Birchville Cat Motel
Chaos Steel Skeletons: One / Two / Three
ur world is beautiful. I think we can all agree with that, but with certain provisions. For some, that means decrying the human footprint, the rape and pillage of man on some idyllic, pristine, and largely invented landscape; and for some it's the landscape itself in all its chaos and unerring indifference to us, our needs, and our wants. Sometimes, just for kicks, I'll take a look outside for clouds. If they get thick enough, get that dark shade of gray on the underbelly, I'll pull my shit together, head outside, and pray for rain. I have my limits, of course—no bright ideas during monsoon season, and Armageddon will find me locked in the basement like any sensible person—but there's something highly invigorating and even rewarding about facing down one of nature's many hissy fits, in getting a good wash in the inclemency of our planet.
I've learned some rather important life lessons on these little expeditions. You can never underestimate the value of a big, leafy tree; getting dry is easier than getting damp and takes less time; and an awful lot of people find water somehow deeply unpleasant. The occasional person with a quizzical look in a passing car isn't fearful of the stuff—they surely shower—they'd just... rather not. It's understandable as far as it goes; the average day in the modern world is unpleasant enough without Earth giving us grief too. But, honestly, it's just water. This isn't a grand philosophy, really, more like a credo: one staring contest with a minor indignity over which I have no control makes all the others not only easier to bear but even comforting. All is off-kilter and just not right, therefore all is well and balanced. On the off-chance that I ever need to explain to someone why I listen to noise—not often—I make that analogy. I talk about the sheer visceral impact, something that rock, punk, and pop have all left behind. I mention that there's nothing to get—invariably the conversation turns to ideas of “meaning” and “the point”—and that, at its best, it’s just pure gut response and physical sensation. But it's usually a losing battle. Noise is very unpleasant, and most would just... rather not.
Noise is relentlessly physical in a way most art just isn't. Just ask Campbell Kneale, proprietor of Birchville Cat Motel and the Celebrate Psi Phenomenon CD-R emporium. For ten years, between mellifluous drone and sickening black metal, he's cranked out one CD-R, cassette tape, and lathe-cut 7” after another, and now we have ourselves a mother lode: three separate double-CDs of guitar feedback and every so often some percussion, at a hair under six hours. This kind of stuff is often utilitarian, all sinus-clearing static and guerrilla maneuvers—shock and awe—and read sort of like schematic diagrams of crossed electrical circuits. But Kneale's noise seems to come from a wholly different place. Where most noise exists solely as a current, just light-speed particles whizzing by, he gives it mass, volume, and above all pressure; it surrounds and contains. Like on opener “White Alpha Matte” from 1996, which builds in huge cubic blocks of sound, one upon another, rejiggered, reversed, and removed. It's heavy, almost literally so, like it's been dropped onto your shoulders. His drones, like “Wet Crimson Eternity” or “Ice Arch Return,” build and envelop to constrict; his true histrionic noise fits blast and scrape to rend asunder.
But peel away the top coat of motorized grinding and horror-shrieks and there’s a surprising delicacy underneath. Since it’s all just electrons bouncing back and forth, and the laws of atomic physics being what they are, the sounds created seem to have a life of their own, fluttering, whirring, and buzzing, in constant flux, just enough to leave little pockets of air throughout. On “Beekeeper” or “A Muslin Veil of Bravery”—the two most abrasive numbers, existing almost entirely in the high end—those spikes of air-horn vibrate around a core of pins-and-needles mids, scattering them about like filings over a magnet. The overall effect is still shattering, but there’s something beyond the initial shock, in Kneale’s always surprising and ever-evolving structures; they’re literal forces of nature, studies in growth and erosion on a micro scale, with all the compressed drama that entails. And I could go on like this forever—I never mentioned the jack-in-the-box buttressing “Glamourpuss 2”—but it’s all irrelevant. The idea here is power and force, of the sort that traditional genres are simply unable to supply (assuming that was ever the point). It isn’t comfortable, it’s decidedly harsh, at times all but unlistenable, and barely even music, if at all. But it’s also more than that, more than just a death-and-decay obsession, more than its pure obnoxiousness, more even than a supposed antidote to all the constant pleasantness. It’s none of those things, in fact. It’s very much its own kind of beauty. It’s the stuff of life. It’s celebratory. And it’s sublime.
Reviewed by: Jeff Siegel
Reviewed on: 2006-06-01