- Urban guerilla, sociopath, sexual deviant, blasphemer: these are the subversive personas that have dominated noise music since its outgrowth from industrial culture in the '80s. Yet none of them have ever found much resonance with Aaron Dilloway. His myriad projects, from The Beast People to (pre-Spykes) Wolf Eyes, have always reflected his fascination with the trickster, that folkloric rogue and saboteur of law and order. It's a fascination reaching back to the noise pioneer's formative years in the Ann Arbor-Detroit underground of the mid-'90s, a scene whose quirkiness owed a great deal to the Discordian mischief of Sun City Girls, The Residents and Caroliner.
It should come as no surprise then that his most ambitious release to date, a three-years-in-the-making concept album, arrives with the all too fitting title Modern Jester. Over the course of its four sprawling sides, Dilloway relentlessly upends and disrupts listener perception, in particular the either/or logic governing it. His weapon of choice is the tape loop, albeit loopage that is mangled, wire-fried and intensely lo-fi. By constructing repetition-based music riddled with distinctive imperfections, one of the many results Dilloway achieves is a collapsing of the dichotomy between predictability and randomness. The most aggressive example of which is the 11-minute screamer "Eight Cut Scars (For Robert Turman)," a spazzoid melody that multiplies unevenly before spilling into a vat of fuzz.
Far less assaulting, "Body Chaos" contains a sequence of loops that topples a different dichotomy: the one versus the many. Though their sound sources are wide-ranging (field recordings, crumbs of crackling static, scrap-metal atmospherics, warbling tape hiss), Dilloway manages to make them pieces of a whole. Yet he does so without surrendering the underlying properties unique to each.
Yet another track with a title intimating Dilloway's trickster ethos, the side-long "Look Over Your Shoulder" goes even further in its sonic subterfuge. Around the nine-minute mark, the eerie industrial dub slips into an abyss of distortion, one which flirts with electronic voice phenomenon (a staple of parapsychology). Actual vocals do lurk in the mix. At the same time, a roiling litany of groans and growls can be detected that flummox the ears. They sound real, kind of, but it's impossible to say one way or the other without feeling as if your senses are betraying you. Such sonic ambiguities challenge the most elemental of all dichotomies: objective versus subjective.
Dilloway himself claims the sounds in question are indeed real. After all, printed on the album's back cover is the line "Every Second Of This Recording Contains Subliminal Messages." Then again, it's an assurance undermined by the quote from K.W. Jeter's The Glass Hammer that appears just above. The snippet of text is abstruse, referring as it does to machines "talking, in a new voice, out of the blue, about death and weird shit like that." But if you've read the cyberpunk classic, then you know the source of that "new voice" cannot ultimately be verified. In other words, it's a cipher for the uncertainty haunting human observation, of never truly knowing if what one is experiencing is real.
Dilloway is, of course, playing the trickster's game of liberation through confusion. But what should be confusing to no one is the superb quality of this music. Modern Jester is one of the most accomplished noise albums of the last several years. Excellent are the chances that it will go down as one of his very finest works.
02. Eight Cut Scars (For Robert Turman)
03. Labyrinths & Jokes
04. Body Chaos
05. Look Over Your Shoulder
06. Shatter All Organized Activities (Eat The Rich)
07. After The Showers