In his book Infinite Music: Imagining The Next Millennium Of Human Music Making musicologist Adam Harper examines how the process of music making may develop over forthcoming decades, mutating into hitherto unknown and unconsidered forms and styles. It is an intriguing subject, being tackled at an opportune time as the volume of uncompromisingly leftfield music grows.
Norwegian label Rune Grammofon have released experimental music of an exceptional standard for several years now and are a good place to begin when contemplating subjects of this nature. Indeed, much of the music on Unemployed, the sixth album by Alog (Norwegian duo Espen Sommer Eide and Dag-Are Haugan) sounds little like anything else released over recent years. In terms of its scale it is ambitious, challenging and almost quite futuristic in some respects. Recorded over several years, and in various locations, Unemployed sees Alog using custom-built instrumentation and unnamed street musicians to strengthen the sense of ‘other’ that permeates the album.
2005’s Miniatures album saw them offer a more electronic-based sound, while 2007’s Amateur seemed to show them moving towards more orthodox instrumentation. Unemployed therefore seems to be a logical culmination, merging aspects of both of these soundworlds. Yet, despite its timbral variation a loosely structured path can be detected, the music appearing to progress through a series of overlapping phases and styles.
It opens with Orgosolo I & II, a pair of short pieces largely centred around woodwind and organ, with plucked strings also thrown into the equation. Just as this has been established the sound moves in a different direction with the appearance of The Weatherman, a percussion-heavy track with distorted female vocal. The title track soon follows, taking a simple beat that gradually proliferates, with small clusters of beats falling on to a ticking, changing rhythm. Last Day At The Assembly Line takes this concept even further, a 16 minute shaking, rhythmical mass that sees sawing, discordant strings become entangled with taut guitar and treated vocal fragments. This is music that is very much alive, seemingly plotting its own course independently.
Baklandet ushers in another mini-chapter that incorporates more in the way of the human voice. Dutch vocalist Jaap Blonk ensures Bomlo Bren Om Natta is one of the most memorable pieces on the album, contributing manipulated, stretched vocals over an abstract, fluctuating backdrop. The other tracks featuring the vocals of fellow Rune Grammofon artist Jenny Hval momentarily help recall the sound of fellow Scandinavian sonic adventurers Paavoharju. The final two tracks serve as a reminder of their electronic roots, the sped-up metallic micro-electronica of Januar giving way to the comparably soothing ambient closer Apeland.
Leftfield music like this may have its limits – it is defiantly ‘head’ music and often of a cerebral, testing nature. It may also be a challenging listen for those unaccustomed to experimental music but the album does reward repeated listens, which allow details to slowly emerge. Although accurate, terms like ‘wide-ranging’ and ‘expansive’ do seem a little lacking when trying to capture the scale of Unemployed. This idea is lent further weight by this 77 minute album just being a selection extracted from the definitive release – a 4 x LP release no less.
Despite the plurality of styles and sounds there is never any doubt of this being the work of one truly innovative, invigorating band. Rather than being disparate and fragmented however, Unemployed does manage to sit together as a whole. If this is a glimpse into the future, an exciting period for improvised, non-mainstream music lies ahead, full of myriad possibilities.