by Phil Freeman
In 1994, instrumental dub/metal power trio Blind Idiot God hadn’t made a record in a couple of years; their most recent release, 1992’s Cyclotron, had only come out in Japan, on John Zorn‘s Avant label. But out of nowhere, guitarist Andy Hawkins put out Halo, a solo disc released under the name Azonic on Strata, a sub-label of Bill Laswell‘s Subharmonic imprint. The music was louder and even heavier than Blind Idiot God‘s; Hawkins’ guitar screamed and wailed through four long tracks, as gigantic riffs came down like concrete slabs falling from the sky and atmospheric samples—the Gyuto Monks of Tibet, dialogue samples from Apocalypse Now—filled out the sonic landscape, courtesy of producer Laswell.
A year later, Hawkins released two more Azonic tracks on Skinner’s Black Laboratories, a split CD with Justin Broadrick of Godflesh. Then the project went silent…until this year. Azonic is back with a new CD, Prospect of the Deep Volume One, on Hawkins’ own Indivisible Music label. This time out, it’s a duo project, featuring Blind Idiot God drummer Tim Wyskida (formerly of Khanate), who’s playing orchestral percussion.
“I had been meaning to record more Azonic material, but after BIG went on hiatus, getting a new drummer and material for a fourth BIG LP became job one,” says Hawkins. “I think the recordings and ideas have aged very well, and there still isn’t anything else like it that has been done.
“For most of the last 30 years in NYC I have lived in my rehearsal spaces, so I have always been able to work on ideas at full volume, and never stopped. When Tim joined BIG he brought a more improvisational approach and I began to imagine the possibilities of combining his approach with orchestral percussion in a new iteration of Azonic. I’m very pleased with the results.”
The idea of using orchestral percussion rather than a traditional drum kit was one that appealed to Wyskida; he says, “In school band I played orchestral percussion from the age of 12 to 17 and have since gone back to some of the instruments, including a live improv set with Stephen O’Malley and Gerritt Witmer, under the name Ginnungagap.” This performance was released as Return to Nothing: Live at the Flux Factory, Queens 10th March 2004. “Andy Hawkins also did a skeleton rattling live set that night with James Plotkin,” he continues. “I never thought about it but it was probably at that show when Andy had the idea of trying orchestral percussion with long tone guitar music. [In the studio], we wanted to focus on long sustains, swelling rolls and pitchbending. Drum kit sounds are obviously relatively short so orchestral percussion was the way to go.”
The album was recorded in producer Martin Bisi‘s Brooklyn studio. “Azonic tracks always begin with an improvisation based on a few simple ideas,” Hawkins explains. “This time, that initial tracking was done with both of us live with headphones in two different rooms of Martin Bisi’s large downstairs tracking area. There is a huge plexiglass window between the two big rooms, so we had a clear line of sight, but with very good isolation for the mics. We rehearsed a few times before tracking and discussed endings, beginnings and general concepts for each track. Because there were now two instruments and thus more arrangement possibilities, we decided to extend the improvisations to side length.”
“Before tracking, we gathered three or four times to come up with general ideas,” Wyskida agrees. Once they settled on an approach, things moved fast. “Two or three days later, we had enough music to fill two albums, after editing out the nonsense. Bill Laswell added sounds and mixed. The aim is to release the second album next year.”
Hawkins’ guitar sound is amazing; it sounds like a hurricane being shaped by a sculptor. “It was mostly the same [rig as always], but with updated delays and reverbs,” he says. “I had the same two modded Marshall JCM 800’s up front going into a custom Harry Kolbe dummy speaker load, then back down to line level into an Eventide Eclipse for the stereo delays and dynamics, then into Bricasti M7 and a TC 4000 reverbs. Then into the power amp inputs of two vintage SVTs driving four Harry Kolbe 4 x 12” cabinets loaded with Eminence Delta Pro 12Ls. We had some condenser mics which couldn’t handle the level and would crackle during some of the more extreme events, so we had listen carefully during mixing and mute them when the going got tough. We had three mics on each side, so it wasn’t a big problem to mute those mics when they crapped out.”
We’ve got an exclusive stream of an excerpt from “Oblivion of the Deep” from Prospect of the Deep Volume One; check it out below.