Column One’s Cindy, Loraine, and Hank beam from a take on Black Depths, a John Hilliard print. They sport ghoulish masks that are ill-suited for their bodies. The three are divided into four rectangles. The Berlin art ensemble are afoot before the music begins, placing Dadaist tropes over what a listener might assume is just another musique concrete album. Not so, as Cindy, Loraine & Hank—while heartily experimental—is indeed serious “Idiotenmusik.”
In 2013, Column One played Warsaw wearing cream-colored faces with bright red lips and sloping eyebrows that were held on by thick black bands. Each wore a powder blue shirt, black tie, and black pants, stumbling around while playing singing saws and skewed recordings. It was Jürgen Eckloff, Robert Schalinski, and Rashad Becker—only a few cast members—performing what would go on to become Cindy, Loraine & Hank.
Formed as a multimedia art ensemble in 1992, Column One shares a policy like Genesis Breyer P-Orridge’s Thee Temple ov Psychick Youth: “…more an idea than a permanent ensemble of people.” Column One applied a triple-cross symbol to their work: one large central cross linked horizontally to two smaller crosses (again, note Column One’s kinship with Thee Temple ov Psychick Youth’s psychic cross). An open cast meant many different Column Ones.
They have bounded from early industrial ambiance with W. Transmission 1-2 (1992, 1993) to acid house on Freedom is a Sickness (1996). Then there was Dream Time (2005), with its provocative pink cover encircling a young girl in her underwear—cover art that was curiously similar to Nicole 12’s Nippon Ballerina Voyeur. But Dream Time’s sexed dub was left for Entropium (2015): Column One’s collaboration with Zeitkratzer, a group binding Iannis Xenakis and Whitehouse. Entropium’s severe improvisation still commands Cindy, Loraine & Hank, as does the project’s inherent humor and love of the cut-up technique. Forever provocateurs, Cindy, Loraine & Hank steps away from the absurd while also embracing it. It’s no surprise, however, because the album spans recordings from 2001 to 2015. Hiding under disc one is a thesis:
“‘Cindy, Loraine & Hank’ is a collection of incestuous figures, a museum of small, lovely bastards. Products of passion and weakness, disorientation and dedication, of dull instincts and narrowness. Twins, triplets, octuplets, dyslexic, presidents, beginners, criminal citizens, sacred Neanderthals, expert idiots. Begotten in haste, hidden in the dirt, covered with garbage. A contourless, monstrous void in the cardigan of the great-grandmother.”
Cindy, Loraine & Hank is no retrospective; rather, it is a blending of Column Ones. The songs, described as children, were born from original members Jürgen Eckloff, Andrew Loadman, and René Lamp, as well as other collaborators from Antoine Chessex to Tom Platt. Yet, the “contourless, monstrous void” is what Cindy, Loraine & Hank sounds like.
Studio song or recorded live performance, Cindy, Loraine & Hank is both. By the end of the second disc, “Der Fluss in der Truhe” (“The River in the Chest”), the listener arrives at a swimming-pool sample. The water churns, children frolic, and the sample creates a structure that Column One manipulates. This aural space is only interrupted through the gurgles of a child trying to swim. The pool recording is sped up, reversed, and stops. “Der Fluss in der Truhe” begins anew with the sound of running footsteps and ends in monologue. Column One seizes the recording, turning it into song rather than pure experimentation, at times with mixed results. By the end of the droning “Reverend Black,” for example, the artists behind the record appear to remember that these are instruments, recovering a sense of musicianship. These moments sound strongly of Morton Feldman’s “Rothko Chapel.”
Pulling the album together into a cohesive effort is “Cherokee”—a cut-up Charlie Barnet concert that contains a beautiful dichotomy wherein musicianship fails somehow successfully. In rapid change, a toy-like guitar mimics Column One’s fragmented standard. Inept guitars join their piano and percussion counterparts, playing with and without the cut-up approach. This track could, frankly, have been composed by a band of children; there is a juvenile style occasionally present on Cindy, Loraine & Hank; that is, until this song specifically verges on scraping dissonance.
“A collection of incestuous figures” is a mixed bounty. Cindy, Loraine & Hank is a swirl of electro-acoustic compositions embracing the inane and witty, structure and mess. Cindy, Loraine & Hank may sound directionless at first, but “Cherokee” successfully conveys the patchwork of years. Column One’s inventions remain interesting despite the confused pace.
01) Warsaw Part 2
04) Antiphona #2
01) Warsaw Part 1
02) Reverend Black
03) Die Truhe im Fluss #5
04) Der Fluss in der Truhe