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Thursday, December 2, 2021

Artistic dissonance

For over 20 years, the members of Caroliner have dedicated themselves to uniting the dissonance of static and noise with the allure of day-glow, tribal-influenced art. Caroliner is by no means new to the experimental-noise scene. Since their formation in 1982, they’ve released roughly 15 full-length albums and a dozen or so seven-inch singles. They are occasionally namedropped by music critic bigwigs – namely Alex Ross, the Pulitzer-prize winning music critic in residence at The New Yorker, but for the most part, Caroliner remains virtually ignored by mainstream America.

Supported by fellow experimental-noise groups Mama Buries, Mucky the Ducky and Hans Grusel’s Krankenkabinet, Caroliner graced the John Natsoulas Gallery on Friday night and attracted a crowd of over a hundred people to the show.

Mama Buries, the local duo of Sharmi Basu and Julia Litman-Cleper, performed behind a white curtain in the corner of the gallery. Their dissonant collage sound resonated behind their silhouettes as a majority of the seated crowd watched quietly, transfixed on the performers.

Mucky the Ducky followed, fronted by local musician Sean Johansson. Seated on the gallery floor, the group played a 40-minute long set without interruption. Mucky the Ducky produced a beat-less drone that was creatively executed, swapping traditional cymbals for cooking lids. They incorporated a throwback to the free jazz foundation of experimental noise by adding the atonal wail of a lone saxophone. Though the drone of their set was eerily atonal yet melodic, there was something decidedly missing from Mucky’s performance. Their set seemed drawn out and seated on the floor in the dark, lacking in elan vital.

If Mama Buries and Mucky the Ducky represent the element of minimalism in experimental rock, Hans Grusel’s Krankenkabinet and Caroliner certainly represent the extravagance and unification of dissonance ands striking visual elements central to noise rock.

Hans Grusel’s Krankenkabinet consists of two musicians, rumored to be members of Caroliner – though it was hard to tell for sure. Dressed in neon-patterned costumes that obscured their identities, the duo played for roughly ten minutes in the dark, before disappearing from the gallery floor as quickly as they came. In those fleeting minutes, they generated a harsh and frantic barrage of sound and feedback that seemed to serve as supporting music to the elaborate backdrop of neon hand-painted signs, patterned with the same tribal-influenced artwork.

Headliner Caroliner finally took center stage following Hans Grusel’s Krankenkabinet, and they too dressed in equally theatrical costumes. Their drummer, in particular, wore a hand-made and intricately hand-painted plush lion head helmet. The trio was equipped with heavily modified equipment – the drum kit was nothing more than a tambourine suspended over a snare drum and the guitar looked more like an elongated ukulele, both adorned with brightly colored banners. They played in darkness and opted to use black lights in place of traditional lighting. The effect was spectacular: their costumes glowed so the trio melted into a fluorescent blur as they thrashed about on the gallery floor.

There was music too, in addition to theater. Caroliner’s do-it-yourself-experimental performance matched the cacophony of distortion and feedback exactly. The lead singer’s voice drifts between a harsh garble and a steady bark, indiscernible from the throbbing disharmony of their music.

For the most part, Caroliner’s set was without a beat. Several audience members tried to nod their heads, but it was difficult to know exactly to what. The moment Caroliner’s set formed some kind of groove that a head could be nodded to, they would dissolve into an erratic and ferocious onslaught of noise the crowd endured with ease.

Before ending their set after 40 minutes or so, Caroliner looped their sound through a pedal and let it play out, before leaving the gallery and the audience wordlessly. If there was any harmony to Caroliner’s set at all, it occurred at that moment, where the illuminated visuals mirrored the atonality and dissonance of their music.

AMBER YAN can be reached at arts@theaggie.org.

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