There is some negativity in deconstruction. I wouldn’t deny this. You have to criticise, to ask questions, to challenge and sometimes to oppose. – Jacques Derrida
The shaman is the great specialist in the human soul; he alone “sees” it, for he knows its “form” and its destiny. – Mircea Eliade
Giles Corey – Deconstructionist
$5 Digital Download
Release Date: 08/24/2012
After an attempted suicide, Dan Barrett recorded Giles Corey’s self titled debut. In 1611, Giles Corey, the person, was crushed to death under stones in an attempt to have him confess to witchcraft. This bleakness – the attempt to force someone to confess something due to moral panic (in effect, being killed for perceived strangeness), and suffering a painful death in protest at the very idea of it, became a figurehead of sorts for the project. The album is, as the press page suggests, “An intensely personal study of depression and the afterlife.” Songs such as “I am Going to Do It” and “No One is Ever Going to Want Me” deliver an expression of deep depression, which for the listener can be identifiably therapeutic. Stylistically, I suppose you could say that this was a “folk” album. Though I’d imagine that most traditional folk fans would find it unlistenable, partially because of its experimentality and partially due to the fact that it dives head first into the sadness that most Americana music tends to be aware of, yet skirt around, in hopes of better times. For Giles Corey, there are no better times.
Barrett enlisted the help of internet to help review his latest Giles Corey album Deconstructionist with the warning that it was “weird.” I jumped at the chance to review this new album not only as a huge fan of Barrett’s work and the artists of his label, but as a dedicated fan of “weird” music.
What I got was something rather unexpected.
In 2005, there were rumors of the black metal band Sigh recording with experimental sonic warfare techniques that were developed by the Nazis during the second World War. The album experienced great delays, according to these rumors, due to the aurally-derived illnesses of Mirai Kawashima, the frontperson of Sigh. This came as a warning to listeners and developed an intense authenticity of the release – a metal album that could actually harm you. Later it was revealed that the delay and the rumors had the same cause – a disappointed record label that dropped the band, causing them to need to find a new home for the release. The dangers were not really there, just a somewhat disappointing album after their critically acclaimed Imaginary Sonicscapes.
In essence, this release is a couple of steps further in a different direction. And it is not simply a rumor.
Many of Barrett’s releases come with paratexts (novella length album booklets, building an additional narrative to each body of work). While Sigh’s Gallows Gallery is an album that came with a warning (though based on a false premise), nothing comes to mind in terms of albums that have come with instruction manuals (besides casual lines about listening to it “really loud”).
A text file came with the zip of the album, reminding us that the “booklet *must* be read before listening to the music. Seriously.” The instructions, 34 pages in total, are an undertaking on their own. Before getting to Barrett’s how-to for listening, we get a treatise on the concept of identity – or, at the very least, the conflicting relationship between the Western concept of identity and cultural relativism. I am who I am versus I am what culture has made me.
This manual is part of the namesake of the album, Deconstructionist, as it is partially an attempt to deconstruct the very nature of identity and our understanding of consciousness. Barrett is correct on many levels with his writing, we are a product of the culture that surrounds us, and that includes our mindsets, our ideologies, and our concepts of truth. Barrett highlights this through various case studies and scientific experiments. His ideas have merit and are grounded in scientific and anthropological studies (though, somewhat ironically, it is a Western science objecting a Western expression of consciousness). He is not making this stuff up, either. The skeptical can easily google any of the names or studies he mentions.
Beyond that, Barrett is touching on something very shamanic, regardless of his lack of addressing the idea from outside the grounded world of tested scientific principles. For example – consider the words of Grant Morrison from his speech at the Disinfo Conference in 2000:
Morrison, a counterculture icon, practicing magician, and self-ascribed shaman, alludes to the same ideas – the idea of the individual is a false one. Though the scientific approach by Barrett may ultimately be a more identifiable one (and thus making his experiment more believable), it (perhaps on purpose) ignores the spiritual and the shamanic, except for in metaphor or example. (If you want to watch the whole thing (and I suggest it), click here).
