Chantal Michelle
Grace Villamil


Track 1 written by ⎤⎤⎤
Track 2 written by ⎤⎤⎤ & Patrick Shiroishi
Recorded and mixed by Rabih Beaini @ Morphine Raum, Berlin DE
Mastered by Giuseppe Ielasi

photo courtesy of the artists.

Writing about music is the most pleasurable exercise in the writing profession. Music beckons writing into a vast and unruly landscape, a place where writing can stretch, play,  grow, destroy itself, destroy others, and birth new worlds. I can think of no art form that creates such kaleidoscopic potential for another. That isn’t to say writing about music is easy – quite the opposite. It is just as vital to our existence as breathing and just as impossible to parse. The breath you release when your baby takes its first, the last breath you share in someone’s mouth as they leave you behind, the first breath you take after you give up —impossible, but any writer who would pass up the chance to write about music isn’t a writer worth reading.

So, when approached by Chantal Michelle and Grace Villamil, the two women who make up ⎤⎤⎤, to write about their debut, I immediately said yes. I had been captivated, alarmed, impressed, betwitched!, by their individual work and knew that I would be just as moved by their collaboration. I put my headphones on and eased into my seven hour train from Berlin to Kraków, and experienced, for the first time in my decade-long art writing career, the genuine precipice of music's inscrutability.

The language available in that train compartment was failing me at every level, in every conceivable way. It wasn’t because my knowledge of additive synthesis or waveforms or distortion is barely above layman, it was because I couldn’t be sure of what the instructions were for handling the emotions being demanded by the music.

The opening minutes of the first track (also called ⎤⎤⎤) progressed reassuringly. The pace never seemed to outgun my own heart, a natural pulse. There is something menacing about the word ‘natural’ and it’s sister terms — organic, wholesome, biodynamic. That things of the earth are good, to be desired, healthy, safe, and that their opposite — unnatural, synthetic — are dangerous, bad, threatening. There are plenty of examples of this duality. Nuclear fission is a natural, organic process, and is our most perilious weapon. Diabetics lead healthy and happy lives using synthetic insulin to maintain their blood sugar, artifically propping up a bodily system.

As each sound joined the next, I started thinking strange, terrifying thoughts, ones seemingly disconnected from what I was hearing.

I began to fixate on the blood vessels and veins in my teeth, and wondering if vampires – who I don’t think of as undead human beings but as humanoid shaped insects – had the same systems in their mouths. The music skittered around my mouth, a mouth that my sex has provided with more tastebuds than other others, to taste and identify more poisons. The sex that has also enhanced my eyesight, providing me with more colors. All in service of protecting me –the bearer of the children– from danger. The mechanism made sense, but the process which turned that mechanism on didn’t. What naturally occurring danger demands that I have more sensitivity to green?

My mouth filled with saliva.

I understood that I was being affected by my surroundings as I listened to ⎤⎤⎤an inherent fact of listening. This mutability marries our art forms – no man steps into the same river [book/album] twice – but there are considerations that can be taken, classifications and awareness that helps one stay focused and present. I paused the album and took stock of myself.

I was alone and tired, traveling to a country I had never visited that had a powerful hold over a part of my literary imagination. I was isolated, I hated being the American who only speaks English but there was no way I would speak Russian. I was confined – I wasn’t frozen in place, but I could not leave. My reading material on this journey was limited to Daemonic Genius: A Biography of Richard Wright, a biography filled with stories of racial terrorism, psychotic violence and the agony of exile. I had my “good” headphones, something I used to consider a luxury but Chantal and Grace quickly reclassified as a need.  Richard Wright, ⎤⎤⎤,  Kraków’s vampires, The War, and everything else that could be fed to me was starting to collapse into an ominous palpitation.

A few deep breaths later, I was ready to start again.

Track 1 does not have any vocalizations that can be discernable as ‘lyrics’, but the ‘rework’ by Patrick Shiroishi does, to terrifying effect. The distance provided and deployed by ⎤⎤⎤and Shiroishi compound and further isolate. What’s the most horrifying scream – the one that is close by or the one that is somewhere, lost in the possibility of the horizon? Expectation, anticipation, words deployed by writers to prettily address a climate of anxiety – ⎤⎤⎤’s anticipation never gives way to anxiety, which is an exceptional feat for an album which seeks “to guide the listener into a state of catharsis — one that functions as both antidote and mirror to contemporary society”, considering the base of contemporary life is a ceaseless anxiety, and for an album that was recorded ‘live’.

Conjuring fear, exhaustion, violence, cruelty and dispassionate witness is a task which most of us shy away from, that our art shies away from, because frankly it’s almost entirely impossible to survive. Music, writing, all art, has long been regulated to the realm of ‘soft power’, the weapon of war that isn’t bombs or shells or bullets. Burning your fingertips, retinas, ears, trying to articulate the diabolical nature (there, that word again!) of societal problems quickly morphs into a sacchrine, cloying martyrdom when regulated to the effort of trying to ‘change hearts and minds’.  These are the riches of our blood, the gems created by the pressure of our own ideas, shunted into the banality of propaganda.

This is why language was failing me on that train, and why it continues to fail me now. I simply don’t have the time.  ⎤⎤⎤doesn’t have the time. We do not have time to be stuck changing hearts and minds when there are lives (yours, mine, theirs, others) on the line. 

⎤⎤⎤ furthers the long overdue movement of music from the realm of soft power into something more akin to the power of a bullet – immediate, shocking, irreversible. ⎤⎤⎤ abandons the assumed ouroboros cycle of violence, death and time for the forward movement of a strike. Across thirty expansive minutes, ⎤⎤⎤does not so much let slip the dogs of war as redefine and reengage with the shared rage, cruelty and malevolence that cannot be sublimated by the schemes of war, not now, not ever.