Somnambule - Writing About Music

Noid ~ Monodigmen

Noid is Vienna-based Arnold Haberl along with cello and laptop - though the latter’s uncredited presence is more supposition than fact. Monodigmen sounds rather clumsy when pronounced phonetically in English, but it probably sounds a lot better in German and might benefit from association with the word ‘paradigm’. Whether it’s a play on words or not isn’t known.

Monodigmen begins with Melodien [containing Begrussung (trans. greeting)]. If the way friends say hello is indistinguishable from the sound of the inside of a vacuum cleaner tube then you should feel right at home here. The melody mentioned in the title (it’s a generous description) occurs about 9 minutes in and lasts approximately two seconds – cough and you’ve missed it. Herz (trans. heart) is recognisably the product of someone playing a short phrase on the cello. It repeats seemingly endlessly and prompts the question as to whether it’s played in real-time or whether it’s a laptop-borne loop. That the answer to this query seems important must have something to do with the unspoken, but popular contract which could be paraphrased along the lines of 'if I’m to engage with this challenging sound, Noid the performer must have expended at least a proportionate amount of time and effort on its creation'. Listening closely to try to discover the answer also provokes thoughts about the linkage between memory and the power of observation.

‘Vacuum 1’ is slightly reminiscent of the beginning of Rimsky Korsakov's Flight Of The Bumblebee, but the poor insect's immediately caught in a trap, a cruel loop. The repetition initially induces feelings of mild claustrophobia but as it continues the discomfort’s liable to increase. As with strobe lighting and high voltage wires, ‘Vacuum 1’ should carry a health warning. Again, the live versus loop question raises its head. If it’s the former it’s certainly a singular feat of performance. Perhaps Noid’s muscles gave out at after 11 minutes, 51 seconds. ‘Ursache’ (meaning origin) consists of a single thwack of a string. Nothing more. The track clocks in at a total duration of 9 seconds.

‘Instrument [containing Urlaub {trans. holiday}]’ sounds like a slightly unbalanced lathe. There's variety in the intonation; with concentration - or the ability to surrender - this piece becomes mesmerising, the subtly changing sounds of wood, metal and hair gradually becoming apparent over the 12 minute duration. A minute before the end the sound ceases momentarily - golden silence! (and probably the holiday referred to in the title). Then crushingly the sound begins again and continues implacably on, exagerrating with a wry smile the reality of workaday lives.

Monodigmen ends with ‘Einsam’ (trans. lonely), 10 minutes and 14 seconds of low-key metallic snuffling. In fact this description is inaccurate: if all the snuffles were compressed together they’d only last about 3 minutes. The remaining time comprises the silences between each carefully individuated sound. In Simon Ford’s Wreckers Of Civilisation Genesis P. Orridge writes of Throbbing Gristle’s desire to create a track that is just too long for comfort, that deliberately takes something flip past the point of amusement. Monodigmen is full of similar experiments, litmus tests for the listener's will to persevere. Despite that, there’s a strong sense of performance here, of Haberl’s presence. Monodigmen is conceptually closer to fine art than popular music, there’s a strong sense of each piece being an experiment in process and possibility: the nature of the research is laid bare in the listening and the results are there for the audience to discover and interpret. Musically, there are shades both of techno’s locked grooves and of Steve Reich and Phillip Glass’s minimalism – though it's only the repetition which triggers this association, the 'sample' might just as well be lifted from a Tom Waits song. Haberl mixes an intensity verging on sadism with humour to create challenging, but fascinating music.
Colin Buttimer
September 2004
Published by the BBC