David Toop

Entities Inertias Faint Beings

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"In a lot of ways I've come to dislike music," David Toop is quoted as saying. "I like sound, [and] I like silence." And, indeed, there is very little of what one might call music on this album, but there is a lot of sound, and a lot of silence. Released on Australian Lawrence English's esteemed Room40 imprint, this album takes the singular collage approach Toop used on his last outing, Sound Body, to its logical conclusion. It starts with a faint crackle and hum like dusty vinyl before drums, bells, and rattles reverberate as though in a cavernous space. Bleeps like Morse code on a shortwave radio and a faintly jazzy electric guitar lick come and go. The drily recorded tattoo of hand drums and scratches on "For a Language to Come" dissolve into the ominous sound of helicopter rotors. It's more sound art than music, and apart from on the odd track, there are no real melodies to speak of. Most of the tracks consist of sparse percussion, field recordings, and the sound of found objects (stones, wood, seashells, etc.) being "played" by Toop or his collaborators, the compelling "Unspeakable Within It" being the prime example. It's an extremely conceptual piece, allegedly partly inspired by long periods of sitting in solitude in the Australian desert. Toop has described the sense of being visited by the spirits of ancestral beings, and that the album already existed, just waiting to be discovered. The distressing cover image, perhaps a deflated weather balloon laid out so as to resemble a grimacing, half-rotted shrunken head, further enhances the air of mystery. Toop's fascination with the Far East is well documented, and is felt most strongly on one of the album's highlights, "Setting Stones." Over the mournful whistle of shakuhachi, a thickly accented woman reads a disturbing passage from a traditional text, first in English, then in Japanese. It's also apparent on the album's centerpiece, its longest and most "musical" track, "Ancestral Beings, Sightless by Their Own Dust." An Eastern-inspired mournful melody for violin and sporadic steel-pan percussion phase in and out, eventually to be swallowed by a rumbling jungle darkness punctuated by the unsettling shrieks of animals. Toop, a towering figure in sound art and experimental music, is now nearly 70 years old, has not made an album in ten years, and is renowned for his exactitude, so it's probably no stretch to say that absolutely everything on this album is exactly where he wanted it to be. There are no mistakes. And with a fat-free running time of just over 35 minutes, its dense and impenetrable mysteries keep you returning over and over. There's a colossal sense of otherness to this album; it masterfully evokes primeval, uninhabited locations, and much of it sounds as though it were not crafted by human hands, which is surely the point. It stands as a testament to Toop's unique ethos and his tireless, unshakeable spirit of experimentation, and comes highly recommended.

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