Saturday, September 30, 2006

Scaaaaary Music

For decades there's been no shortage of metal meatheads, gothic chumps, gangsta wannabes and disgruntled boy bands tripping over themselves to appear as dark and twisted as possible, but genuinely unsettling music of the jump-out-of your-seat, look-over-your-shoulder, or at least refrain-from-giggling variety is often hard to come by. Just being a quality musician that deals with "dark" themes isn't enough to qualify. Slayer, for instance, may kick ass and utilize plenty of disturbing imagery but I don't find them "scary," and ookie-spookie types like Nick Cave and Tom Waits are too theatrically removed from their material (call me when you've actually moved into one of those decrepit barns you're always going on about, Waits). So here's a list of stuff that I find/have found personally unnerving to varying degrees, and that may get you blacklisted by the rest of the neighborhood should you choose to play them at this year's Halloween party. Obviously, this is far from definitive, as vaguely defined lists on some random dude's blog are wont to be, so any other recommendations are welcome (hint hint):

Suicide, "Frankie Teardrop" - This is still the only piece of music I've heard that I never listen to alone late at night; a completely bent 10-minute masterpiece about a disturbed factory worker who earns eternal damnation by blowing away his infant son, wife and himself. Alan Vega unleashes some of the most horrifying primal screams ever recorded over the ominously chugging synth bass and drum machine. A direct inspiration for admitted fan Bruce Springsteen's menacing "State Trooper" from the Nebraska album.

Kronos Quartet, Black Angels - The shrieking violins that kick off George Crumb's Vietnam-inspired title piece set the visceral tone for this anti-war lament of an album, but do not encompass its entire style. There’s also a performance of Shostakovich’s bleak "String Quartet No. 8," a crying Romanian woman (man?) throughout Istvan Marta’s "Doom. A Sigh," and an ironically placed recording of an old Charles Ives war tune reminiscent of Kubrick’s use of "Midnight, the Stars and You" at the end of The Shining. "Black Angels" is the most effective piece on the record though; its dissonant bursts of sound conjuring striking images of violence.

Before I go further, I should state the obvious and mention that I’m a classical music layman, and did indeed become aware of most of the composers below through Stanley Kubrick movies.

Krzysztof Penderecki, Matrix 5 – Before Crumb’s “Black Angels” there was Penderecki’s harrowing “Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima,” searingly performed here by the Polish Radio Nationaly Symphony Orchestra (of which my uncle was… not a member). Despite it’s clearly defined structure, “Threnody” is like the classical equivalent of Peter Brotzmann’s free-jazz onslaught “Machine Gun.” The entire album is amazing though, and in its way pure horrorshow.

György Ligeti, The Ligeti Project II – Second part of a five disc series on the composer’s works, recorded between 2001-2004. Kubrick used a few Ligeti pieces for the soundtrack of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Two of them here, the shimmering “Lontano” and the static, eerie “Atmospheres,” remain the perfect music for interstellar traumas that leave you an ashen-faced old man inexplicably living out your days in a room full of antiques.

Bartók, “Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta” – More Kubrick madness; this was also used in The Shining, although it was nearly replaced after “Reunited” by Peaches and Herb tested better with audiences.

Scott Walker, “The Cockfighter” – Assuming your inner Beavis can resist snickering at the titular “sport,” and that you have a taste for Walker’s outrageous, faux-operatic voice, this tune from his 1995 album Tilt can serve as prime car-crashing material. After a minute or so of low murmuring, buried instruments and weird digging sounds that prompt you to turn up the volume, the track explodes into a techno/industrial dirge with Walker warbling about God knows what on top. This all had to have come as a surprise to any Walker fan at the time, and leads the listener to assume he was probably listening to a lot of Nine Inch Nails at that point (he was).

Finally we come to what surely must be the most terrifying album on the list, however the cover is so intense I still can’t work up the nerve to listen to it.

Clearly this nubile young woman has been traumatized by some kind of protracted mental and physical abuse, perhaps, judging by the location and the song title “Dirty White Boy,” incorporating scatological elements. I’m not familiar with the works of this “Foreigner,” but I would guess they resemble a cross between a harsher Diamanda Galas and John Cale circa the “Sabotage” tour, when he was ripping chickens’ heads off onstage.

Pleasant dreams!


Sarah T said...

You know Diamanda Galas. Amazing.

Chris said...

We used to be in the same tennis club. You think Monica Seles was loud?