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Eric Copeland - Hermaphrodite

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Artist: Eric Copeland

Album: Hermaphrodite

Label: Paw Tracks

Review date: Aug. 15, 2007

Here’s a riddle: What do the Grateful Dead, John Coltrane, The Boredoms, Pink Floyd, Christian Fennesz, Suicide, Van Morrison have in common?

Answer: all have been used by past reviewers to describe the sound of Black Dice – and these are just from reputable online publications that deal with strange music all the time. One shudders to think how reviews from the braver of the nation’s alt-weeklies read. (If you are still scratching your head over the Van Morrison reference, one writer thought that “Crowd Pleaser” conjures “Brown-Eyed Girl.”)

The problem is not that these references are necessarily off, it’s just unproductive to put much energy into them. More so than maybe any current band that comes to mind, Black Dice have carved for themselves a reference-defying niche. While they have flirted with and have cursory involvement in some scenes (the DFA-led dance revival, the Animal Collective/Paw Tracks crew, and the emergent wave of noise music in New York), it’s clear that none of these acts are pure peers. Though they would probably name influences if asked, it would be a tricky endeavor to place them firmly in any one lineage of experimental music (and their’s hardly seems a project in hybridization).

A hermaphrodite is someone who, by definition in terms (and therefore tautology), is in a state of irreducible sexual dys-identification. A hermaphrodite cannot make full claim to the signifiers of male or female, and yet must be defined always by those concepts and what he/she lacks in relation to them.

More so than any Black Dice outings to date (excepting their roots in hardcore), Hermaphrodite, Eric Copeland’s first proper solo album, gestures towards the timbre of various normalized genres while dismantling and abstracting structures that would ground the listener in their normality. The title track summons a Fantasia/Disney ride orchestra. “La Booly Boo” leaves the impression of a Gamelan orchestra. “Spacehead” sounds like an honest to goodness guitar or banjo and voice song - played by some raucous extraterrestrial. Of course, it’s impossible to source the sounds on Hermaphrodite, and it’s this indeterminacy that works so well throughout the album.

As with Black Dice, to put too much energy into thinking about where these songs come from is to miss the point. These descriptions are just what the songs call to mind, not what they are. The level of abstraction here, while pulled off with ease and without (too) much abrasion, is near total. That a piece of music begs such questions of its own existence is what really sets Copeland apart from the ever-burgeoning crop of DIY noise musicians. It is one of those rare instances in experimental music where the question of “what is it?” means much more than “how was it made?”

The album’s closer, “Scraps,” is vintage Black Dice, using shifting hard pans to excentuate the spatiality of the sound field. The radio chatter bleeds into the mix and cacophony ensues. But as the final minute of the record approaches, the dense mix drops out and all that remains is a softer, melodic, completely indistinguishable loop. This edit is a microcosm of the album as a whole - noise experiments consistently underlain by more musical foundations. One wonders if the tracks on Hermaphrodite are in fact real songs (or take traces of “real songs”), manipulated to the point of indescernability, or rather noise so carefully treated such as to resemble song. Like the liminal existence implied by the album’s title, it’s a distinction that cannot be sustained.

By Brandon Kreitler

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