[ e|i Magazine AUTUMN 2003 ]
the Spine ........................VIVO
Vivo Records is based in Zambrow, Poland, which is about 75 miles as the crow flies from Warsaw, the nation's capital. With eight albums released since 2000, the label sports three various-artist collections featuring contributors from a variety of countries including Japan and the US, Amir Baghiri's full-length Yalda, rich with Middle Eastern instrumentation and field recordings, plus several albums that feature English-language vocals, spoken and sung. In short, geographic fetishists should not look to Vivo for a boutique of Eastern Bloc regionality. Some of Vivo's one-world vibe may be attributable to the global reach of English-language pop culture, but it also reflects the label's active interest in pushing boundaries, both musical and territorial.On the label's first release, a self-titled full-length of 10 untitled tracks by Quarter, the vocals are in English, mumbled or repeated disjointedly like repressed thoughts. They surface amid live instrumentation and mechanized percussion. If the repetition of vocal fragments on the second track is cantorial in its contemplativeness, the voice on the third is Satanic. Several of the tracks, most rewardingly number six, perform a waterlogged variation on minimal techno. Minimalism, in fact, is key, and the CD booklet charts each track's relative length (between 3:25 and 9:44) along parallel lines, like a technical diagram. The Polish act Different State has Quarter's taste for dub and goes further in exploring it, as evidenced on Azure. The album opens with frenetic, trebly drum 'n' bass rhythms, but these are quickly subsumed by globular sounds, as if the Titanic had gone under with a turntable-wielding DJ on deck. Different State has learned, likely from dub legends Sly and Robbie, to hold the beat for as long as possible before proceeding to the next measure, as they do on "Tunnel". The track's vocal (which consists of the word "tunnel" screamed like a taunt) suggests Bill Laswell's innate understanding of what dub has in common with heavy metal. On "Plunge", the vocals are in English, but English buried in a Polish accent.The voices on 5EX Engine, by the Polish quartet Aural Planet, are also in English, snipped from the opening credits to the Outer Limits TV show, among other third-party sources. Much of the record would be welcome in drum 'n' bass clubs around the planet - with its steady rhythm track, its phasers-on-stun samples and those soundbite vocals, this is the most accessible of Vivo's catalog. Yalda, by Amir Baghiri, is so thick with Middle Eastern percussion and field recordings that you'll consider shaking your CD player to see if sand pours out. On "Daygan", the expert percussive material is complemented by a rising digital tide, synthesized ambience that brings to mind the late Muslimgauze's self-conscious exoticisms (Vivo is scheduled to co-release in 2003 a posthumous Muslimgauze album). On "Ruhe Tariky", the ambience remains but the percussion drops out, replaced by water drops and, in the distance, the modern sounds of construction clang. The title track retains the water but drifts even further into the realm of phonography, of sounds that cohere with a documentary feel, rather than according to song structure. With its mix of birdsong, enticingly quiet textures and sublimated energy, Yalda is among the label's strongest albums to date.Yalda's closest competition comes from Whispers from Behind the Window, by Poland's Nemezis. The record is certainly Vivo's most threatening. "Wow" sounds like water torture as heard from three cells down the block; of course, the cell may very well be your own, and you've simply been over-sedated. "Good Uncle and the Urchiny Kids" employs a bare burst of pneumatics for its content: a fizz of percussion for a beat, a blast of a kettle for a riff. As it proceeds it gathers steam, accruing an underlying rhythm and a genuine pop sensibility, something with which this album of industrial stillness appears to be at best remotely concerned. Vivo has released three various-artists collections: two, both titled Reworked, are remix sets and one collects individual pieces. For a collection of variations on dark themes by Manchester, England's Black Faction (aka Andrew Diey, another musician with a taste for Muslimgauze), the label received contributions by such notables as Rapoon (formerly of Zoviet France), Keith Fullerton Whitman (aka Hrvatski) and Sutekh, as well as cuts by Diey himself. Diey offers considerable raw material to remixers because his tracks often go in unexpected directions rather than repeating a set batch of elements. His music is also dense, which is why it's all the more fascinating that John Hudak, on Reworked's opening track, chose to emphasize tiny whisps. Sutekh, on "Oakland Concrete", prods a sturdy beat in various directions before stepping back for a rootless assortment of individual sounds. Zenial, the other subject Reworked, is a young Polish musician. Here indeed is an unusual situation, in that the collective remixers (including Vidna Obmana, KK Null, Andrew Duke and Zbigniew Karkowski) are generally better known than the remixee. So, one is less certain how much of the granularity on "Ib7" should be credited to Zenial and how much to Duke; or whether the comic brevity of "Sunset" (at 24 seconds) is a Karkowski prank or a Zenial attribute; or if the noise on "Echoes from Lamberton" was there before Null arrived on the scene. "Nowele" apparently means "short stories" in Polish, and Nowe:le collects brief, primarily instrumental pieces by a mix of Polish and US acts, along with one from Japan, no doubt commissioned by the UN to mediate. The pieces don't have much in common except that they are all carefully crafted, proof that Vivo's proprietor listens broadly, both at home (check out the poppy burble of Maciek Szymczuk's opening track) and abroad (note the cut-up r&b vocals of Shapethrower and the hyper-delicate fissures of Yume, both from the US).