“Two Novels: Gaze / In the Cochlea” reviewed by BBC

O.Blaat’s debut arrives with liner-note endorsement from premier highbrow turntablist Christian Marclay and a cover bearing distinctive images of installations by South Korean artist Helen Cho. The back cover in particular looks like a rendering of Helen Chadwick’s Piss Flowers in Body Shop soap. O.Blaat is Keiko Uenishi, a Japanese woman relocated to downtown NYC. Two Novels could easily serve as a spot sample of the downtown experimental music scene, dotted as it is with collaborators including DJ Olive, Eyvind Kang and Ikue Mori.

Two Novels travels between ambient sound, minimalist improvisation and, on the first track, slightly more traditional electronica. ‘One Morning’ is credited as a collaboration with London-based fellow sound artist Kaffe Matthews; its focus is a hyperactively insectoidal percussion track menaced by insistent hums and whirrs. The rhythmic chassis, however, proves to be atypical of the rest of the CD. Track two, ‘Egg Salad Sandwich’, makes noises no one would want to hear coming from any foodstuff destined for their consumption: it’s twitchy with scrofulous slurs, electronic tinkles and fast edits. ‘Gone Fishing’ begins with what sounds like a pig’s grunts interspersed with synthetic test tones and ends with the sound of wind blowing, water and possibly the creak of oars: in sum, it’s a short, mysterious odyssey.

The cover divides the 19 tracks into two distinct parts, the first nine make up Gaze, the final 10 are collectively titled In The Cochlea. No other clue is given to the existence of a binding concept and it would tax the skills of a Sherlock Holmes to decipher a narrative here. Having said that, the fictions of authors such as William Burroughs and Kathy Acker actively militated against traditional structures and their example might be applied here as a key to assembling a narrative. Perhaps O.Blaat’s authorship of interactive audio installations is also a clue. Despite this, cumulatively the threads both between tracks and between the constituent parts of each track appear rather too slight to maintain this listener’s engagement. Two Novels delivers stringent, abstract minimalism which might benefit from a contextualisation other than the predominantly biographical one supplied by Marclay.

Colin Buttimer

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