Somnambule - Writing About Music

Mnemonists ~ Gyromancy

Mnemonists: the very name inspires dread in the tongue. It acted as cover for six Colorado-based musicians whose music resulted from the real-time manipulation of live performance on a wide variety of instruments such as piano, cello, guitar, bagpipes, etc. Gyromancy – the term refers to divination performed by drawing a ring or circle, and walking in or around it – was recorded in the summer of 1983 though the music is singular enough to emanate from anytime in the last forty years.

Gyromancy 1 begins with a sudden jet of sound like fire from a flamethrower. Even as it begins to repeat, the sound metamorphoses, all the while eluding identification. It’s akin to seeing something mysterious through frosted glass that might otherwise be easily identified. As the intensity of the performance increases, a looming undertow like the shadow of a mournful giant becomes audible. There’s something magnificent and blasted about this percussive sound, like a fist knocking repeatedly on a skull that recalls – however faulty the memory – Harrison Birtwistle’s Yan Tan Tethera. After a brief pause, a wavering drone starts up that engulfs everything around it. There’s an unpleasant slithering, sliding quality to this noise that suggests a combination of oily snake and drunken bagpipe. Another pause and the nightmarish intensity is ratcheted up a few notches, only to gradually and unevenly unwind again. Imagine watching a slinky navigate stairs in slow motion while under the influence of psychedelic stimulants. Gyromancy 2 continues in similar vein: percussive sounds swathed in reverb, alien gamelan adrift in lysergic seas. This intense, nightmarish music demands that the listener surrender to its unfamiliar logic, sink into its inky morass. Gradually the sound fades into the distance, looming all the while like an increasingly befogged Fall Of The House Of Usher. So ends the last of the two longer pieces, each a shade under 20 minutes in length. Two briefer tracks round out the album. Nailed rubs and rankles like an insistent memory that refuses to surface into the light of day, it swims about in deep submarine chaos, as if Neptune’s sleep were troubled by nightmares. Tic lives up to its name, a grunting warthog tripping on broken glass.

This music suggests the less friendly parts of White Noise’s An Electric Storm, the industrial soundscaping of David Lynch’s Eraserhead or a newly discovered early Stockhausen tape piece. It’s like sound from somewhere else, intent and unearthly. Access with care.
Colin Buttimer
April 2005
Published by the BBC