Album Review: “Dormant Pile” by Chris Bassett
Chris Bassett is one of Albany’s most productive and best-kept secret noise artists. He’s released nearly 30 full-length albums and EPs that I know of from his bandcamp page (https://chrisbassett.bandcamp.com/). And I’m guessing he’s recorded far more than that.
Like many noise artists, Bassett often utilizes a signal that’s processed through a series of effects/effect pedals. This is certainly the concept behind his latest release Dormant Pile, as can be seen from the cover that is a shot of the so-called “dormant pile” of guitar pedals on top of a guitar lying down on the floor.
Another mysterious aspect that’s always being debated amongst noise lovers and haters is, much like all improvised music before it, is the recorded “noise” (I’d call it music, but you might not) random, well thought out and planned, and/or does it matter? With this album, Bassett seems to be teasing the very concept itself by indicating this is just random noise from a “Dormant Pile”.
Regardless of the intentions of the artist or the effort put into the recording, to me it’s an undeniably beautiful and haunting record of immense power. “Hallucinogenic Migraine” sounds like it would be a nightmare of hellish proportions, but the track has an ambient, relaxing quality that’s often interrupted by the type of piercing screams one would expect from a migraine. The second track “My Undoing is My Own Doing” is far more disturbing; there’s no underlying level of white noise from which any kind of ambience can be discerned, but rather drum like hits on a signal that’s processed with god knows what. And it gets unpredictably louder, quieter, more harsh, more bubbly… in a word, unpredictable.
And unpredictably the album continues with “Soft Robots”, a track that sounds nothing like the first two. And yet, as it moves on, you understand how it’s still of a piece with the rest of the record. A synth or vocal signal hits the high mark, feeds back, and decays. In fact, it’s hard to say what is so different about this track… it sounds more… planned?
The standout track of Dormant Pile to me is “Static Anxiety”. This track by far has the most apt title; warning — if you have an anxiety disorder you probably shouldn’t listen to this one. It has the descriptive power of general anxiety that is building and irritating to a level where you expect the panic to set in, but it never does. And then a different kind of signal unexpectedly sets in and feeds back, as you’re led to anxiously await the next suspenseful tones that fade in and out even to complete silence at times. And then a gloomy sound pulls you back in, into the static noises that quite expertly describe an anxious state. No music I’ve heard before has ever expressed the unending suspense and low level horror of generalized anxiety quite like this track does. Just like all of Chris Bassett’s recordings, this is never going to appeal to a large audience (at least not at present). But for those of us that love the noise, this is a series of them that shouldn’t be missed.