The Best of 2K11: Sean McCann and Fabio Orsi

You know I hear a lot of talk
So I’m headed to the stereo store
To get a white noise maker and turn it up to 10
– Frank Black – White Noise Maker

Fabio Orsi and Sean McCann are merchants of drone, a love-it-or-hate-it offshoot of ambient that traces its footsteps back to field recording experimentalists/ambient artists like Alan Lomax and Brian Eno, tracing through the post-rock drone of Labradford and Flying Saucer Attack, and making a stop or two for some textural scrapings from various krautrockers and minimalists.

While the lack of propulsion may give the appearance of ambience, the music itself raises hackles rather than soothes dinner guests in well-appointed lofts or impatient art dealers in well-appointed elevators. If ambient is “wallpaper,” the sounds of Orsi and McCann are “insulation”: warm, gauzy and thick. It sounds like the perfect place to curl up if you don’t mind suffering from a million tiny abrasions.

Fabio Orsi – Papa, Show Me Your Blues LPs

The form of “ambient” McCann and Orsi craft bears more resemblance to Richard D. James’ unsettling antidote for a speed freak-infested techno scene (1993’s Selected Ambient Works 85-92) or The Orb’s cranky fuck-off to the ambient house scene it created (1995’s Orbus Terrarum) than anything as non-committal as mere aural landscaping.

Orsi’s abrasions are delivered with muted drumwork and some unexpected, but welcome, guitar textures. The white noise heat is still omnipresent, but rather than providing a comfortable place to nod off, it only adds another layer of tension, giving the impression that the whole musical works (so to speak) is coming to a head, and not in a particularly pleasant way. The drums themselves are distorted to the point of abstraction and the tonal edges of the guitar work do a pretty thorough job of scraping away at your inner ear. Orsi’s “ambience” is as far away from nondescript (and hence, non-threatening) as possible while still utilizing the same tools.

Fabio Orsi – Ghost Track

McCann forgoes any noticeable guitar work for engulfing washes of noise, some malevolent, some merely discomfiting. “Auditorium” delivers the faint ghostly sound of a female voice, heard through several walls, like a distant opera from a half-remembered dream. The track can best be described as “Lynchian” as the whole thing starts to fade to black (aurally speaking), slowly devoured by the near-industrial sound of the encroaching blackness as only Lynch (and now, McCann) can do. It’s a blackness that settles like a blanket of thick, choking ash.

Sean McCann – Auditorium

McCann may or may not claim Lynch as an influence, but the oppressive, steadily building thrum of all-encompassing forboding tones will cause fans of David’s to flash back to the Black Lodge or the filthy bedroom in the shit part of town with the haunted radiator or any time when bad things start going worse. It also bears some resemblance to the unholy noise that accompanies a switch of realities (again, from simply bad to horribly nightmarish) in the Silent Hill games. Part mechanical, part ambient gone wrong, McCann delivers tonal aberrations unlikely to stay quietly seated in the corner while party guests chat over the muted tones.

Sean McCann – Saints of the Capital

/s/CLT

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