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Screams and Silence

by Black Paintings
CD; Self-published, 17 Euros (includes shipping)
Artist’s website: http://www.voiceofshade.net.

Reviewed by Michael R. (Mike) Mosher
Saginaw Valley State University, USA 48710


Black Paintings is a project of Nikolai Galen, whose earlier CD Emmanuel Vigeland was discussed on this website. In this trio, Galen teams up with Tim Hodgkinson on clarinet and Ken Hyder on drums (and sometimes voice) to make music that shares "a kinship with that of inner Asia by staying in touch with alert silence". Recording at Bryn Derwen, Snowdonia, they produced a improvisational vocal-driven collection that fills two CDs.

The first CD, Screams, opens with "cave of a large city". Its long single clarinet note, cymbals and Edgar Varese percussion suggest existential emptiness. While "barbarian" begins with a pipsqueak, "hitting a corner" evokes desperation over drum rolls. The listener cocks an ear to whoops and hollers that attempt to mouth a demented alphabet, to moans and wails evoke an excess of bad gin, or to hear the ambience of the asylum called Bedlam seen in old prints, amidst the autistic drumming of muttering inmates chained to the floor. "belly" also has weird utterances, that are wordless and unformed yet clearly cockney-accented. Though Galen now lives in Istanbul, he formerly lived in England.

The last track on Screams is "human in the beginning", where the travails of tongue-tied auctioneer are succored by clarinet. The long, pure note that ends "another continent" echoes that of "cave of a large city" at the beginning of the disc.

On the second CD, Silence, Galen’s solo voice in "humans come to" groans beneath the thumbscrew ,or from cannonball constipation. We hear the painful cries of a man giving birth, his baby ripping through organs intended otherwise. At the end, the clarinet comes in merrily to clean up, whistling past a graveyard.

In Black Paintings, Tim Hodkinson’s clainet serves as the lion-tamer’s whip that keeps the belligerent voice of Galen in check. "another breath" is built around rolling clarinet, and "shift shift" pits the clarinet against a drum smack and bully’s growl. "throat" serves a gravelly ahhh.. over jazzy brushed snare, alert to an alien signal of mystery notes coming over the clarinet If the track alludes to Tuvan throat song, that’s still Inner Asia, though far from the Bosporus. "sleep" emits a primal coo or Ommm... Then there’s a shepherd’s murumr, then a whipped-doggy whimper of fear, atop nice interplay of clarinet and drums.

While Black Paintings avow an affinity for free jazz, this reviewer can’t help but hear their rootedness in Punk, the do-it-yourself aesthetic rooted in conviction that anyone can do it. These are artists affirming their freedom to disturb, to irritate. Meanwhile, Nikolai Galen should carry a business card that reads "Non-Objective Vocalist", whose presentation upon entering a room would be a caveat of what was to come.



Updated 1st February 2008

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