Alan Courtis and Cyrus Pireh – Coils on Malbec

I really like wires, and electronic bits, and hands, and the album art for Alan Courtis and Cyrus Pireh's Coils on Malbec really delivered on all three of those fronts.

I really like wires, and electronic bits, and hands, and the album art for Alan Courtis and Cyrus Pireh’s Coils on Malbec really delivered on all three of these things for me.

Artists: Alan Courtis & Cyrus Pireh
Title: Coils on Malbec
Cat#: N/A
Keywords: Experimental, Avant-garde, Classical, Electronic
Reviewer: Alex Spalding

Have you ever wondered what the air around you might sound like? This is not a rhetorical question, by the way…

Fictitious Reader #1: Um… actually, yes! Yes, I always have wondered that very thing!

Fictitious Reader #2: You know, so strange for you to ask, because I also have been very curious about what air sounds like, for almost my entire life!

Alex: Oh my! I cannot believe that I have two fictitious readers from my imagination answering the question I’ve just posed. Well, it is lucky for me that I have asked, and also that I have a ready-made answer. Here at Yeah I Know It Sucks, we recently received an album for review by two artists who set out to capture this sound for us! What’s more, the results of their foray into this uncharted realm of sound are quite amazing! I’d like to take a moment to quote a tract from their bandcamp page:

“There is already music all around us. We are at all times swimming through an air filled with electromagnetic vibration. Why continue to ignore this situation? Why waste additional resources to create devices that produce the same signals already in abundance? Why work to filter and suppress the symphony the we exist in day in and day out? All that is needed is to open oneself, to reorient oneself to the vastness, and the sounds will be there.”

From here, I’ll go ahead and hit play on the first piece, of two long-form recordings, titled ‘Coils On Malbec’. Soundwise, I’m receiving an impression of static, spinning around furiously, with infrequent hissing and a spitting of sparks. It’s like some kind of rotary copper device that I feel I’m hearing, though it must be the wind. I picked up on an impressive amount of clever symbolism running through the details of this work, which I’d like to mention. The album was recorded in Buenos Aires, which translates into English as ‘good air’. Malbec wine was used to create liquid circuits (a spirit, an air), then reflected in the clear red wine color of the limited vinyl issue. There is a growing quietness, the mix now reduced to a hushed whisper of static. As the whirring swells again in volume, there is kind of an audible stamping. I feel like the air must be a factory, a printing press… perhaps there are words on the wind? Now, I feel as if I’m listening to the rustling of distant leaves and branches, as a gust blows through them. It’s still very quiet, but a little stormy. Spokes on a bike begin spinning, or maybe a weathervane, or perhaps just some peculiar anomaly of sharpness arose in the electrical field. Very bizarre sequence of croaking toad-like machines in a swamp… is what I’m hearing, I mean… it’s very stuttered, or parceled in an abstract way. It gets more intense, and maybe the equipment is picking up ghosts now because there seem to be very strange shrieking noises coming through, and an electronic oscillation, like sensory disturbances. As it begins to fade, I hear… emptiness… radiator hum, louder and louder, feeling like a bug zapper even… and, with how varied, yet organized this recording feels, you may begin to wonder just how much of this entire thing was happenstance, or to what degree the artists may have edited this together into something with different measured sequences, or with layering to create more interesting and diverse textures.

“After the session, the two composers spent one year treating the source recordings to electroacoustic processes, editing, and arranging until two themeless variations were created: Coils on Malbec which appaears on the A side of the record and Malbec on Coils on side B. “

Though, if it were not known whether the artists had created a mechanism by which to capture something unique from the ambiance of their surroundings and left their devices to, ah, their own devices, divorcing themselves from it in the intent to present their findings as this raw, integral record of result, or if they’d created multiple recordings and manipulated them to be more presentable, I don’t think it detracts from the experience, or the integrity of the project. I did find myself feeling curious about it while listening, too… the artists also describe this work as “academic formalism”, and formalism in music theory (particularly academic!) is something I’ve always had a lot of trouble with. While I do see the argument for the autonomy of music as important, I tend to find myself always seeking meaning in music and personally most enjoy emotional expression through sound, while on the other hand I disagree that that music must always be made to mean or represent something else. Even in the academic way this was created, I find it to be expressing something… and, if not emotional, then what? Why do I happen to like this so much, anyway? 🙂 Maybe I like intellectual exercises and abstract ideas a lot, too, and these also receive plenty of expression through the art of music, lending it some kind of meaning beyond its form.

The next piece is ‘Malbec On Coils’, and there is a high whistle, carried on a sound somewhat like wind, but also like a small, whirring motor. I’m imagining woods and vegetation being torn from the earth by powerful tractors several acres away, like I’m hearing it from a kind of distance; loud, but also faint, for what it is. It is a very lengthy start, that seems to become gradually more grimy as it goes, until it finally feels like an extended blast of atomic heat. There is almost a vocal quality that comes through this, like the gnashing of teeth, deep utterances from a void, a cavernous hell. It is ended abruptly, and is then followed by a creaking door, the sizzle of static buzzing in our heads, a washing machine cycle, occasional crackles and pops in the mix. The volume on the buzz swells, like a balloon infinitely deflating. There are occasional bee hive blasts. There is a mechanical process loop. A more or less empty span of crackles… then, making up the end of the piece is a space of oscillating white noise and campfire, followed by searing static and the finality of silence.

Pretty cool, I think!

Fictitious Reader #1: Yes! I loved the experience of reading about this and truly wish there were something like a link that I could click on, to be taken to a page where I might be able to find this album and become a Real Listener instead of just a Fictitious Reader.

Alex: I am so glad you mentioned that. That is a great idea.

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