My Cat Is an Alien
The Cosmological Eye Trilogy
Last Visible Dog
really enjoy the phrase “space music.” It's one of those great open-ended descriptors, like “post-rock,” or “jazz fusion” or “synergistic” that sounds completely specific, but for which no one seems to have a handy real-world definition, because there isn't one. Space music. Like the sound of planets whooshing by, or galaxies colliding like some super-massive billiard break, or the glorious destruction of a supernova. Awesome. Too bad space is a vacuum in which sound can't travel, because that would make the coolest box-set ever. Of course, if you were the world's biggest nerd, perhaps you could transcribe the mathematics of space into tones and waves and pulses and crashing-about. It would likely turn out sounding something like The Cosmological Eye Trilogy.
My Cat Is an Alien are two brothers, Maurizio and Roberto Opalio of Turin, where Jesus died. In addition to being musicians of the abstract-improv fashion that unleashes piles of limited-run CD-Rs every year, they're also both painters and installation artists. Their obsession with space and science fiction and alien life is boundless; their other-media work is just as huge, monolithic, and single-minded as their countless records, mostly released on the small-time by their own label Opax (note all the “not available”s), complete with hand-made “space art” packaging that's actually quite lovely in a minimalist, arts-and-crafts way. The first two volumes—the longest sprawls here—were individually self-released (as in, they released themselves), with the third and final reserved for this set, along with something like an hour-and-a-half of additional material spread over every disc, for a total run time of about three-and-a-half hours.
And that, my little Sputniks, is a lot of space art. And really, on paper its contents read kind of like microwave instructions, so let me put it a different way. Dig: If we were able to watch the universe from a bird's eye view while traveling back in time, we could watch as our ever-expanding universe slowly contracts, as our galaxies grow denser and closer together, and as the radiation builds and light increases in speed, the whole thing heats up, and heats up, and contracts down to just a single, critically dense speck in an endless, yawning void. I know that isn't exactly a description of a sound, but when these guys take the tiniest-possible set of sounds and stretch out the tiniest-possible set of mutations, additions, and subtractions over spans of an hour, you can really only start to describe it in terms of space-time and light years. I can't stress enough the alien-ness of this sound, even within the dark-matter float of drone music. This isn't the recognizable found-sound style much loved by the Finns (Uton, Es), or the almost verbal density of those freaky Kiwis (Birchville Cat Motel, Ashtray Navigations). This is proper minimalism, the art of LaMonte Young; only while Young longed desperately for a trance-state, MCIAA start in one and work from there.
You can't say they don't warn you right off the bat. The first part of the trilogy, “Into the Sleeping Beauty Galaxy,” begins in a fog of oscillators and soft guitar pings. For 15 minutes, they wrap around each other, keeping a steady rhythm. Then a single bass note ticks away regularly, then irregularly, counting off slices of time that only fleetingly resemble human timekeeping, while slabs of static rub against each other like tectonic plates, and disembodied voices describe the edges. These changes in tone and structure—assuming these elements weren't in place the whole time and just out of range—don't announce themselves, but simply filter in, until they're right on top of you. With its few, carefully chosen parts, it's the sort of minimalism that makes shocks out of the tiniest gestures. When they engage in pure noise, as they do on parts of “In the Sombrero Galaxy,” the high pitched whine rides in and out like a crushing wave, alternately in some sort of harmony with its spine of pink-noise feed, and borderline intolerable. This is a difficult record to love, or even like, in any traditional sense, but it does have its gut thrills, and commands a certain kind of respect.
Like most minimalism, it's all about the duration; listening on as the near-imperceptible ebb and flow wafts by. Which means those short tracks that have been tacked on for this release seem to sort of miss the point. And like most noise, it's about the experience, about that very physical impact that piles of noises, pleasant or less so, can bring. I have a hard time recommending this to someone who hasn't been down a few alien roads before, and God help you if you decide to get through the whole thing in one sitting. But so much of it is so staggering, so mesmerizing, and makes music on its own terms so definitely, that it has a certain menacing, willfully unpretty, and monolithic grandeur, like some intractable slab of rock, or a vast, empty desert. Wouldn't want to live there, but I could stare at it for a good long time.