the ceiling undiscs
Download the pdf for the cover here
My previous experiences of Jim DeJong's The Infant Cycle had been of music predominantly based around rhythm this time out however it's ambience that holds sway. The music on this EP is a swirly concurrence of reversed sound and tumbling tones that create a veritable kaleidoscope of colour. With a run time of barely 13 minutes it's a tricky little CD to catch a hold of, if you lose concentration for a moment then it's gone. It is however another intriguing insight into the music of this long-standing experimentalist and with a the press release mentioning that a full length album is in the works it certainly provides a tantalising glimpse into what is coming next.
So, yes, we don't review MP3 releases, but this was delivered on a CDR with a neat cover, so maybe if you ask for one to buy, you can also get it...? The Infant Cycle has been around since 1992 and have been available on more traditional formats, such as CDs and 7"s, but here comes as a MP3 release. I have no idea how literal we should take the title of this release, but yes, it might very well be a Fender bass guitar and birdcage(s). The three tracks, spanning merely twelve minutes, are subdued outings in the ambient land, of droning buzzing vibrating sounds. Its nice, but ever so short. These pieces could have at least been twice the length! The music deserves it very much. And of course a proper format!
-Frans de Waard
Prior to the review, it should be noted that Infant Cycle is one of Canada's best kept secrets, as far as ambient/experimental music is concerned. Although the project was established in the early 90s, few people seemingly know or heard about Jim DeJong's solo endeavor, which is a shame because he’s unbelievably inventive when it comes to working with sound (and reshaping/modifying it in different ways).
Not that you would realize any of this by listening to "Fender Bass". Its an extremely brief CD (12 minutes long), which is made even shorter through the employment of various tricks/ways to fill the space ("which leaves us with a cozy 10-minute set", as one of the characters in Spinal Tap used to say).
Shiny Venus (Over S.St) is a nice new age-y kind of track with all sorts of ambient noises appearing around the main (chiming) motive. Somewhere in the middle, it suddenly starts playing backwards. Shiny Venus (Detail 1) is an extremely brief interlude which gives way to a final track.
Shiny Venus (Detail 2) is easily the best of all three compositions. Its a moaning and groaning industrial sound collage, which sounds like a long-lost Zoviet-France track circa late 80s.
The quality of the final track, however, is not enough to stop me from saying that if it wasn’t for its lack of ideas, "Fender Bass" would’ve been a great record. As it stands – its a pleasant, but non-essential item from an act that can do so much better than this album.
From the very get go this cd reminds me positively of the most ambient tracks by Loop Guru, a project I really love. It's intoxicatingly calm and soothing, and I might even add meditative. Not in the new age sense, but in a "I want to listen to this while solving intricate logic puzzles, because it would help me concentrate". This is not an album that will have you humming or singing refrains but it will lower your heartbeat and make your life ten minutes longer. In fact, listening to this album over and over for the rest of your life might be the secret the Taoist alchemists were after: the key to eternal life. Pretty neat huh?
The album title is quite descriptive of what you get. There's bass melodies in the bottom, and various other sounds floating around. I severly doubt those distant choirs I hear are bird cages, but who am I? Doesn't really matter. The music works, and I like it.
There are three tracks on the album, and they're all quite short. Well, the second one is anyway, the other two are of decent length. Perhaps I should call it an E.P. Maybe even a single? These categories are basically of theoretical interest only and I'll stick to calling it an album, cos quite simply, that's what it feels like. Despite the modest running time, it feels like something very complete. Couldn't have been longer, without feeling forced. It's right the way it is.
I guess that's pretty much all I need to say about that. I wholeheartedly recommend it.
Here we have a very compelling 3 song mini-disc from The Infant Cycle. As always, the listener is presented with an inimitable blend of sounds. The first version of the song ("Over S.St") is very rhythmic and spooky. It is the soundtrack of a dark pet shop window at 4 in the morning. Such is always the work of the Infant Cycle: very evocative and suggestive, with a pronounced visual quality. "Detail 1" is very short and minimal, while "Detail 2" is fuller sounding and ominous. The Infant Cycle proves once again that audio chemistry can indeed be very powerful. This is a brilliant manipulation of sound.
