CD Review by Gregory S. Burkart
All right kids, sit up straight, because I'm about to get intellectual on your ass.
Let's face it, the CD I am going to examine in these paragraphs is not for the casual listener. It's disturbing art for disturbed people who think disturbing thoughts. Consider it pure horror music: not music about horror, but music that induces horror. If what you read here makes you curious, then please set aside preconceived notions of what is ?music? and get ready to have your gray matter boiled in its own natural juices.
Nearly impossible to describe, even more challenging to comprehend, and guaranteed to be a listening experience you'll never forget (whether you'd like to or not), the nightmarishly surreal Dadaist experiments of British sound artist Steven Stapleton ? under the creative moniker Nurse With Wound ? were born out of a desire to destroy all conventional definitions of music... and nearly thirty years later, you're still not going to hear anything even remotely like it. It's more abstract than the work of classical avant-garde composer John Cage, more improvisational than postmodern Prog group Can, less rhythmic than Industrial icons Throbbing Gristle, Coil or Einsturzende Neubaten, more organic than Dark Ambient guru Lustmord, less aggressive than noise-rockers Whitehouse or Merzbow... wait, have I lost you already?
Sorry about that... but I do encourage you to seek out all of the artists listed above if you haven't already. Not just to put this material in better context, but because you will find them all very interesting ? and they will creep you out completely. Especially this one.
This album is more than the product of an artist before his time; this is a work that does not seem to exist in any time, or in any physical sense of reality that we're accustomed to, for that matter. In short, these sounds are not suited to most ears, sensibilities or psyches... which pretty much guarantees a limited audience for this kind of stuff. But after three decades of certifiable weirdness, Stapleton continues to draw throngs of adoring fans, both through frequent live performances and many diverse album releases (around two dozen to date, not counting collaborations with other artists), and shows no sign of waning popularity in esoteric musical circles.
Recorded in 1981 and '82 through a series of Friday sessions at London's IPS Studios, Homotopy To Marie is considered by Stapleton to be the first genuine Nurse With Wound project (although technically the fifth under that name), with Stapleton going solo (the other band members split a year earlier), free to explore the boundaries of music with no limitations or outside tampering. It's the most pure glimpse into the dark corridors of the artist's mind ever committed to record ? and be warned, you may not like what you find in there.
Employing the experimental techniques of Musique Concrete (making music out of objects and environments that are not inherently musical), tape manipulation, and collages of exotic percussion & surreal vocal treatments, Stapleton bends all concepts of music into unrecognizable forms. The opening track, ?I Cannot Feel You As The Dogs Are Laughing And I Am Blind,? creeps slowly, inexorably toward you from all sides until you are enveloped in a sticky, gelatinous warmth that is far from comforting. There is no recognizable theme as each track flows into the next, (this may explain why the earlier CD release misplaced one of the index marks), with the title track containing some of the most jarring moments of all. The collages are built through layers of conventional instruments (albeit played in extremely unconventional ways) along with chattering, screeching inhuman voices, roiling metallic drones, white noise, crackling tape distortion and other oddities, then stripping those layers away again to reveal cavernous emptiness, or complete sonic vacuum... and then just when your ears begin to relax, another explosion of noise is triggered. Needless to say, exercise caution when listening with headphones.
In the heart of this sonic darkness, some of the vocal bits may provoke a laugh or two at their outright strangeness ? but I believe this was Stapleton's intention. This is a good thing, or the whole production would collapse under the weight of its own gravitas. It's akin to the plentiful humorous touches David Lynch wove into in Eraserhead, which prevent it from inducing all-out nightmares. In fact, many passages in Homotopy recall Alan Splet's industrial sound design for Lynch's film.
Stapleton released the original 1982 LP of Homotopy on his own label United Dairies, and it would be another ten years before it entered the digital realm in a CD release from indie label World Serpent. This release contained the restored track ?Astral Dustbin Dirge? (which had been cut from the vinyl version due to space limitations), but it dropped out of sight when the label went under.
Fortunately, Homotopy has resurfaced this year in a beautifully remastered edition courtesy of United Jnana records, with all tracks intact, the index errors corrected and Stapleton's macabre original cover art restored (the previous release featured the image of a dismembered Barbie doll), with newly-created liner images. The album has also recently become available for digital download in high-quality format through iTunes.
Expect plenty more from Stapleton and pals in early 2008 with the new Nurse release Huffin' Rag Blues, as well as a much-anticipated collaboration with heavy-metal surrealists Sunn O))) tentatively titled The Iron Soul Of Nothing. Anyone familiar with either of these bands (I'm pretty keen on both of them) should be shuddering in fearful anticipation of the nightmarish ritual of weirdness to come. Check back here for news, if you dare.