Funhausen tackles classic punk, Horse Lords channel minimal rhythms
In 1985, John Oswald presented his essay “Plunderphonics, or Audio Piracy as a Compositional Prerogative” at a time when digital sampling technology was starting to become common, making both an artistic and legal case for works derived from other works—and that would include his own future not-for-sale CD Plunderphonic, which fell victim to a cease-and-desist order.
Oswald cited works such as James Tenney’s “Collage 1” from 1961, which radically transformed Elvis Presley’s recording of “Blue Suede Shoes,” and even quoted composer Igor Stravinsky, who allegedly said, “A good composer does not imitate; he steals.”
Today, of course, sampling is accepted and ubiquitous, helping to fuel hip-hop, industrial music, and mash-ups (to name a few genres), but true executions of Oswald’s idea of Plunderphonics—works entirely derived from existing recordings—are not as common.
That brings us to the new album Funhausen, created by Sean Moore from Atlanta, which is a track-by-track destruction/reconstruction of the classic 1970 album Fun House by The Stooges that manages to transcend novelty—if that wasn’t already guessed by the highbrow reference to visionary composer Karlheinz Stockhausen.
Funhausen was created solely from a CD of Fun House, sliced and diced and manipulated to varying degrees; it uses only a single song as a source for each track and retains not only the album’s original order but also the duration of each track.
The first half throbs and stutters, sometimes like a cross between Chrome, Lightning Bolt and a killer robot, with “Acelibate” (“Loose” transformed) sporting a motorik beat and “I-VD-I” (“T.V. Eye” transformed) going in and out of phase with itself.
However, things start to get really interesting with “Soiled” (“Dirt” transformed), which sounds like a haunted factory with an ominous and eerie mood, and “Year of the Dog” (“1970” transformed) that concentrates more on textures than sonic stabs. Sax snippets cut in and out of the lurching, thick fuzz-fog of “Black Site” (“Fun House” transformed), and the closing “LA Blooze”—the only track which actually uses Iggy Pop’s vocals—is a pulsating, abstract fireball, run through a tremolo effect.
Unlike most mash-ups that are heard once and then forgotten, Funhausen reveals more and more secrets upon each listen, taking a familiar album into unfamiliar territory.
Listening to the Baltimore quartet Horse Lords is often like trying to keep your eyes on which shell holds the pea, in a shell game operated by an experienced, quick con artist with great manual dexterity. With polyrhythms, seemingly borrowed from African sources, and an often minimalist style, it’s easy to get lost in the group’s fluid soundstreams and tight patterns that evolve in simple, gradual ways.
The band’s third album Interventions—its debut for the Northern Spy label—has a dizzying momentum with enigmatic turns that sometimes bring to mind the avant-post-punk British group This Heat, like on the opening track “Truthers” that sprints along in 6/8 time with urgency and intensity, sometimes focusing down to just a single note being hammered.
With drummer Sam Haberman and percussionist/saxophonist Andrew Bernstein tapping out enthralling rhythms, bassist Max Eilbacher and guitarist Owen Gardner jump on the swift sound-escalator to weave a complicated rope—it seems like at any time, one wrong note could unravel everything, but that never happens.
One thought the listener might have when absorbing Interventions is “Why is the guitar out of tune?”—it’s actually not out of tune, but in tune with a different tuning system, as Gardner has created refretted basses and guitars for the band; this is most apparent on the nearly 10-minute track “Toward the Omega Point” which ramps up to a more manic state, reaching its stirring conclusion.
The album has a few anomalies, like “Intervention I” with effervescent electronic tones and flurries that bounce between the left and right stereo channels, or “Intervention III” with puzzling guitar wanderings and a digital rainstorm of static.
However, the band is at its best on tracks like “Bending to the Lash,” driven by simple, deeply-cutting note-patterns, confusing yet exciting rhythms and the group’s distinctive, unusual intonation.