Nick Millevoi‘s been a busy man since his last appearance on the pages of Burning Ambulance, what with his European tour last autumn with Dutch sax/drum noisemongers Dead Neanderthals (another favourite of this writer) and more recently prepping for the release of Suspended Definition, the third album from his muscular free-jazz/rock trio Many Arms, and their second for John Zorn‘s adventurous Tzadik label.
Before that comes out later this month, however, the Philadelphian’s latest as a solo artist is Numbers on the Side, a split LP with Onibaba (literally ‘Demon Hag,’ styled in Kanji as 鬼婆, and the title of a 1964 Japanese horror film), an improvisational dark jazz trio of indeterminate location and amorphous substance. Claiming to make use of exclusively analog instruments—though that could be anything from a flute to a synth—their half-hour that kicks off this double-hander consists of two tracks, “沈没 (Sinking)” and “埃 (Dust),” but might as well be a single piece in two movements.
Onibaba keep the volume low and the tension high throughout their first track’s 22 minutes, demanding close listening as they illustrate a shadowy realm of creeping half-sounds—acousmatic drones, howls and whistles, snatches of musique concrète clattering and cymbal washes—over a steady industrial pulse, the rhythm of distant hammering machinery, that kind of insistent beat that leaves its trace even when the actual sound fades away. Their shorter second piece, over 10 minutes, maintains a similarly unsettling atmosphere, this time intensely claustrophobic, with a close droning hum getting closer, like walls closing in, punctuated by hair-raising drips and crackles of static. It’s only towards the end, as the sound-space opens up somewhat, that anything close to a conventionally musical tone can be discerned; a single note as alien as anything else in this bleak environment. Strikingly cinematic work, this.
Millevoi’s side comprises three tracks and serves very much as a contrast to Onibaba‘s intimate dreamscape, simultaneously more stripped-down and direct. The centerpiece is the first, the 21-and-a-half minute “Howling After the Endless Tandem Suns,” where his approach is brutal in its simplicity: just a five-note riff, plucked out at glacial pace, through an overdriven amp, with seemingly no processing beyond some standard pedal effects. But the repetition draws you in to pick up on the details and textures, from the gently vibrating guitar tone to the subtle distortion that spreads over the droning sound.
Earth 2 springs to mind, though it’s hard to imagine Dylan Carlson and Dave Harwell picking up on the nuances of their stoned riff-churning, whereas here it seems Millevoi’s listening closely to the sounds he’s producing, letting the piece meander as it progresses as he explores those oscillations, the feedback overtones, the physical texture of his hands on the strings in tandem with the metaphoric textures of noise, treating his guitar like it’s an analog synth. How much of this is controlled and how much is accidental is open to interpretation, but Millevoi goes with the flow regardless, allowing the piece to grow as it decays like the expanding red shell of a dying sun, form dissolving into shimmering clouds of noise.
Millevoi experiments a bit more with the rest of his side. “‘Where is the Crime?'” expands on that aspect of physicality over the next nine minutes as he bends and scrapes his strings, his manual manipulations as much as part of the sound as the echo and phase effects that help create the impression of a soundtrack to some psychedelic nightmare noir. It’s followed by the very different “Rockets Redglare,” half as long again at just over four minutes but much more harsh and shrill, Millevoi’s guitar a chattering flock of birds surrounding the listener in a whirling spiral. Uncompromising is the word for it.
Stream “Where is the Crime?”: