Tuesday, November 30, 2010
Scuff Mud: Eckhard Gerdes & Shelf Life
OK - the last of the current Shelf Life/Bryan Day related releases. This one is out through JEF (the Journal of Experimental Fiction, edition 36) which is curated by Gerdes, a writer of a number of novels. On the album Gerdes reads 15 pieces to a Shelf Life background (who are Bryan Day, Joseph Jaros, Alex Boardman, Andrew Perdue, Jay Schleidt on this outing).
I haven't read any of Gerdes writing, but the selection here is excellent for this medium. There is variety between pieces which depend on rhythms and rhymes, extended stories and dislocating word play through substitution. For example, z. buzz is full of word mastications, woodwork uses construction terms in a salacious double entendre, uh hunh uses a blues tick at the line ends, blues for osiris is a rhymed retelling of the Egyptian myth. Lists and repetition occur, rhymes can be almost McGonagallian (a compliment). His voice is mellow and rounded, carrying the material with gravitas, particularly when at its most amusing silliest. Even if you don't listen to the words the timbre and cadences are musical. And the material is memorable - when I replayed it after some time when I got to the story new president I was sure I had read it somewhere. This is also the longest track (7 minutes) of a short (45 minute) 15 tracker. There is even a seeming structure to the set, from the opening description of a desert image in a couple of starts to the closing surreal dream in adam among the elephants in the Sonoran desert.
As to the music, this is my favourite Shelf Life to date - on a number of scores. The instrument range is the broadest - including flute, voice, guitar, twanging things, electronics, percussion, samples, trombone and probably more. And the constraint of short pieces (I am not sure if these were specifically recorded or are excerpts from longer works) provides a perfect platform for appreciating the SL-sound. The setting on new president is relatively restrained allowing the story to flow, while snark is noisy which suits the l=a=n=g=u=a=g=e abstraction of the poem. At times the music develops with the words: wouldn't you know builds from shimmering electronics into jittery guitar as what was a seeming narrative goes into abstraction and then a sequence of past tense extrapolations (band is the past tense of bane); or the growth of industrial tones around the nonsense of the title track. A few times (most obviously in woodwork, but also wouldn't you know) there are voice samples which, through their restraint, enhance the mood.
I am not a great one for spoken-word albums, but the words and music are equals here - and that indeed the music provides a way into the words which would be less accessible on the page - providing a very satisfying audio experience.