JC Mendizabal and his crew are back to put sound through the wringer and shape it to their liking on the latest Radio Free Clear Light offering, The Labyrinth of Ohgel. Eclectic is the name of the game here. Each of the 14 “chambers,” which are based on “unique interconnected web installations,” presents a new vision, built in part around interesting swaths of found sound. “Chamber of Stone,” for example, has perhaps the finest musical use of the Star Trek transporter sound effect you’ll ever hear. Mendizabal is joined by Etanna Sack and Lydia Harari on what’s listed only as “noise makers [and] vocals” and Keith Yates on clarinet and sax. Whatever sound these folks conjure is then manipulated by Mendizabal and mixed with his own offerings, including their deconstruction, and the output is turned into a shifting maze of sonic impressions. Always a bit on the dark side, often kicking into a light techno vibe, The Labyrinth of Ohgel truly conveys the sense of passage and the forward motion of story.
While it’s not entirely necessary to take the music and the web installations together, it definitely heightens the experience. The disc is one way to listen; the 14 stations at the site also play the matching track as you click your way from room to room. It makes for an interesting, direct glimpse into each piece’s inspiration. Get to the clockwork rhythms and metallic overtones of “The Grinding Wheel” and you’ll immediately feel what’s written about it on that page–“The monotonous grind of eternally turning cogs. Their mechanical chug and whine fills the air with metallic clangs and the deep rumbling of an engine…” Enter “The Chamber of the Salamander” and listen to how the crackle of flame works through the sound, rising and falling–according to the narrative–with the beast’s desires. The glitch of “The Gauntlet” captures in sharp focus a “tangle of diabolical machinery…having the appearance of a tangled orgy of mechanical insects gnashing their pincers at you as you intrude upon their intimate encounter.” In addition, the chambers are not lined up according to the track listing on the disc. You literally make your way through the maze, clicking your choice of chamber, following a path of your selecting. The art at the site is interesting too. Look closely. Yes, those are Legos.
As with all of RFCL’s work, there’s an inherent challenge to listening. Leave your preconceptions at the door and open a little space to appreciate an impressionistic approach. Even in the noise-oriented places–and there are plenty–there’s always a sense of purpose, of moving ahead with the plan. The depth of sound is strong; Mendizabal can firmly pack a piece without overloading. There’s plenty there to feed your imagination. And it doesn’t hurt that when he does kick out a groove, it’s solid and barbed with hooks. So when you’re ready for a little adventure in sound, head into The Labyrinth of Ohgel.
Available at CD Baby.