Magical Crystal Blah
Helicopter / Kitty Play
he fact that it’s been just a little over a year since John Wiese’s last solo CD (Bubble Pulse on Kissy Records) probably doesn’t seem like a big deal to the average Stylus reader, but in Wiese’s world the clocks tick twice as fast as everywhere else on the planet. Consider the 21 collaborations, splits and side projects between that disc and the new Magical Crystal Blah, and you’ll start to understand why this is such an anticipated release in noise circles. There’s a constant flow of material coming pouring out of Wiese’s powerbook, but it’s usually doled out one spoonful at a time—often merely a thimbleful. He never fails to leave listeners wanting more. Even this “full-length” just barely slides past the half-hour mark.
What it lacks in longevity, though, Magical Crystal Blah more than makes up for in ferocity, finally unleashing the full potential that has graced a knee-high stack of one-sided 7”s. Not that this disc blindly follows-up those numerous releases. Wiese has always been a true experimenter; developing his own little niches in the vast noise world, tweaking and expanding them until he’s satisfied and then eventually moving on to the next. This time around it’s two-fold: live recording and an abundance of unprocessed guitar.
The latter is the important part, because this is a guy who once described his recording technique in Bananafish saying, “In the first five seconds, there are about 75 cuts, I think. I spent one eight-and-a-half hour stretch editing about an hour and forty-five minutes I’d recorded [down to 40 seconds]”, this is by far the best peek listeners have been given to what lies behind all the splicing. Wiese has been documented live on several releases with Bastard Noise, alongside Wolf Eyes on their Live San Diego 2003 7” and on a few individual tracks and small-run releases of his own, so this isn’t a vast directional change in that sphere for him at all.
At the same time, this live sound has been hinted at while never being fully recognized, the abrasive guitar sounds—think Keith Rowe at his rawest—are completely new ground. Guitar tone has been present in Wiese’s band Sissy Spacek, but always processed far beyond recognition; never like this. Here whenever a string is plucked, scraped or gorged, it jumps out of the melee. It’s amazing how the cleanest, least-processed sounds are by far the most jarring. The juxtaposition works frighteningly well, so much so that it almost begs further dabbling.
Because, in most cases, you can hear him splicing samples like a gourmet chef dicing carrots while in concert, these new additions to his sound only strengthen Wiese’s already impeccably unique approach to noise. Magical Crystal Blah works on so many levels it’s downright scary. The collision of rich laptop processing and painfully abrasive guitar work is but the most obvious of them. When I asked John if he played the guitar parts, live or had them sampled, he replied “I magically played them.” That sums it up better than I could.
Reviewed by: Mike Shiflet
Reviewed on: 2004-08-20