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Thursday, April 7, 2016

Mazzmelancolié - s/t (Wounded Knife , 2016) ****½

By Derek Stone

This self-titled release from Mazzmelancolié is an artifact - formed in the distant future, beamed to the ancient past, and found buried in the midst of some primeval forest (presumably by the kind folks over at Poland’s Wounded Knife Records). Composed of shifting layers of static, electronic gurgles, uncanny vocal samples, muffled snatches of jazz, and sundry other field recordings, Mazzmelancolié is actually two artists, Jerzy Mazzoll and Robert Skrzyński. Both of them are well-established in Poland’s experimental music scene: Mazzoll was a long-time member of the group Arhythmic Perfection, and Robert Skrzyński has released a considerable amount of experimental/noise music on various labels (look here for a sampler). Thus, the first line of this review is a bit misleading; Mazzmelancolié is not some “found object” that’s devoid of historicity. Upon listening to it, however, one could easily be forgiven for thinking that was the case - at times, it truly sounds like a document of a world far-removed from our own, a world sputtering away in the wake of destruction.

The first piece opens with a percussive rhythm laid out by what seems to be a bass clarinet; it’s repetitive, persistent, and accompanied by nervous rattles of indeterminate origin. Later on, some instruments rise from the murk, but they have the sound of degraded transmissions from a bygone time, occupying this world of indistinct knocks, scrapes, and whirrs with asynchronous tension. The hints of melody that do appear are spectral and slippery; for example, the third track features an unrelenting motif from Mazzoll’s clarinet, a sliver of a fragment of a theme that seems to move in hesitant circles, like a person who has lost something they can’t identify and keeps retreading the same ground. The fourth piece develops this theme a bit, but submerges it beneath thick layers of drone.

In the fifth, we get a near-traditional tune from numerous instruments, but it’s quick to dissipate in Skrzyński’s apocalyptic sound-world - all busted-receiver beeps and swirling, cinematic textures. The wonder of this recording lies in its incongruities; while it is decidedly experimental, the instruments themselves maintain a semblance of convention. There are no skronky outbursts, no high-pitched squeals, no brassy growls (at least not until the final track). It truly sounds like an old jazz record that has been dug up, dusted off, and set spinning on a jerry-rigged player - all on an Earth that has been dismantled, disemboweled, and left to desiccate. Perhaps the members of Mazzmelancolié foresee such a future, and this album is their warning. Case in point: in the final track, a computerized voice details the rise of robots and (presumably) the downfall of humans. Over looping electronics and the wailing of reeds, it describes the increasing harmony and organization of the robots’ world, and it eventually reaches the conclusion that “humans would never achieve form and order on their own. Decency was not their nature. We only had one choice to keep our society advancing. We had to take control.” With the recent successes of Google’s AlphaGo in the news, issues of artificial intelligence and the potential obsolescence of humans have become more timely than ever. Mazzmelancolié invites us to see the aftermath of a large-scale war between man and machine, where old jazz melodies are the only thing connecting us to the human culture that once was. If the (post-)apocalypse sounds like this, I can’t say I’ll be disappointed.