Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Nurse with Wound: Homotopy to Marie

As I've stuck my nose into the various musical backwaters of the internet, I sometimes come across music that I don't necessarily like, but can appreciate.  This generally happens when I get sucked into a labyrinth of noise music (which sounds exactly like it... sounds).  This is also what happened to me with Nurse with Wound, the recording name of Steven Stapleton.  I gave the first album, Chance Meeting on a Dissecting Table of a Sewing Machine and an Umbrella, a listen when somebody on an online forum recommended it as good listens similar to Throbbing Gristle (a group I do enjoy- Slugbait ftw!).

Unfortunately, if you weren't clued in by the strange and slightly artsy/pretentious album title, Nurse with Wound is an avant-garde, Dadaist kind of production.  He focuses heavily on improvisation, eclectic instruments, and tape-looping samples to create horrifying and insane soundscapes.  Nurse with Wound isn't so much music to nod to, as it's music to listen to while scowling and looking puzzled.

Caveat:  I haven't listened to everything Nurse with Wound has produced.  Mind you, Stapleton is remarkably prolific, having released 41 albums between 1979 and 2013- and that's not counting his collaborative works.  So, I'm sure that Nurse with Wound's sound evolves over time, but I can't speak to that.  Right now, I'm here to review an album I did rather enjoy, even if I don't look forward to listening to it again.

Homotopy to Marie was released in 1982, and is the first album that Stapleton considers to be a "genuine" Nurse with Wound album.  It features tracks that are a bit more structured and polished, as opposed to the indulgently improvised earlier albums.

The first track, I Cannot Feel You as the Dogs are Laughing and I Am Blind, is pretty spooky.  It starts with three minutes of an indiscernible sound that could be a shovel digging into gravel, or it might be guns being thrown into a pile on the ground.  It escalates until abruptly being replaced by near-silent whispers, groans, and dripping noises.  Be warned, if you're listening on headphones, resist the temptation to turn it up or at 5:20 your eardrums will EXPLODE and you might poop your pants.  After the extremely loud noises, the murmuring in the background lifts and sounds an awful lot like a dungeon full of tortured people.  More screaming later ensues, so be on your toes.

Track 2, Homotopy to Marie (after which the album is named), is my favorite.  I sort of grok its point and its feel better than the rest.  Most of it is work with cymbals and resonances, occasionally punctuated with odd samples of a sophisticated woman proclaiming "Don't be so naive, darling!" and a little girl saying real spooky stuff.  There's some white noise layered in later, so if that bugs you, steel yourself.  It sounds like the inside of a madman's mind.

On the CD release, they included Astral Dustbin Dirge as the third track.  This is another twelve minutes of extremely quiet noises interrupted by loud, disturbing noises.  Female gasps, knockings, clatterings, and tappings created the feeling that I'm hiding just outside a serial killer's shack, too scared to run, while he drags a kicking woman inside and ....does things....

The Schmurz (Unsullied by Suckling) begins with three minutes of echoing, barking military voices.  Then lots of static and noise followed by creaky-creaks and women talking, then arguing, in Spanish.  This one, in particular, reminded me of why I avoid noise music.  It's full of feedback screams and hisses.  It gets surreal and funny when a sassy record begins playing near the end.

The last track, The Tumultuous Upsurge (Of Lasting Hatred), is a tiny little blip of distorted laughing, a la old-timey clown dolls.  Only a minute and a half long, it feels suspicious after listening to the rest of the album.

So why is all this long, terrifying, obtuse music worth listening to?  Why do I appreciate it?  Well, music is a very emotional medium, and horror is an emotional genre.  Even if this stuff isn't very fun, it provides a context for judging other spoopy music, say, in horror movies.  Listening to Nurse with Wound is like peeking at a wide and bizarre palette of disturbing textures and images.  The sounds in these albums are mysterious, bleak, shocking, or unexpected.  They suggest feelings or pictures that expand the context of horror in strange, if taxing, ways.

In short, even if the things Nurse with Wound evokes are unpleasant, they're always interesting.


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