Transgressions: Documenting Decay
Though the genre’s a couple of decades old at this point, it’s still interesting to observe the ripple effects of rhythmic noise. Commitment to extremity was a founding part of its identity in its early days, but plenty of later producers accepted high volumes and dense beats a priori, and their push to explore more varied rhythms, ended up drawing inspiration from a wider variety of existing sounds. The line between purist and experimental strains of rhythmic noise might be difficult to rigidly map out, but it’d be hard to find a better case study for the latter than Transgressions: Documenting Decay, the third LP from one-woman project Ecstasphere.
Much of Transgressions is built on a solid and somewhat “classical” rhythmic noise foundation of breaks stacked, stretched, and rearranged in order to smoothly execute dynamics. I’d hazard to guess that there’s some Iszoloscope influence in the use of clean, chiming pings, the music-box feel of which gives off an eerie feel, but the record’s real charm comes in its savvy use of sounds well outside the noise department. Acoustic elements – namely in the form of sustained strings which move from the harmonious to the tortured – and a significant amount of heavy metal guitar are simmered into the stew, and on the whole everything comes together quite well. And these sounds aren’t just there for extra texture or to break up the breaks: witness the canny way in which a mid-tempo thrash pull-off is timed with programmed double kicks on “Distance” – all while wordless vocals evoke Dead Can Dance in the background – or the welding of a sustained Fear Factory-style groove on “Disconnect”.
The record also takes on some additional ambitions in terms of theme. Meant to underscore the idea that “personal despair is in correlation with, caused by and in turn causing social injustice,” the promo copy points towards the deep roots and obscured origins of the contemporary reemergence of fascism. It’s a bit difficult to piece this notion together just from the record, given not just the minimal use of vocals but also the ambiguity and universality the brief phrases and mantras point toward. Sure, the heavy use of the “dis” prefix points towards an undoing, but there’s nothing specifically tying Transgressions to a particular regime or even time period. That said, that could also be the larger point: that the forces and urges driving this new dark age have always been with us.
Considering both the political aims and musical openness of Transgressions, audiotrauma’s a great fit for Ecstasphere. In addition to Arco Trauma & co’s dedication to anti-fascism, the label’s also come to signify a catholic embracing of sounds from different genres and times within a noisy ethos. One need only look at, say, last year’s excellent release by The Atonalist or Trauma’s own work with Chrysalide to hear how flexible new reframings of noise can be, and Ecstasphere sits comfortably in that milieu. However one wants to chart the history of rhythmic noise, it’s shown here to be a fluid and open template with lots to offer the contemporary listener.