February 5, 2013
If you consider yourself a fan of “noise music” from the last 10 years, there’s an extremely good chance you’ve heard of Dominick Fernow. Aside from his most high-profile project Prurient, and his association with minimal-wave darlings Cold Cave, Dom’s been involved in at least dozens, if not hundreds, of shadowy projects over the years in the harsh/dark realm.
Releasing most of his material on his own imprint, Hospital Productions, Fernow’s recorded output over the last five years has been a more or less unending stream of mysterious cassettes and CDRs. His Li’l B-level prolificacy often breaks the album/month barrier, and the offerings are served up STRICTLY LIMITED.
What makes Fernow’s output more compelling than the average morass of lo-fi junk that circulates the underground is his master manipulation of persona. The man is an arch conceptualist, founding dozens of anonymous “groups” whose names and song titles move away from simple identifiers to the level of obtuse poetry. As such, each “project” is a dive into a speculative genre of noise yet undeveloped, its motivations and politics unclear.
One persona, the spare, drum-machine driven, counter-terrorism obsessed Vatican Shadow (named in honor of the Pope’s secret service) has recently broken through the underground. With a new crossover fan-base of dark techno fanatics worldwide, it reached major blog-hype status with a string of vinyl releases in 2012. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Just for fun, here’s a few choice examples from Fernow’s back catalog, alongside speculative “themes”(my own guesses, of course)
Exploring Jezebel – “Attending UCLA Lecture on Forced Feminisation in Prison” Cassette
Force Publique Congo – “Population Loss in the Rubber-Rich Equatorial Colonies” 2xCassette Box
(Banana republic colonialism)
Infrastructure Zero – “Cessna children” Cassette
(Military-industrial contracting, sample track: “Scaffolding Rusting in Stormwater”)
Sierra Leone Anger – “Executive Outcomes” 2xCassette
(The trial of ex-Liberian president Charles Taylor, including a track titled “His Crew Tried to Kill Him With a Cancer Ray Camera” Hyper-specific!)
Christian Cosmos – “Cadence Upon The Threshold Of Judgement” Cassette
(Theology, natch. Sample track title: “God Has Entered So Fully into the Human Experience That Everything Has Changed”)
Mitochondrial DNA – “Strawberry Sugar Zeros” Cassette
(Your guess is as good as mine on this one)
Whereas most “concept” albums are imbued with self-important rhetoric, Dom keeps everything hazily incindiary. The verbatim, found-text poetry of the project and release names, and the obtuse yet loaded titles and art congeal into a totally compelling package, embodying the same kind of hazy, mysterious magic that empowered VHS box art of yore. All the while, there’s a silent army of fanboy salivators plunking down three figures on Discogs and Ebay for a shot at a complete collection. The dude’s invented fresh new ways to play off dark fascination in order to move units, and you have to applaude him for it.
So what does it all sound like? Who knows. For every cassette that gets ripped and shared, or is given the Boomkat treatment, a dozen more slip through the cracks of the Internet. Much like the onslaught of Z-grade VHS that flooded the market at the beginning of the VCR age, the fun is in not knowing quite what lies inside.
All this brings us to Fernow’s latest outing in localized occult role-playing, Rainforest Spiritual Enslavement. The four 10+ minute tracks on “The Plant with Many Faces” are a humid, low-fi traipse through dark tropics, their titles evoking jungle shamans and black magic animism. The album kicks off with a phasing synth pulse, and just as you ready yourself to get sucked into some neon-lit carpenter-soundscape, the whole thing is enveloped by a torrent of low-fi scuzz, with the sparsest of rhythmic clank. Only occasional tape-loop shrieks and wails pierce the shroud.
From there, we are treated to a patient suite of subdued, fuzzy atmospheres, in turn menacing and morose, pensive and threatening. With only the faintest hints of rhythmic/melodic content, and James Ferraro levels of audio infidelity, the album works best as a mood piece, echoing the tape-saturated bed music of Robert Turman or Graveyards at their most mellow. An unpolished but intriguing listen, executed with an admirable restraint that ultimately dulls its effects.
It’s also worth noting that as of right now, this is a widely available download-only release, indicating the turning of a new leaf (all puns intended) for the sub-underground project. Comparisons to gauzy darkness sculptors like Demdike Stare and Andy Stott are entirely valid, and in the wake of those groups’ massive hype in 2012, Hospital is taking the product to the people.
When you’ve worked your way through their catalog of 30 Muslimgauze albums, give Dom’s latest a listen on Spotify.