- SPIN Rating:8 of 10
On May 13, 2011, two generations of noiseniks met at London's Roundhouse to reconcile rhythm with the legacy of the avant-garde.
Perhaps that sounds grandiose. But given the setting — the Short Circuit festival, celebrating 30 years of the Mute label — history was on everyone's minds. Especially given the lineup of Carter Tutti with Nik Void. The first two names belong to Chris Carter and Cosey Fanni Tutti of 1970s industrial pioneers Throbbing Gristle, as well as their own synth-pop duo Chris & Cosey. Void, a.k.a., Nik Colk, is a member of Factory Floor, a London trio, formed in 2005, whose recordings for Blast First Petite and DFA combine elements of No Wave, industrial, and acid house in ways that instantly bring Carter and Tutti's projects to mind. Factory Floor's debt to their elders isn't just a question of style, but also process: "The way I approach the guitar is like I've never learned how to play, like it's a foreign instrument," Void told SPIN earlier this year, echoing post-punk's untutored, almost Zen-like approach. "It's my own language. It's abstract."
"Abstract" is a good way to describe Transverse, the live document of their encounter. Each song is based upon a chugging machine rhythm, heavy on the downbeat, that nods to industrial and techno while suggesting something far more fundamental — innate, primal, a kind of Ur-rhythm. Around that center of gravity whirls a storm of sonic debris that hangs together as if by some magic of magnetism and timing: groans, shakers, bright shoots of feedback, eddies of dub delay, and hardscrabble guitar filigree. A metallic, elastic twang delineates the music's tonal dimensions, often suggesting plucked bridge cables or a jaw harp the size of a house. The mood is mercurial — nervous, numb, zoned-out, even cozy — and the emotional temperature will depend upon your disposition: Their haunted, glancing racket might scan as alienating, or you might find yourself swept up in the sweaty thrust.
Above all, it's music for trance states: four lengthy, pulsating drones that feel cut from the fabric of time itself. The shortest track is nine minutes, and the rest are just over ten; recycling sounds and beats, they're all essentially versions of a single theme, and the longer you spend with the album, the more they feel like spurs of a single labyrinth. The players aren't much interested in conventional musical development: Tracks typically begin with a bare-bones rhythm and assume mass, quickly hitting a plateau that extends virtually to the end of the song, save for a gentle denouement. Like the Moritz von Oswald Trio's dubby, tribal improv, Carter Tutti Void's music is all about horizontal energy. A magic carpet of woven steel, Transverse soars up and out, borne aloft on ghostly vocals and sheets of guitar noise.
A video of the performance gives you some idea of how they made the music, with Tutti and Void trading off on guitar and vocals, occasionally twisting knobs to unleash a quick squall of delay feedback; Carter, between them, occupies a table brimming with arcane gear. It's an instructive peek behind the curtain, if only for the way that, on record, the division of labor dissolves so thoroughly into churning beats and dissonant bursts.
Far from the collision implied by the title, Transverse turns out to be anything but an Oedipal struggle. Instead, the trio draw a continuous line from the industrial experiments of the late '70s and early '80s through the coiled, hammered techno of successive decades — a straight line that also proves as circular as the venue, driving relentlessly forward without losing its grasp on the here-and-now. The crowd noise that follows each song drives the point home like a spongy punctuation mark, zapping you briefly out of your trance before the music sucks you back in and tumbles on.