, of course, creeps in again, along with a human voice seeming to engage in chant, but one gets the feeling that by the piece’s close, the mantra goes unanswered, ignored in a swathe of sirens, nearly pagan horns, and an unnerving rumbling static that reluctantly closes out the LP. If this music is supposed to ‘communicate’ anything, it’s that FEMA has been notified, and your corneas are going to be pummeled with the incessant replay of whatever happened on the myriad cable news channels. In just over thirty minutes, Double Leopards compose aggressive music simultaneously remote and touching, an unsettling amalgam that would’ve been appealing to the sensibilities of Kubrick and Cardew, two artists wholly aware of the powers of juxtaposition.
Reviewed by: Stewart Voegtlin
Reviewed on: 2004-07-16