How many Belgian underground sound artists can you name? Despite following the international scene with some vigilance for quite a few years now, Yannick Franck and Peter Verwimp’s Ashtoreth was the only one that I could initially think of. This is a shame because, as shown by the latest (17th) Underground Experimental Survey focusing on Belgium, released by Raffaelle Pezzella’s investigative platform, Unexplained Sounds Group—deserving a massive shout-out for his underground compilation work—the country has a thriving underground scene. Although multidisciplinary artist Niels Geybel’s project Sequences was not featured on the survey, he very well could have been. He has been steadily publishing since 2009, including multidisciplinary exhibitions of mixed technique visual arts, video, and live performance. There is genuine bridging between the seen and heard in Geybel’s art.
Fittingly, the 2015 Sequences tape release of A Darkness Visible is as intriguing as a physical item as it is as a listening experience. At first glance, the tape inlay seems simply pure black with altering glossy and matte surfaces, but when slightly tilted, light reveals it to be delicately printed with geometrical shapes and text information. This approach applies also to the two tracks contained on the tape, ‘Exvoto I’ & ‘Exvoto II’. On the surface of it, Geybel has produced close to half an hour of fairly strong and dark droney ambience with an industrial tint, decorated with textural waves and varying shapes of noise. However, it is very clear that Geybel is not interested merely in the surface of things but, as with the tape inlay, invites us to examine his work more closely. He describes A Darkness Visible as, ‘a relentless search for a god’. The overall terrain of the search is certainly barren, with scarce hiding places for any sort of being. Both tracks follow the same blueprint from noise and movement to stillness and contemplation, although ‘Exvoto II’ is a bit more aggressive. Geybel’s guitar-based layering leads us meandering through a volcanic mountain side, stumbling on razor-sharp rubble. He has us squinting at clouds of poisonous vapour and succumbing into a stupefying daze in which all direction and meaning is lost.
A Darkness Visible is an exercise in concentration and release. While some sound artists claim to reward a closer listen yet, in the end, fail to produce, this release is truly worth paying close attention to. Both tracks begin with the feeling of being invited on Geybel’s search but end up with the artist imploding on himself, his personal trip inward, indecipherable to the outer world. It’s as if Geybel begins the performance in front of the audience but as the show progresses, he recedes further and further away until we are left with only formless sound. The Exvotos leave the listener with their own devices, to find their own meaning for the search they’ve embarked upon. This constant dissonance between inviting and excluding gives A Darkness Visible some strong tension, and should affirm Sequences as a name on anybody’s list of interesting Belgian underground artists.
Although sold out from the artist’s page, some tapes of A Darkness Visible are seem to be still available through Three Arms.
Side A: Exvoto I
Side B: Exvoto II