Runt Vigor by Audrey Chen

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Audrey Chen | Runt Vigor
Karlrecords (LP/DL)

Out later this week is the new recording from Chinese-American electronic artist Audrey Chen, featuring cello and voice. Runt Vigor is packed with four unusual compositions opening with the pairing of Heavy that flows gently right into In The – an acoustic journey. In what sounds like a highly amplified mouth sound ASMR-lovers will rush to the table. It’s a succession of tiny rubbery percussion with snorts, inhales and choked up kisses. Not since Jaap Blonk (or the recent Jason Kahn) have I heard such devoted, raw lipservice. It’s oddly disconcerting at first, but once layered the play becomes more or less ‘procedural’ (as in dental medicine) and into something far more of a cosmic search for understanding, in/out of the body. Towards the end here there are moments in silent repose and others where it could easily be a death metal performance.

Berlin-based Chen has released a vast array of recordings since 2005, though this is by far the most physical, an atonal mix of experiments in noise. The atmosphere is ready to pounce at any second.  Her way of coaxing sound is robust as possible, from the spinning of a carnival game to the last breath. On Mouth she opens the piece with an ambient whisper of drone, it is complemented by the gentle treatment of her violin, but not in a traditional sense, more quietly percussive with vocalese treatments that dither and skirr. The non-words are uttered as jiggered monosyllables, like a chant, speaking in tongues. There is a slight Diamanda Galas-esque trill, but it’s only passing.

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I’m riveted by the way her sounds are unlike much anything really, haunting and engaging in a way that makes me draw closer. Heavy In The Hand takes all of side two, running over twenty-one minutes.  It’s a sound that’s strikingly tactile, breathy, utilizing the senses in a new, up-close-and-personal way. The cover art here, a colorfully wild magazine collage by Id M Theft Able mirrors the sheer independence of the compositions found within. With its slurps and gurgles – the in-between quietude is constantly disrupted. I’d imagine Chen paired with Seth Nehil who uses a lot of found objects and physical sounds – a concert, a conversation. But here she is taking tiger mountain by storm, facing it alone. As a one-woman show this is an incredible montage of what’s humanly possible in contemporary experimental music. The microphone and the body as mentioned before are two of the key instruments here. It’s off the hook in its actions: bird-like screetching, echoes, feedback, surface rubbing, flickering, crackling static. You may think you’re at some ancient religious ceremony, or in a mudhut sweating it out. This is intensely intimate, psychedelic work that bates breath and breaks a sweat.

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