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The “Little Songs of the Mutilated” Series Brings Surrealism into the 21st Century

by Mat Blackwell

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The game “Cadavre Exquis” (or “Exquisite Corpse”) is a game that, if not created by the Surrealist Movement, was at least refined and named by them. It’s a game of artistic bravery, communal consciousness, and aesthetic randomisation wherein a group of players collectively create a piece that none of them as individuals ever could, or would. The game involves one player writing a few words or creating part of an image (or in the case of Little Songs of the Mutilated, generating thirty seconds or so of sound) and then passing that fragment to the next player, largely concealed, so that the next player begins their contribution based around a tiny portion of the previous player’s work (which, for the Little Songs of the Mutilated project meant ‘each player continued the piece from the final 10-13 seconds of the preceding player’s work’). The end-product is a dream-like series of strange happenings that, although containing sections that are essentially unrelated and authored by different sentient beings, are united by flow, transition, and inspiration to become the perfect blend of intent and chaos. And, in my opinion, Little Songs of the Mutilated completely nails it.

According to my limited and incredibly lazy research, Exquisite Corpse was being played ‘before 1918’, so we can say with some relative confidence that, in 2017, this game with this title is at least a century old. And I can think of no better way to celebrate one-hundred years of whacked-out dream-weaving than with these releases (at the time of writing, there are currently four, but the series shows no signs of slowing down, so I’m expecting more of these babies in the future). Each album has a completely different line-up of contributors, featuring such Australian sound-art luminaries as Nat Grant, Ari Sharp, Miranda Liebscher, Vijay Thillaimuthu (and many more), orchestrated by gentle ringmaster Justin Ashworth, but despite the vast differences in the idiosyncratic sounds and styles of the individual players, their contributions are all alchemically united by The Game itself, resulting in a beautifully coherent series of works, both within the albums and across the series as a whole.

Nat Grant

The diversity of sounds here is amazing, ranging from synth-driven electroscapes to percussion-heavy abstract neo-shamanism, and from full-on noise to cut-up media shenanigans to reverb-drenched plink-plonkiness, and everything in between. Yet, this breadth of palette is restrained—and made even more powerful—by the game-structure, which sees ten or fifteen seconds of one fragment directly influence and inspire the next, meaning that these pieces each flow with a beautiful fluidity. Tonal washes rise up out of beds of clanking, noise sections erupt up like lava from landscapes of tinkling, acoustic sounds emerge from a fog of synthetic ones, and all of it is perfectly natural. The Game framework of these pieces means that every sound that occurs makes sense in the context of the previous ones, as players take the sounds of the artists before them and warp them into something new–and, because of the strict time limits placed on each piece, this all happens in the space of a fucking pop-song. In three-and-a-half minutes, six people all trade ideas, textures, and inspirations with each other, filling each song with more interplaying ideas and coexisting sounds than often appear on an entire album. And that’s just in one piece! Multiply that by six, and you end up with a literally surreal journey—yes, another review utilising the ‘journey’ cliché, but there’s no better way of expressing it—through a dizzying variety of soundscapes and approaches to texture.

Vijay Thillaimuthu

This series perfectly captures the spirit of the original concept and shoots it a century forward into the living present, displaying exactly how relevant Surrealism is to the present day, and how, through a thoroughly inclusive process of subconscious collectivism and ego-obliterating ritual, we can pierce the veil of separation and unify in ultra-realistic space-aged clarity. But it’s not just the concept that works so well. It’s the sound, too. These pieces sound fucking great. This doesn’t sound like a bunch of bedroom sound-artists wanking each other. This sounds exactly as it should: rich timbres, full-spectrum glory, wide stereo images, and so much more. The dream-like alchemy of the pieces is perfectly matched by the hi-definition realisation of the end-result.

In case I’m somehow not being quite clear enough, let me make it absolutely unambiguous:  I really, really like this series. At least one of them, if not all of them, will be on my ‘Best of 2017’ list for certain. My personal advice to you is to get them all, stick them all into a media player, and random-play the fuck out of them. If you’re anything like me, you won’t regret it.  Not for a moment. This shit is gold.

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Little Songs of the Mutilated