Paul DeMarinis | Songs Without Throats
Black Truffle (2xLP)
((( LISTEN )))
Though he’s been at it since the 70s sound/installation artist Paul DeMarinis combines the implausible variables of interactive software, synthetic speech, and other noise media to bring to light a world animated with broken phonetics. At least that’s what you get on the opening track If God Were Alive (& He Is) You Could Reach Him By Telephone here. It’s a strange combination of Playskool recorder alphabets spelled out as a sing-song female vocal croons between consonants. It’s actually a 1978 pairing of the voice and tamboura (Anne Klingensmith). Songs Without Throats is partly this (and that).
HEARING THINGS: I’ve been excited to, but dreading writing about this record because its a daunting combination of rounded syllables that are as animated as they are a bit of a teaching moment in the world of the sonic and experimental. It’s a bit of a frolic, somewhat silly, and a great earful for anyone who might relish the impossibility of combining work by Mouse on Mars, Daft Punk, Jason Forrest, The Residents, Momus, Jaap Blonk and Meredith Monk (throw in a little pre-pop Devo) – it’s a sum of all these parts and one part trip down the interactive lane of a defunct Toys R’ Us. Synthesized voice patterns and twee call/response create the central conversation, and sound more like insects than instruments. I tried to sing along to Eenie Meenie Chillie Beenie, but gave up as it outpaced me with its carvival stylings. One thing is certain, way before Steven Hawking’s voice became a cultural phenomenon, and before synth pop exploded in the late 70’s in the UK/US, DeMarinis was taking apart this fusion between man, machine and the unknown potential of decoding speech and turning it into something musically dimensional. If you enjoy fused, distorted samples of unexplained vintage goings-on (and/or maybe player pianos) you’ll likely want this on constant repeat.
While a casual listener might shrug this off as crude, one has to understand the technologies then and now, not only with just an old skool vintage mentality, but through the lens of invention. If you connect the dots this has far more in common with the work of Joseph Kosuth (and later Sherrie Levine) than it does with the “likes of Robert Ashley, David Behrman, and David Tudor” of which the tearsheet compares. But that’s only at first glance because the more I listen an interrupted radio play starts to emerge, and it is not as playful on Novena as is elsewhere. No, in fact it’s a bit like a late night broadcast with a shadowy protagonist in some kind of danger. So DeMarinis is stretching the paradigm of his invention, and its not more unique and powerful as on Mind Power, where the voice and its electronic counterpart mimics, simultaneously, like a rubbery echo chamber on a layer of the recording before it starts to make theremin-like riffs with an Eastern twist. There’s something about playing on magnetization, about replication.
OLD TIMEY INVENTION: Imbued with humor about complex human conditions the cartoonish vignettes sample Stalin, black power, Greeks + Romans, and Beethoven in equally deranged formats, making light of their essence without nullifying the power of myth. In fact, I’d go as far as saying the way the composer encapsulizes these themes only pays homage or begins to redefine his subject. You only have to listen to the cut-up Vocal Variety which pokes fun at the structure of voice as a form of expression. “You are exasperated, well how about that“! It’s a quirky meta commentary on advertising and self-worth. If this doesn’t wake and crack you up you are likely dead. It poses far more questions about flux + circumstance than it bodes to answer.
I’m not sure how The Lecture Of Comrade Stalin At The Extraordinary 8th Plenary Congress could possibly make me howl in hysteria – but I’ve been had. Perhaps it was the Disney-like horns or the operatic mutations? You’ll just have to get this record to unlock its truth.