It might seem like stating the obvious, but music would be nothing without sound. And yet it’s not really stating the obvious because, perhaps of all the bits and pieces that go to make music, sound is the one that is most overlooked of all. We know to look for rhythm, for melody, for harmony, for structure, for timbre, for colour. But we forget, without even knowing we’ve forgotten, to notice the sound.
The Wizards of Oi is a New York-based art and sound project that brings together Germany’s Brandstifter (Fire starter) and Britain’s Aaron Moore in a sort of pan-national sound treaty, where different artistic cultures, different artistic histories, shake hands and, as one, explore the roots and shoots of sound from which all music has ultimately grown.
And so you find, on Wizard of Oi’s double album, In Space, Brandstifter and Moore digging beneath the electronic pulse of Krautrock and the anarchistic minimalism of No Wave and taking the strands of sound that lie below, and examining them, with their guitar and drums and trumpet and vocals, magnifying them, multiplying them, laughing at them, concentrating on them and sometimes just leaving them to their own devices and letting them grow. It’s like a lecture in sound, where the music teaches you about itself, and about its genetic makeup.
The tracks on this album are put together very, very cleverly. You get tracks like the opening ‘Long Man-Go’, or ‘Freejatz’, which seem to sit staring at this or that sound, looking at it from every possible angle, pushing it from side to side and then, a track or two later, the sounds come together, and the music is driven by them, and it flows with life and grim vitality, like it does on the 28 minute ‘Tremolusion/Drone Suite’, or on ‘March of the Eddie Van Halen Monster’, or on the closing ‘Pets & Animals’, for example, and you find that you no longer take its nuts and bolts – its sounds – for granted anymore. The whole thing is like putting the ingredients of something under the microscope and, seeing that they pass muster, then mixing them into something new and weird and wonderful.
And then there are the moments of black, even gross, humour, like in ‘The Belchium Track’, a minute and a half of burps that leads into the strange, mock-tribal percussive dance of ‘July or December’, a song that ruminates about whether something happened in July or in December; or in ‘Fat American Woman’, almost a schoolyard ditty, that then leads you into the funky, off-beat jazz of ‘Crayolish Oisters’.
This approach, this way in which In Space lets you look into the ugly, unglamorous guts of its music, and then takes you along the wild ride of the music itself, makes you appreciate how little space there really is between the sophistication of music and the raw elements of sound.
If you can track down some of the music of The Wizards of Oi, and you really should, and if you’re prepared to let yourself be taken on its trip – and it really is a trip – then you might just find that you notice the things you see along the way in ways that you never did before. And you might just notice that you appreciate the sound of music a little differently, a little better, a little more.
My thanks to my dear friend Marty, and his sister Barbara, for the introduction!