This is the last of the latest batch of releases I have been sent for review, and I have held off on this one not because I thought it was less important that the rest (of various genres and origins), but perhaps because I thought it was more important. Not necessarily better, more creative or whatever, but just important in an artistic way that many other music projects are not. Most music projects are done for two conjoined reasons (contractual obligations, promises of fulfillment, etc notwithstanding) ' expression of the artist and the commerce of the product. Expression of the artist is what makes (most) music interesting, individualistic, an extension of personality and the basis for commerce. If there is no expression in whatever form, there cannot be a product, and hence, no commerce. The commerce of the product, its salability and market potential depends on public taste (the trends, styles, affinity for certain musical forms and genres) the personality or personalities of the artists making the music, including charisma, appearance, etc, the advertising of the product, media exposure, live performance, and to a lesser degree, the critical reception of the product. (Music reviewers are usually the last in line in the factors that determine the success or lack thereof of a music artist's work.) To a great degree in popular music in general, the commerce of the product is equally important to its success or failure as is the product itself, often requiring the product to be tailored to meet the needs of such commerce. The result is more often than not 'tainted music' by such compromise, and is a good part of why so many music artists sound so similar to other music artists that have gone before them. Some chalk it up to 'influences' (whether it be a particular artist, group of artists, genre or genres, etc.) but the fact is, most are treading the path of what has been done before, with some variation/deviation to account for personal expression and individuality to establish their own 'sound'. And this is just what the general public want- a 'sound' they can identify with because it is familiar; because (and often subconsciously) it reminds them of something they already know. The unfortunate part is, that when the balance of artistic expression vs. commerce is weighted more heavily towards the commercial side, the artistic expression (or uniqueness thereof) must necessarily suffer in one capacity or another, regardless of public taste or critical opinion. The better known an artist is and the more success they achieve, the better the chances that artist's product is derivative, mediocre and ordinary. Although the opposite is not necessarily true (there are plenty of mediocre 'unknowns'), those artists who create against the grain of what is popular tend to have a purer artistic vision turning into expression, and are less concerned with the commerce aspect of the product.
So why is all this 'important' and what relevance does it have to this music review? The answer is simple, but requires a bit of elaboration. Here is a music artist ' Canadian Jim DeJong (and occasional collaborators) laboring under the name of The Infant Cycle who has been releasing music since 1994 (or maybe even earlier) in various formats, who has only been heard by those who delve deep into esoteric avant-garde noise/ambient music, and the occasional hapless music reviewer like me who finds a release by the artist in their batch of CDs to review. Up until now, I never heard nor heard of The Infant Cycle. I have heard, and heard of, plenty of other artists in the (sub)genre, but The Infant Cycle has managed to elude my perception for 17 years with well over 40 releases. This I find remarkable. Granted, most all of the releases are on small obscure labels with dubious distribution, limited quantities and little promotion to speak of (likely outside of word of mouth and the occasional music review) but somewhere, somehow this should have come to my attention before now. To me, this is the perfect example of artistic expression being weighted well over commerce, and the expression much more pure as a result.
So, what about the music, the reader must be asking in frustration, just get to the damn point already and talk about the music! Well, being unfamiliar with The Infant Cycle, I had no basis of previous work to compare this release with. Fortunately, there was enough prior material (just a fraction of the whole really) to listen to online to get a better sense of what was on this disc vs. some of the artist's catalog. The title of this one ' 'Plays Fender Bass Guitars and Bird Cages of Unknown Origin, Exclusively' I initially took to be more of a modus operandi of the artist than a descriptive title of the work, and I thought, 'Oh, here's a guy who only plays bass guitar and birdcages'¦how interesting could that be?' Well, it turns out to be very interesting in spite of the fact that it's not the typical modus operandi of The Infant Cycle, just descriptive of this release. Other prior works that I eventually heard by this artist ranged from long industrial droning pieces, to annoying tapping and clatter, to vaguely melodic metal machine music. This release, as a three-track CD single seems to be different though. It consists of three versions of 'shiny venus,' ' 1. [over s.st], 2. [detail 1], 3. [detail 2]. They are all very different from each other. Version 1 (6:04) begins with a repetitive medium tempo rhythmic monotone bass guitar tapping with a light industrial ambience in the background that is almost like machine breathing. This 'machine breathing' increases in prominence, then abruptly cuts out to be replaced by a lighter more subtle ambience. When the bass rhythm cuts out it is replaced by nearly arrhythmic backwards bass notes which continue on, gradually fading until the conclusion of the piece. Version 2 (1:15) is a light, soft higher pitched near whistling ambience, and that's all. Version 3 (5:38) was the most immediately intriguing piece to me on the CD. It consists of dense, shifting slabs of sound processed to the hilt, undoubtedly with backwards manipulation and echo, a harmonically rich environment punctuated by a distant intermittent tone, like a pipe being tapped by a mallet, or the muted clang of rope and hardware on a flagpole in the wind. The closer one listens, the more one notices more auxiliary sounds such as the sound of the heavily reverbed noise of birdcages being struck. A phantom melody as a byproduct of all the processing seems evident as well. This is one complex and engaging piece.
As I have discovered, music by The Infant Cycle has been reviewed prolifically here at Chain D.L. K., perhaps more than anywhere else. Of course, all reviews are subjective, and whoever hears what, except when described in the most clinical terms, may not be hearing or relating what you perceive when you listen to the music. Most seem to agree though that what The Infant Cycle is doing in the realm of manipulating sound from various sources is somewhat unique and definitely challenges the listener on a number of levels, regardless of what the end result may be, which is often vastly different from work to work. So in that sense, the typical positive/negative assessment has little relevance except as applied to the parameters of the reviewer's own preferences and prejudices. In this reviewer's opinion, I am inclined towards the preference and prejudice of really liking 'Plays Fender Bass Guitars and Bird Cages of Unknown Origin, Exclusively'. For minimalist/isolationist stuff, it is intriguing enough to want to listen to multiple times. For those who say 'yeah, well it's only a 3 track single, probably not worth the $$, blah blah, blah'¦' I say there is more of interest here in this barely 13 minutes of music than a lot of stuff I've heard that was over an hour in length. (rated 4/5)