DECAYCAST REVIEWS: Attilio Novellino & Collin McKelvey – “Metaphysiques Cannibales” LP/ Digital (Weird Ear, 2018)
by Diego Aguilar-Canabal
My first instrument was not a guitar, piano, or computer—it was a space heater. I crawled up to it on my feeble haunches (so my parents recall), eyeing with skepticism the plastic cage holding its inner circuitry, and scraped a toy truck against its indifferent grooves. It was music, but not art; in a word, it was sound, yet without form.
Humans entertain themselves by forming patterns out of meaningless garbage, and the venerable Weird Ear imprint is almost religiously devoted to stripping those patterns back down to the garbage whence they came. No less ambitious is their latest platter of sonic sacrilege, Colin McKelvey & Attilio Novellino’s Metaphysiques Cannibales.
The anti-conceptual hodgepodge of musique concrete motifs is named after and perhaps inspired by a book of the same name by Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, a poststructural anthropologist who sought to reimagine the study as a revolutionary “decolonization of thought.” That’s a tall order, and no single record will get the job done, but McKelvey & Novellino’s mystical ballet of bleeps and bloops certainly gets the ball rolling.
As you may remember from your earliest toys—particularly from your realization that anything in your hands could be a toy—no melody is inherently happy or sad. No ritual carries inherent reward. It seems like only the Pavlovian training by authority figures can teach you, fragile caged pigeon that you are, can pair a major-key waltz with a sweet refreshing ice cream, or the somber diminished chord with a demonic possession. But is that really how it works?
Side A of this mindfuckery starts with the buzzing whiplash of factory-like rhythms, swirls into the void of a cosmic dentist’s drill, and fades into the spacious echoes of a zombie-ridden hospital morgue. Sources are obscured, and the arbitrary distinction between impact and intent implodes in a serene chaos.
Side B creeps into your consciousness with the whispers of a long-lost French interrogation recording, swallowed by the tinkering and thudding of a conch shell sceance. A molten fax machine emerges from the sludge of a forgotten video game organ dirge, and a scintillating synthesizer drone evokes Laurie Spiegel and Roedelius before sinking into a lonely abyss. The urgency of a broken dial-up connection is tempered by the ebb and flow of a chilling piano loop.
While the grating hiss of granular synthesis is typically the domain of futuristic computer music—you know, all those sweaty nerds coding in Max/MSP—here it gives the music a sense of being unimaginably ancient, like a mad scientist’s vision of the future whispered into a phonograph to pass the time while waiting for the brine to embalm a dead monarch.
“By always seeing the Same in the Other,” writes Castro, “by thinking that under the mask of the other it is always just ‘us’ contemplating ourselves, we end up complacently accepting a shortcut and an interest only in what is ‘of interest to us’—ourselves.”
Indeed, the image we see of ourselves in this record is a terrifying one, and not seeing yourself reflected is a “don’t think of an elephant”-esque impossibility. We’re tragically vain, capricious, greedy yet wasteful, hungry to build something meaningful out of heaps of trash we never wanted in the first place.
If you’re ready to sweat through your nightmares and wake up more confused than ever, this is a record worth adding to your trash-heap.