(Hymen; 2003)

By Scott Reid | 26 September 2003

French sound poet Henri Chopin, a pioneer in the avant-garde art of recording and sound manipulation, took recordings specifically from his body and voice --through the technology of the time -- to form a rhythmic creation that he claimed would extirpate the need for poetry to stay fixed only to paper. It wouldn't be so much a stretch to link his art to much of modern avant-garde electronic works such as Aphex Twin's I Care Because You Do (the sporadic beats forming a free rhythm that sets the stage for the sparse underlying beauty) or Matmos' A Chance to Cut is a Chance to Cure. Like Chopin's recordings of inner bodies (he once swallowed a tiny microphone and manipulated the recording to create a sound poem), Matmos recorded hours of surgical sounds and tweaked them into a free form work of their own form of "sound poetry"; fitting into a larger genre that seems to work aesthetic much closer to this avant-garde form of poetry than traditional musical styles. Relying only on rhythm and (the main differentiate) a slew of samples or instruments to grab and move the listener, it becomes a branch of language all its own, negating the need for compelling music to be placed into a specific formula.

As such, electronic artists also constantly venture for unorthodox ideas and sounds to manipulate into a new form of art that will stir and affect people, as opposed to boring or alienating them with pointless drivel. In a move to combine another art -- pornography -- into this picture, Winnipeg's Venetian Snares (a.k.a. Aaron Funk) and Hectate took on a peculiar angle: recording hours of sexual activity (where the microphone was actually more than a passive member of the process) and twist the results into a rhythmic disjunction that gives a new set of ideas to spin around the form/force of IDM.

Even knowing the angle -- which is probably concealable if the person listening in isn't told of the gimmicky "found sounds," much like the Matmos disc -- I think it's critical to not assume that an album based on the underlying set of sexual recordings is really meant to be "sexy" in any sort of Barry White kind of way. The concept may give this album may give a gimmicky aura, but the sounds used are as removed from the finished intent of the product as rhinoplasty is from Matmos' "California Rhinoplasty." It works in their favor that they don't try to use the sounds in an obvious way and certainly saves the record from being an unequivocal throwaway album of image-less pornography. Because, let's be honest, that shit sounds nasty.

Nymphomatriarch doesn't fail because of its concept as much as failing in the same areas as Funk's hailed Venetian Snares' records (save Songs About My Cats). The production is often fascinating but the pool of ideas dries up quickly, leaving frustrating lulls that taint the surrounding tracks by relying on, and overusing, similar techniques. But to say that this album is a failure is misleading; it is, despite its flaws, a decent listen that manages to hold interest outside of its concept. "Input" and "Outlet" bookend the album with sparse ambient pieces without much focus or direction -- though I guess since the rest of the album doesn't bother either, that makes sense.

"Blood on the Rope" kicks the album open with its Squarepusher-like beats and manipulated moaning. "Amaurophilia" follows with a similar form, though it wanders far too much to hold interest over its (nearly) six minutes. The fourteen minute-but-seems-much-longer "Hymen Tramp Choir" is the real problem, wandering even more than the tracks that precede it, only putting forth an interesting idea or noise every three or four minutes; it's barely worth sitting through the entire way the first time around, let alone subsequent listens. "Pervs" gives the album the majority of its worthwhile ideas and is perhaps the only song that is compelling the entire way through. Without the fourteen minute test of patience stuck in the middle, this would've made a much better EP...if not just because there'd be fourteen minutes less of recycled ideas to flood the album's creative concept and occasionally interesting, um, poetry.