It was not without some excitement that I found Francisco Meirino’s newest solo album on Misanthropic Agenda, the home of several of his previous collaborative works. Something has long set Meirino apart from a host of other artists with similarly demanding and prolific output. Always the audio polyglot, this album fully displays his revocation of auditory puritanism. Full of oddly-shaped fields, broken electronics and distant vocals all acutely edited by computer; it is a small wonder that the tracks come across as a cohesive work.
Having thrown the album on play with little more than a glance to the tracklist, what I believed to be breaks between tracks were as often as not found midway through a piece. The transitions between sections within tracks are often more drastic than those between. While the aggressive editing of audio sources and effects prevents much predictability of dynamic or tonal range, it nevertheless plays out with a comfortably narrative structure. The sharp transition in dynamic range between ‘Weak Recording Of An Embarrassment’ and ‘Being A Lame Being’ is smoothed somewhat not so much by the vocal samples present in each track, but by the continuation of recognizably human sounds. The muted vocals (as understandable as the writing on the album’s cover is legible) of the former shift abruptly to the latter’s eponymous words being uttered in baritone; but even after that sample is cut short, we are left with a human presence in the unmistakable sound of typing. The same voice is revisited in the following track, as though Meirino were stating variations on a theme.
These samples, or fields, or audio remains of people ebb and flow throughout the album. Though the opening ‘Le Processus De La Signification’ is as categorical an introduction to the work as one is able to get with electroacoustics, building from quiet fields with slowly swelling noise, it quickly cannibalizes itself into high-register surgical detail bereft of any recognizable acoustics. As frequently occurs across the album, soon after the listener can no longer discern whether that delicate high-register pink chatter is purposefully synthesized or merely an audio artifact of a low-fidelity field recording, the scope is abruptly pulled back into a dynamically complex composition. Though many listeners will be accustomed to the latter in Meirino’s work, the nearly drone-like episodes peppering the work provide some rare and welcoming solid ground. Periodic rhythmic elements also contribute to this effect, like the stereoscopic percussive rattles on ‘Weak Recording…’, which are truly gorgeous and poignant moments in what is a rather quiet track by Meirino’s standards.
Elsewhere, as is becoming common, the listener will find a certain amount of extended technique with the recording process itself. We hear tapes starting and stopping, unedited clips of microphones being moved by hand and other evidence of composition and production. Thankfully, these never fall on the wrong side of camp or experiment, and the careful construction of ambiance around these moments fosters a more intimate setting than is common to much of his oeuvre, only reinforced by the vocal segments.
If the album has a weakness, it is perhaps the use of this vocal material. Its presence often feels tacked-on, or used (with comprehensibility perhaps (self-?)consciously obfuscated) merely as a sort of Gothic window-dressing. This may be in part an homage to noise motifs (more on which later) but the murky mutterings come across as somewhat cliché. I personally would have preferred to hear the samples used more explicitly or purposefully. Of course this can be done with or without grace; in the genre Mattin perhaps exemplifies the former, countless screaming noise acts the latter. While I would not argue that they detract from the work as a whole, it leads to an occasionally disjointed sense of intimacy. On the one hand, the immediacy of the recording, editing and consistent iteration of fields, and on the other the anonymity and vagueness of the most recognizable human forms. Of course, this may be the intention . . . Point being, I suppose, that I’ve heard other albums by Francisco Meirino at least somewhat similar to this one, but I’m still waiting for him to pick up where the incredible My Voice Is Unique left off.
I would be remiss if I didn’t address the track titles, and some of the audio material for that matter, both of which have often led me to think of him as a sort of contemporary Swiss Joe Colley. Like him, Meirino both embraces and rejects the expectations and institutions of noise music in a simultaneously irreverent and carefully crafted manner (both artists having to some degree matured in that tradition). Ironic or not, the angst-ridden titles and emotional screeches through the work provide an interesting counterpoint to its unabashedly rhythmic and harmonic sections.
Further exploring the terms of his relationship with noise, much of the literature disseminated with his work (and, claro, its title) covers his prolific use of broken equipment and audio media in various states of deterioration. The effects of this choice of instrumentation are most evident on ‘You Know Nothing’ and the penultimate track ‘Techniques of Self-Destrucion Part I’. The former begins with a heavily mulched piano prelude and the latter slowly fading electrical currents. But the re-purposing of those currents as the source for a sort of sampling synthesis effect later in the track demonstrates perfectly one of the most enjoyable aspects of Notebook.
While explorations of malfunctioning instrumentation and media have obviously been in the collective unconscious of many musicians long before the pensive and fatalistic, albeit pretty, works of William Basinski (whom I mention only as his outlook seems rather pervasive in contemporary music), Meirino instead invokes a sense of optimism. Each unanticipated cessation of sound on a tape is used as an opportunity to propel the narrative forward to new audio territory; each poorly recorded or bit-rotten sample is contrasted with his own high-fidelity synthesis. Though the nearly EAI instrumentation that starts the last track breaks into a variety of slightly dissonant undertones aping harmonic intervals, by the of the work they are, refreshingly, simply harmonic. For all its auditory and literary nomenclature of deconstructivism, the album as a whole is flush with regeneration and creativity.
Maybe I’m just in a good mood.