A live performance or a mental breakdown? In clips documenting avant-garde musician Ben Bennett’s performances viewers are exposed to a man who seems to be tragically absorbed in the absurdity of his own performance. We see and hear a man exploiting a number of strange instrumental creations, dragging objects, throwing them, and sometimes doing many of these things at once but curiously, one thing we don’t see or hear is the use of any electronic or conventional instruments. The music in these live performances is more a product of Ben’s physical presence, the improvised use of his surroundings and the music on ‘Spoilage’, the debut release from the Columbus, Ohio artist, is yet another way of documenting these live moments of physicality, sweat, raw energy, and auditory abuse while attempting to contain them in one collective medium. Although contained, what is heard on ‘Spoilage’ is anything but tame. With his Experimedia debut, Bennett utilizes an arsenal of modified instruments, found objects, and whatever he can get his hands on to create a electroacoustic cluster-fuck of cacophonous noise, a masterful piece of work that is more human than music.
With an album comprised of tracks featuring titles such as ‘If you want to hear some definite pitches, I’m sure you could make some yourself pretty easily,’ among a slew of other wordy and caustic suggestions, as one listens it becomes apparent that these titles themselves sum up, in a mouthful of words, the intent behind the entire record. These names lend themselves to the sonic qualities found on a record that contains an intimidatingly long grocery list of unorthodox instrumental creations, some of which are as familiar to music as a drum set, and others that are otherworldly MacGyverist creations, which all collide to create a sound that is all its own, one that is as physical as it is audible, a language of sorts that while primitive in practise is careful not to sacrifice it’s potential to be innovative.
In a way, Bennett has created an aural vocabulary for himself; a bank of sounds that make appearances throughout the entirety of the album, sounds that are as diverse as they are consistent, all tied together through the musician’s spur-of-the-moment use of his own creations and whatever objects he is surrounded with. The style of percussion the musician explores on his debut is unlike any kind of drumming you would expect to hear; explosive, bombastic bursts of noise, a primitive account of musicianship. While his style of playing may at first come off as a soup of metallic battery, it becomes clear that, above all of the noise, patterns emerge along with tinges of free form jazz pushing it’s way through the cracks between these concrete sounds.
What makes this collection of noises so listenable is the contrast in-between all of the chaos. At times Bennett thrusts himself into the throes of aggression, battering his instruments into submission, while on other tracks his focus tends to be reserved. On ‘Everything / Everything / Everything’ these two contrasting qualities coalesce, confronting us with howls and distant raw screams that climb their way above the pummeling, discordant drumming that is sandwiched between brief interludes of tense silence before erupting and submerging the listener back into the former. The track is pure catharsis and offers those listeners sticking around for more extreme noise music a place to immerse themselves within this varied, yet consistent, collection of offerings.
The music on ‘Spoilage’ undoubtably warrants itself as a work of a physical nature, the extremities of which are skillfully documented courtesy of producer, James Plotkin (of drone group KTL) who has mastered numerous releases from a variety of extreme and unconventional acts. These improvised pieces that make up ‘Spoilage’ create an illusion of actual depth within these recordings, a clear sign that music is not a product of a studio environment, it instead surrounds us, created and even found in every facet of our lives much like the objects in which Bennett creates employs in his work.
Inventing and Reinventing. Constructing and deconstructing. Creating and destroying. These all seem to be prominent themes on this album and they are all techniques Bennett uses in order to perform these aforementioned atrocities of sound. ‘Spoilage’ is a very confrontational record; full of energy and at times even aggression, Bennet using whatever means necessary to create as much of a racket as possible at one time, even sacrificing the limitations of his own body. Every sound heard is the result of something that is one part instrument and one part human, at times the two becoming one in the same.
Although it is apparent that this album is a collection of documented live performances, it still offers so much more, separating itself from a typical “live album” establishing a sense of meaning, even if that meaning is not completely clear or blatantly stated. Ben Bennett may be new in a sea of noise acts but he places himself up with and perhaps even above some of the contemporary like-minded noise makers of his kind. ‘Spoilage’ is a piece of work that is clearly unconventional, even in terms of the avant-garde. It is a piece of music that rejects all conventional aspects in which we come to expect from music while surprising us with Bennet’s expansive repertoire of noise making abilities, all of which range from a discordant racket to something sublimely musical.
Overall Rating: 9.0
Favorite Tracks: ‘Have you ever considered taking a break from listening to music for a while?’, ‘Everything / Everything / Everything’, ‘I’ll call you when I get creamed by a motorist’
Recommended: Sounds like Colin Stetson and Zach Hill join a grindcore band.
Release Date: 01 October 2013
Check out some background information regarding ‘Spoilage’, stream the album, and watch videos of Ben Bennett performing live at: http://label.experimedia.net/025/
All proceeds from digital sales of the album will go to Living Energy Farm, a project to build a farm, community, and education center without the use of fossil fuels or, in the theme of the album, electronic media. For more information visit: livingenergyfarm.org