Remember that weird childhood game of sitting in the dark on Halloween, passing around human body parts? You know, carrots for fingers, peeled grapes for eyeballs, or chilled spaghetti for guts? The mere power of suggestion (combined with too much candy corn) could make for a rollicking evening of disgusting fun. For electronic artists Drew Daniel and M.C. Schmidt, however, such tactile simulation gives way to cold audio reality on their fourth full-length album, an experimental marriage of art-house ambiance and the digitally mastered sounds of surgery.
Apparently every snip and tuck heard on this release comes from the duo's access to various medical procedures with DAT recorders. (Patient and physician identities are not disclosed.) The results, like the operations, vary; but by placing as much emphasis on process as product, Daniel and Schmidt stretch the boundaries of reconstructive dub -- both literally and figuratively. "Lipostudio (... And So On)" suctions the salty phat from an impersonal techno beat until the thing deflates with a slurp. "L.A.S.I.K." manipulates tones from a laser keratotomy operation -- something of an unblinking exercise in hum-distorted tolerance. "California Rhinoplasty" (at ten minutes, the disc's longest track) is composed entirely of recorded forehead lifts, chin implants, and schnoz jobs (exempting the bird-twittering sounds of a nose flute). Unconventional textures likewise abound during "Memento Mori," which samples scraping sounds from a human skull and a goat spine.
Crediting instrument manufacturers such as Bard Parker Scalpels and Draeger Anesthesia Ventilators, Daniel and Schmidt slice and suture their way through a style of music that is far from bloodless, next to seamless, and never lacks for visceral fascination. Oddly enough, it even manages to be melodically cheerful at times.
One piece of amusing nonmedical dance filler ("Spondee") features the voice of an audiologist in a hearing-test booth reading a list of phonetically balanced words -- pancake, sunshine, cowboy -- to the background frequencies of a hearing test. If one fails to notice the screeching rooster and clanging trains, a Beltone wouldn't help anyway. The collection's starkest moment, "For Felix (And All the Rats)," finds the duo plucking and bowing the bars of a rat cage in a meditative tribute to the countless critters that perish each day in the name of science and cosmetics.
Dining music at its worst, A Chance to Cut (dedicated to the musicians' medical-doc fathers) nonetheless scores huge points for its sheer ingenuity and for the creators' willingness to broaden an organic sound palette beyond anything Kraftwerk ever attempted with mere machinery. Admit it -- you'd love to have someone make music with your skull.
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