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Artist: KTL

Album: KTL 2

Label: Mego

Review date: Jul. 27, 2007

KTL is a unit made up of Peter Rehberg and Stephen O'Malley, artists otherwise known as Pita and ½ of Sunn 0))), respectively. KTL 2 is the second volume of incidental music to emerge from their work for Kindertotenlieder, the fourth collaboration between American writer Dennis Cooper and French director/choreographer Gisele Vienne. KTL 2 not only proves that they exist as something more than a mutation of that play; though released a mere seven months after the first album, KTL 2 finds these two settling on a common language, one that both fleshes out the play’s narrative and creates a space entirely its own. These four tracks – all of which surpass the 10-minute mark, with “Theme” clocking in at an intense 27 minutes – have little to do with the Gustav Mahler song cycle from which the play takes its name. Kindertotenlieder translates as songs on the death of children, which happens to be as apt a thematic description of Cooper's work as one could hope. Not only are the male characters in his best-known work, the five-novel George Miles Cycle, all based on the deceased high school friend and former lover who gives the Cycle its name, the narrative structure of the novels themselves emulate the death at their center.

There’s a little irony to the fact that Kindertotenlieder centers around a black metal concert/funeral in the deep Austrian forest in the dead of winter, part of which involves boys dressing up as Krampus, the demonic-looking 'companions of St. Nicholas' who, in parts of Austria, terrorize sinful kids on Christmas Eve. This pagan remainder from winter solstice celebrations calls to mind literary modernism's trope par excellence, the German witches' festival Walpurgisnacht as portrayed in Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain. There's some intense bracketing going on here: the early- and late-romanticism of Goethe's Faust and Mahler's Kindertotenlieder, the modernism and postmodernism of Mann and Cooper. Rehberg and O’Malley avoid here the modernist tendency they indulged a little bit with the first KTL – the cathartic, Dionysian release of sinewy, jagged screech. Here, even the buildup is anti-climax, an elegy for something that’s already gone down. It’s anything but an incitement to violence, yet far from contemplative. KTL 2 doesn’t feel so much like a revision of the first as a refinement of its vision, an attempt to make it as indiscernible as Cooper’s own work.

Rehberg and O’Malley’s work is similar inasmuch as they have a circuit-bent relationship to the genres they draw on. Harsh electro and drone metal exist as genres-about-genres, cannibalizing the source materials in a way that chars everything. Not coincidentally, this approach has resulted in some fucking loud music. A loudness that’s as much felt as heard: parsing frequency extremes, their music is by turns so high that it can be mistaken with the sound of your brain's synapses and the circulation of your blood, or so low that it comes uncomfortably close to the brown sound. You'd assume that such amplitude wrangling would come into conflict with the idea of incidental music, but the indistinctness that emerges from being immersed in unfamiliar frequencies matches Cooper's aesthetic exceedingly well. The music conveys a state of being without having to resort to distinguishable musical forms or tropes. Cooper's art is resonant because he deals with inarticulate subject matter in a way that acknowledges his protagonists' essential powerlessness and bewilderment, puncturing his narratives with situations where language itself fails. The overriding feeling here, even more so than in the first installment, is disorientation – the perfectly-titled “Theme” is a 25-minute buildup to fine-grain oblivion, followed by a minute of so of respite and a final desperate spasm of gurgling sound color. Rehberg and O’Malley’s approaches are so integrated here as to be indistinguishable; the difference is significant when compared to the first volume’s immediately-assignable contributions (black metal Derek Bailey guitar from O’Malley and buzz-saw oscillator from Rehberg on the “Forest Floor” tracks).

The album is a reminder that art like this is pretty rare at the moment. With the post-postmodern fetishization of the literary over literature proper and the safe redundancy of indie rock passing as something more than a lifestyle accoutrement, this album’s organ-scrambling oscillations is crucially oblique. It starts as an atmospheric disturbance, an airborne event too evil to ever distinctly manifest; by the time it ends, the molecules are still charged with inarticulate emergency.

(A double LP version of this record will be out on Thrill Jockey in the fall.)

By Brandon Bussolini

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