Roadside Picnic & Charles Barabe – Worn Paths In Crown Dust (A Giant Fern – 2014)

by mrdpetri

The two artists here each have their own interesting thing going on.
Justin Wiggan is a multi-media artist of the conceptually-advanced sort. He has a project called Life Echo, which is a fascinating psychological therapy experience-experiment for the elderly. Utilizing artistically arranged personal objects and sound recordings, elderly people (those close to dying) are given a deep readout of their own life experience. This carefully rendered, deeply personal “readout” is suspected to be capable of helping near-death individuals to cope with, fully accept and even enjoy the arrival of their end. The (research) project is explained over a series of deposited segments of information – divided into weeks. On one page, you read the following:
“A Life Echo is potentially a non -Invasive surgical procedure which can be governed by adopted familiarity with the L.E process. This could give the individual authorship and empowerment of self control in a healing experience.”
Those words right there are pretty representative of the kind of talk you come across when perusing the weekly information deposits. This is a fascinating art therapy / conceptual work foraging into the grounds of humanity’s future. Wiggan’s extensive discography (released on A Giant Fern, Centipede Farm, Jehu and Chinaman, Los Discos Enfantasmes, Altar of Waste, etc.) expresses this same level of artisanship and thoughtfulness.
Charles Barabe is a sound artist who has released beautifully strange and varied sound-collage-scape work on 905 tapes, 2 AM Tapes, ((Cave)) Recordings, Brise-Cul Records, and other excellent labels. His work is intricately edited and depicts complex psychological environments. Sampled field recordings, records, television recordings, electronics and other found sounds are used to construct abstract musical compositions. His palette of sounds is broad and he seems apt to explore as many nooks as possible.

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On this substantial cassette Worn Paths In Crown Dust, some finely articulated drone-noise is put forth in concise self-contained movements. I think the audio bears resemblance to some awfully beautiful and strange rhythmless recordings I’ve heard by Michael Northam (earthiness, intimacy of feelings), The Future Sound of London (high clarity ambience, frequent use of samples, certain sorts of electronics used), Vidna Obmana, Dead Voices on Air (the dark vibes and flavors of abrasiveness ). This is serious, deep-thinking audio work which takes the listener to many different imagination-hybridized places, all in high definition. Each piece has a central sound around which all of the other elements orbit, hover and gesticulate. The sound I perceive as being “central” is decided upon based on the constancy of a given sound. In each piece, one sound tends to be constant, while the others tend to change. On some of these pieces, the center-of-gravity-sound is only intermittent; it occurs briefly and gives way to a weighted pause. For the duration of a piece on side A just after the half way point, a low metallic clang and boom hinting at mechanical-ness happens at the rate of maybe twice a minute. It seems that similar ‘weird ominous-sounding mechanical metal-clang backdrop with expressive stimulatory textures on top’ programs occur throughout both sides of the tape. Despite my playfully hyperbolic wording I really enjoy and appreciate this approach, especially when it is done with taste and care. This is of course only a few pockets of the 66-ish minutes of the tape. It’s a stimulating listen with consistent movement throughout different moods and types of sound. The cover of this release and the other 3 of this batch by A Giant Fern are all gorgeous collages by Oejerum. The cleanliness of these enigmatic mystical image concoctions works in synergy with the articulate crispness of the audio work. This batch has been in frequent rotation since I received them fall 2014. Recommended. All of them.

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