RSS feed RSS Twitter Twitter Facebook Facebook 15 Questions 15 Questions

Sudden Infant: My Life's a Gunshot (Retrospective 1989-2009)

img  Tobias Fischer

There's undeniably a lot to be said about this humongously  expansive set, so let's begin with the biggest surprise of all: It is not a compilation. Quite clearly, that assessment seems to contradict the very nature of the release: Doesn't it say „retrospective“ on the cover? Don't these two luxurious gatefolds comprise a staggering 49 tracks from the Sudden Infant catalogue? Don't they span an arch from the project's very first 7inch up until and including the present? Well of course they do. Zooming in on a decade of music, „My Life's a Gunshot“ finally takes on the ambitious task of shedding sense and meaning on the labyrinthine oeuvre of one of the most leftfield protagonists of Noise and Sound Art. In a plethora of arduous editing sessions, Sudden-Infant-mastermind Joke Lanz and Hrönir-label-head Ed Bendorf have assiduously collected a couple of classics as well as a wealth of material that has been out-of-print, unavailable or previously unreleased and their canon can safely be regarded as representative and essential. In every respect and every possible meaning of the term, the result constitutes the „sum and summary“ of a life dedicated as much to music as to its dissolution. And yet, as absurd as it may seem: It is not a compilation.

To understand why this isn't just clever nitpicking, one merely needs to go back to 1992 and a short two-minute track emblematically positioned as the opener to this roughly two-and-a-half-hour journey. On top of its grimly pulsating, grainy industrial bass, Lanz's apocalyptically acerbic voice is sneering programmatic philosophies, which can be understood as a personal manifesto: „Blasphemy, obscenity, charlatanism and sadistic excess (...) constitute the moral means at our disposal against the stupidity, the satiety, the intolerance, the provincialism, the banality and the cowardice to accept responsibility“ „Abreaction“ and, more importantly, „destruction“ are, to Lanz, part of a conscious process of dismembering and destroying the world around him in order of piecing together a new reality. This process is not to be understood as complex and intellectual, but, quite on the contrary, as a playful game, in which the analysing mind is reset and cleansed of mental inhibitions. „Inner Power gets lost, because society exercises too many influences on human beings“, the liner notes to the very first Sudden-Infant-release read, closing with a call to arms: „Destroy these influences, go back to the roots!“

In line with this train of thought, Musique concrete has accordingly often been named as an influential root of Sudden Infant. Random radio spots, naive instrumental tinklings, disfigured poetry, field recordings, answering machine messages, out-of-tune-singing, close-miced object treatments, bizarre cover versions (Jacque Brel's „Ne me quitte pas“, with a sped-up, helium-inflated voice surreally unwinding the song's lyrics over a surreal backing of premonitious Theremin and ghostly Piano droplets is a particularly crass example) and skilfully constructed audio-installations („Broken Glass“'s six minute long meditative soundscape built from what sound to be ever-new permutations of bottles being smashed to pieces) are indeed artfully collated into associative collages made of everyday objects. And yet, there is something obsessive about these intermittently noisy and discrete soundscapes, which defies the association with the electroacoustic classics. Far from trying to remain objective towards his materials, Lanz is instead using them to express the most subjective feats: His love for the unpremeditated creative powers of children (his son Celeste features on a lot of the tracks). His Swissness (the sonorities and vocabulary delicacies of his mother tongue featuring both in the pieces and their titles). His penchant for making use of private tapes, scenes from seemingly trivial moments of happiness, bewilderment and exultation.

In short: Lanz is setting himself to music. His vision makes explicit use of elements from Dada and radio plays to arrive at a body of work, in which everything is a reference to everything else. His compositions are snippets of his imagination, his albums temporary snapshots of his personality, his oeuvre a far more precise approximation of his biography than the – nonetheless intriguing – liner note story told by GX Jupitter-Larsen about how his father's suicide influenced his artistic endeavours. It is not, however, a vision, which the listener can lazily appreciate by leaning back and letting the music do the talking. Instead, active participation is required: When, as on „Lueg emol II“, father and son are bursting out into riotous laughter after enjoying an exchange of silly questions, the audience is invited to join in. When, as on „Wir sind eine schreckliche Familie“, Lanz is hilariously shouting along to a Ramones-song, the message is not one of high-brow artisanship, but of „you can do that, too!“ And on „Riot“, from  immensely important album „Bandenkrieg“ (represented with a whopping five contributions), the listener is placed inside a vivid streetscene: Shouts from angry youths are coming from one side, instructions from the police from the other, as one is forced to carefully navigate through a fearful episode. On later pieces, such as collaborations with improviser Christian Weber, which are marked by a precise sense of musicianship and a palpable groove, the tendency of participation may not be quite as pronounced, but the music never looses its communal character nor the sense of sharing something intimate in a two-way communication.

All of this very much suggests a patchwork, another case of clever juxtaposition. Miraculously, though, „My Life's a Gunshot“ manages to create a new narrative out of its shattered shards: Each LP-side has been carefully directed and sequenced, while all four slabs of Vinyl inextricably connect into a coherent entity - just like you can't cut a man in two without killing him, all of these loose fragments belong together. One could have expected as much from the outset. This is not a compilation, after all, it's the album Joke Lanz has been working towards for his entire life.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Joke Lanz / Sudden Infant
Homepage: Hrönir Recordings

Related articles

Shinkei & mise_en_scene: "Scytale"
Recoiling the cipher: A musique ...
V.A.: "An anthology of Chinese Experimental Music 1992-2008"
Dazzling, diverse and dramatic: A ...
Juan Matos Capote: "Jabal"; Arnau Sala: "La joia d'agredir"
Broken Circuits and Audio Cassettes: ...
Juan José Calarco: "Dársena Interna"
The story needs to be ...
CD Feature/ Jamie Saft & Merzbow: "Merzdub"
Utmost respect and utter disdain: ...
Dense, organic scrapescapes: The individual ...

Partner sites