Mark Harwood, when he lived in Melbourne, was the purveyor of fine and obscure records from his store Synaesthesia. There was more than a smattering of musical arcana and oddities as well as the forefront of avant garde music from worldwide. This inclination was reflected in the label of the same name which local and international artists that reflected Marks deep interest in avant garde music, punk, jazz, musique concrete and other experimental forms. So when Mark left Australia (or was he pushed?) and went to London starting another label (Penultimate Press) he become, in Astor, that which he had demonstrated deep interest. There is really no surprises here. Just self extensions and the musical form he creates is reflective of his interests and knowledge of which a review can but skim the surface.
The blurb that accompanies Lina in Nida is as funny as any marketing ploy and would appeal to those who seek for their experience second hand from the light of others eyes. Which is an activity that we all must engage in to some extent. It dims eventually. But when it happens run with it sing and join forces with the ecstatic.
“”The East” initiates proceedings as a proposed anthem for Britain during a potential invasion by ISIS. Things soon move into the uncomfortably claustrophobic “The Landowners,” where an oblique narrative by Estonian artist Kris Lemsalu spirals into a blurred fantasy of musical roads, nocturnal wanderings, and entrapment under floorboards. The B-side relocates itself further out as “They Cling to Each Other” hovers over uncharted ketamine lows while “The Sleepwalkers” lurches around a spider-like environment. “Amusement” tackles a cosmic music, but one that hurtles itself far beyond the outer regions of the cosmos, while “5:00am” contains within the greatest sound known to mankind. As a further shift from reason, Lina in Nida is a thrilling expose of intense atmospheres, emotional states, and ecstatic physics.”
So generally the key here would be that the use of music and other forms of activity are to lead to ecstatic states and this leads to what it is too be fully human. The ecstatic as the human. Anyone who has plunged into these ideas before may have found their general forms within religion, drugs, physical endurance, raw self-expression and so on. The inclination has its dangers and rewards. The question is where will you find it is somehow up to you?
With Astor’s second album Inland, there was the assemblage techniques and an array of field recordings constructed in a familiar manner to contemporary sound art and with a highly wrought sonic enhancement. Lina in Nida is a different beast altogether. The first track ‘The East’ slips immediately into a high tone intonation to prime your senses and wobbles around with frequency changes and intimations to melodic form. While it is pure sonic thrall the dose only lasts for a short while before the simple ecstatic form is taken over by a call to complexity and subtlety. ‘The Landowners – Venery three’ moves to a sound recording of a tale told which is somehow like poetry and underneath the tonal reprise of the initial tracks melody plays again with undercurrents and hints beyond the text before launching into a highly textured sonic static and foreboding soundscape. Note: this is none other than a psych ploy utilised by many a musician as a distancing device, giving Marks disposition is so much other than dark or foreboding. It is the gothic guise of the aesthete to sell their sensibilities to people who are other than fools for the sensual.
‘Orion’ is a track full of overblown organesque diatribe, which may be to your interest if you are drawn to a sort of mad Boris Karloff movie soundtrack with the monster at the controls and a foreboding resolution . ‘The cling to each other’ is a dark dim hum of a track, it broods and inflicts you with shards of sculpted sound and is deceptive in it’s simplicity maintaining the cloud of low level static while the control of the sonic forms flutter and splatter around not quite drone like but at the edges of such inclinations.
‘Amusement’ is like the ritual slaughter of rave music demonstrated as dark ambient and created with some high end software that really plays on dimensional possibilities. ‘5am’ is somehow reminiscent to a train, perhaps a high powered diesel engine humming at full potential with many a layer of different aspects to it, again like the intro track it aims for pure sonic force and succeeds in clambering all over the spectrum into your skull. It is music for effect and ritualistic threshold breaking. The final track ‘Sleepwalkers’ is a sonumbulant wandering around the place, an almost tipsy ramble of the drunk on the way home complete with sonic obstacles plaguing the weaving feet of the ones with their eyes wide shut. They know not what they do is its essential message, or at least how I read it and if they did then they would not be sleepwalkers.
You don’t really have to have read Frank Herbert to understand the essential character of the message of this track. And it is the essential point that is conveyed by Astor’s general output, the path to true experience by faithful self expression and self awakening. That it is all enfolded within his eclectic and knowledgeable collection of avant garde music techniques is a bonus for the listener.