Belly Of Barghest
A recent cassette release from Portland’s Terror Apart came packed with dried mugwort, intended to be brewed into tea in order “to heighten the dream state and foster lucid dreaming, giving access to one’s uncharted depths,” presumably whilst the tape was carrying the listener along this psychoactive journey. That gesture, offering the listener a cozy (if trip-inducing) cuppa alongside a tape of ostensible noise, nicely speaks to the tensions found within Anna Leja’s latest release Belly Of Barghest: simultaneously clattering and comforting, abrasive but introspective, it’s an exercise in using texture and percussion to ends more subtle and calming than are commonly found in noise of any kind.
Terror Apart first passed into our radar during 2017’s installment of Vancouver’s Verboden fest. Leja’s set combined low, murky sample manipulation with at times downright funky polyrhythms (bringing early 23 Skidoo to mind, of all things), and in retrospect presages at least part of Belly Of Barghest‘s makeup. While previous release Knight Rider relied on low, bending and reverberating drones and pitches, here Leja strips things down. Drones are more staid and stoic, and the record’s atmosphere comes across best through lo-fi, whispering noise which could just as easily be tape hiss as field recording or other sampling. Atop that is a plethora of swarming, smothering percussion: seemingly some programmed, some sampled, some acoustic. Drumming, ranging from the hypnotic to the furious, comes to define the record.
From within the world of noise, Dom Fernow’s Rainforest Spiritual Enslavement project is perhaps the easiest comparison which can be made to Belly Of Barghest, but even that project doesn’t have the same otherworldy, ghostly ambiance that Leja’s looping and sampling communicate. There’s an odd nostalgia to this record which seems to hearken back to an age of tape-driven minimal-synth and noise experimentation dependent upon the lo-rez fidelity of a long-gone analog age. As Eno said some twenty-plus years ago, “Whatever you now find weird, ugly, uncomfortable and nasty about a new medium will surely become its signature.” That limit is surely found in “Amalsa”, a track which jams the aforementioned heavy drones against an ambiguous ritual vocal sample so closely that one begins to lose track of the lineage of any given frequency. Or, take a listen to how “Grit” positions acoustic drum recordings against increasingly low kbps synth reverb. What’s the ‘real’ audio recording against which any of this can be judged?
Terror Apart still feels like a developing and perhaps even aimless project, searching about for a certain aesthetic or style of composition for which Leja is best suited. That might make for an uncertain present, but it points to a fearless and uncompromising future. Like both the most accomplished and the most obscure of noise and minimal-synth’s early experimenters, Terror Apart are rushing headlong into both the promise and the limitation of their own methodology. Whether that yields a face-blasting noisescape or an inward psychedelic meditation seems to depend on our approach as listeners.