Regardless of the science and audio technology behind the music, the album is an experiment in the shamanic. As Barrett points out, “This is not really ‘music.’” He uses audio frequencies, chants, drums, and “cultural connections” in order to create a technique of ecstasy (ecstasy, in this spiritual and magical sense, not to be confused with the idea of pleasure). In this creation, he is pushing the very limits of the listener and his fan base by going against the expectations of a Giles Corey album, as it isn’t an album at all. It is an attempt to invoke a trance state in the listener through musical meditation.
What we get is 3 audio tracks. Each track is 20-40 minutes long. Because of this, you will most likely never see it as a vinyl release (sorry fans). And due to Berrett’s insistence that it needs to be listened to in order and as a whole, there is no way it could be a CD release either. Not only that, but it must be listened to with headphones in order to get the desired effects. I can attest to this personally, as I listened to it as an experiment with headphones and as a piece of music through speakers (you have to hear the left and the right directly in each ear, or it just won’t work the way it is intended). So, there are serious limitations for potential listeners. No physical copy, no real music, and required situational context.
As a piece of music, it will read similar to the dark ambient works found on Cold Meat Industries than as a piece of folk music. So, expect something more like Coil’s ANS, Nurse With Wound, or Wolfskin. As it was not intended to be listened to as a piece of music, it is hard to review it as one. If you like dark ambient stuff, as I do, it can be entirely listenable on its own. The songs, though lengthy, are interesting, droning, and have a surprising depth to their sounds. The experience could be rather tedious, if one is unfamiliar with ambient works.
As an experiment, though. That is a little more weird to talk about. I did as the instructions asked, turning out all the lights, blindfolding myself, becoming isolated, and putting on my big stupid headphones. Most importantly though, you need to want to try. Magic will not happen if you are unwilling to allow it to happen. My breathing became scant and a great stillness overcame my body. I can’t necessarily associate this with the music, as opposed to my relaxed state. But, I did experience visions and I was not sleeping/dreaming. In terms of what I experienced, the first song (Awake Now) had very natural, man-made images floating in my mind – statues, machines, political leaders, industry, and art. The second song (Death) was very dark. Black figures and bodies in total blackness. It was not scary, in fact, I think this part was the deepest experience of them all, but it was the most “dark” in terms of aesthetic compared to the other two. The final song, (Epsilon) was very natural. I saw animals and landscapes.
Again, I can’t necessarily connect this to the album or the experience that the album was trying to invoke. As an admitted piece of “not really music” its very essence begs the question of the very nature of music itself. I would image my willingness to be “into it” could have worked regardless of the music, as long as I was consciously working towards that end. But in terms of listening to music, in general I want more of an emotional or mental connection to it (which Enemies List is particularly good at). Deconstructionist purposely tries to connect the aural event to the emotional being of the listener, giving them something more from the experience. This idea of moreness is something Jeremy Wallach describes (in terms of listening to metal music) as affective overdrive. This idea, as Wallach states in Metal Rules the Globe, “can even fill one’s awareness to such an extent that, while listening, it becomes impossible to think about or feel anything else” (Wallach, Berger, Greene 13). Though I haven’t tried, I wonder if I could have a similar “ecstatic” experience listening to just about anything that I find emotionally engaging. At the very least, affective overdrive is used to explain when someone feels so passionately engaged with something that may be aesthetically questionable, challenging, or nontraditional – such as this album. It implies that there is an engagement beyond mere enjoyment – a deeper connection to the musical experience. Deconstructionist works on this same level, I feel. The paratext of the instruction manual adds to the idea of the album, and perhaps makes the experience more probable. (Though, I am entirely willing to try a few more times).
Can I recommend Deconstructionist? I am not entirely sure. But, one is not supposed to listen to this album for its aesthetics, so the idea of a recommendation is a moot point. Dedicated Enemies List fans will want to get it no matter what. Fans wanting another similar Giles Corey album may be disappointed. It is an experiment, something to try.
Does the experiment work? Well, I’ll leave that up to the individual listener.