In the clutches
Ever get the feeling the universe is trying to tell you something?
A couple evenings ago there were a few hours before Amy, another friend and I, on a night with many shows of note here in Chicago, were going to see Orthrelm (much to Amy's dismay: her apologies, Mazarin), and I had Jandek on Corwood sitting around, so why not chance an experimental music double-feature?
Before the movie, I knew of Jandek only by reputation. My primary impression as one uninitiated: the film focuses on Jandek's reception among some pretty sophisticated listeners, nearly all of whom are overwhelmed by the music and (lack of) backstory. Despite knowing better, each gets involved in speculating about what the hell this shit *is*. Of course, such a game always ends with you projecting your own business onto this artfully crafted blank slate (sitting in their shoes, I'm sure I'd do exactly the same thing; watch me in a moment) but the sheer resolve required to behave like Jandek speaks to a vision that demands decoding, that demands explanation. His motivation could be insanity or access to some heightened moral state but if you detach for a moment, it's certainly possible that what you are witnessing is an art project of the highest order playing out over decades crafted with a uncommon combination of skill and will.
Jump ahead a few hours and watch me twist myself into the same knots as those Jandek devotees in the film. The three of us have arrived at the show and the two guys, Mick Barr (guitar) and Josh Blair (percussion), from Orthrelm have taken the stage. Their album OV has had me in its clutches since hearing it on WNUR a few months ago and I was really looking forward to the show. After a few minutes of listening, all I could think was: this is *religious* music. It's communal, it's transcendental, it's... Jon overwhelmed and losing his ability to talk sense.
OV (sample) - Orthrelm
OV (and the show, which was a reproduction of the album slightly sped up (and I'm only somewhat confident in that... there's much to take in), is indeed a combination of skill and will, nearly a straight hour of impossibly fast, repetitious guitar phrases with equally ornate drumming, but it begs the question: what exactly am I witnessing? Certainly shred for shred's sake until, after a few minutes, with barely a change, through sheer perseverance, it isn't any more. My best guess at this moment is that OV is absolutely pointless to play and absolutely pointless to listen to (which you could say about any damn thing but this music's extremity brings this into relief). However both the creation of this stuff and putting yourself in a place to receive it, the effort it takes, makes for something more. At the very least, Orthrelm taught me a different way to listen.
A side note or two about the show: I was standing in line at the merchandise table after the show and the young kid ahead of me, having bought an album, said something to astonishingly now-composed Josh Blair, blindingly brilliant Orthrelm drummer: "That was amazing. We need more shows like this in Chicago!" Josh was polite, started helping me, and therefore didn't give the only possible response: There are no other shows like this. I can hear Amy thinking: Thank God.
Voltage, a Chicago band on Flameshovel, opened. While I think some of the stuff on its album, Building the Bass Castle, Vol. 1, comes off as a little forced, it made more sense in performance. There's a harmonious howl on one track in particular that drove me crazy in my living room that made sense as a humorous touch at the Beat Kitchen. Here's a Voltage track from a Flameshovel sampler:
" " - Voltage
Now, the final indefatigable voyager the universe sent me. Ended up not going out after the show so I got up a little early and took in Grizzly Man. Comparing these musicians to Timothy Treadwell doesn't sit quite right with me, but I do think Werner Herzog makes a very astute point: whatever else you think of the Grizzly People project, when Tim becomes synonymous with his own audience, when the videos he creates become his confessional rather than a chronicle, the appeal of implacable resolve begins to fade. This distance, managed so well by Jandek and Orthrelm (who aren't sure they'd listen to themselves), preserves appeal despite their extremity.