My sophomore year in college was one of the most important times in my life as far as music is concerned. It was during this time that I really began to delve into the world of the experimental and avant-garde. Artists like the Hafler Trio and Nurse With Wound graced my stereo, and every month, I’d hungrily peruse the new Soleilmoon catalog, looking for something to satisfy my hunger for new and unusual music. At the same time, I also began to listen to ambient music, specifically dark-ambient and ambient/industrial artists such as Lustmord, Controlled Bleeding, Raison d’Être, and the rest of the Cold Meat roster.
It was an important time in my life as a lover of music, perhaps the most important time. That was when the ability of music to transport and alter a listener’s perceptions first became apparent to me. I mention this because as I started listening to Projecto, I had the same sensation that I got back then. Namely, that I was listening to something truly captivating, to music that, for all of its abstractions and even sheer un-musicality, was something very unique and intriguing.
Projecto offers a dense, challenging maze of sounds to navigate, and it’s not really for the faint of heart. Many of the soundscapes here are frankly quite alien and bizarre, even frightening at times. But at the same time, they’re often quite subtle, playing on the very edge of your hearing. The experience can be quite disconcerting at times, as if you’re standing in a dark room and feeling something unexpectedly brush by you. At least, you think you did, but the sensation was too intangible to be sure.
I realize that this all makes the album sound rather unpleasant, but on the contrary, I found it completely captivating that a recording this abstract are capable of being this affecting. You’ll find nothing remotely close to a definable melody or rhythm in any of the album’s 62 minutes. Instead, the group (for lack of a better term, since Kobi is really more akin to a loose recording collective) makes it clear that they’re more interested in playing with space and atmosphere than anything else, and in relying on intuition rather than composition to create their music.
The album opens up the aptly titled “Looking Down Over The Waves A Hundred Feet Below.” The sensation you get is of slowly inching up to the edge of a barren cliff and peering into the abyss far, far below. You can make out all manner of sounds roiling and surging below, the sound of an angry, grey sea crashing against the rockface. Slowly littered throughout this dense wall of sounds, guitar drones and distant radio transmissions pine away, like lonely seabirds buffeted by the winds. The music (as always with this album, I use the term loosely) makes it clear that it’s a fascinating view from up here, but also a terrifying one fraught with vertigo.
A softly rumbling wave of sound fades into view on “It Was Often Enough Simply To Pursue Doubt,” developing upon the ideas put forth on the previous track. The mood is as dark as always, but this time, you’re no longer looking down from above. This time, you’re right in the thick of things, surrounded by a thick mist of drones. Occasionally, the mist begins to shift and move, again hinting at something brushing past you in the mirk.
“It Had Been There All Night” moves the setting to something more akin to abandoned factories and mills. A faint rumbling can be heard off in the distant, as if the ghosts of the machinery lying in ruins around you are still hard at work. In the foreground, metallic drones slowly filter in, growing thicker and more insistent as the piece progresses. They grow so slowly that you don’t even know what’s going on until they’re right on top of you.
“He Shot Me A Chilling Glance Of Recognition” again opens with a simple drone, but this one is anchored with the faintest of rhythms, a bare pulse that feels more like an afterthought than anything else. Again, a host of sounds, ranging from squeaks to metallic rattlings slowly filter in through the thick haze. Due to the faint rhythmic elements, there’s an almost processional quality at work here, but one that’s very alien in origin.
Unfortunately, and this is a very big “unfortunately” considering the album’s effectiveness up until now, Kobi seems to start running out of ideas heading into the album’s second half. Things start to get bumpy during moments of “However, This Feeling Can Be Cultivated.” Up until now, Kobi’s atmospheres were dark and eerie, but what made them work was that the group wasn’t blatant about it. On the other hand, “However…” goes out of its way to create a creepy atmosphere, with muffled voices and metallic screams set in amongst the already unsettling ambience. While listening to it on headphones, I found it distracting more than anything else.
While I’d like to say that track was just a fluke, it becomes clear that’s not the case as the album continues. Compared to the dense, enthralling sound collages that make up the album’s first half, “He Turns To Welcome Me, Stretches Out His Hand” never seems to make an impact. The piece’s background consists of an annoying racket, like someone playing the worst possible guitar solo ever, cutting and splicing the recording, and broadcasting it over a crappy AM radio. The elements in the foreground don’t help things out too much either, sounding more like someone rearranging their room or plunking away at a cheap toy piano.
However, both “Marked Time With His Feet Or Moved His Fingers” and “We Were Surprised At The Quantity And Quality” really take the cake. Again, compared to the amazing first half, these pieces just sound lazy. Rather than create a cast soundscape ripe for exploring, “Marked Time With…” creates a stunning vista of… leaky pipework and mediocre glitch. “We Were Surprised…,” at over 7 minutes, only lives up to part of its title. And it’s a looooong 7 minutes, consisting of a rainstorm given the AM radio treatment, various splashes and other aquatic sounds, and someone randomly tapping a microphone of sorts (or that’s the impression I get of the origins of these sounds). While I’m a sucker for a good rainstorm and personally believe that the sound of rain can enhance almost any recorded piece, this is one exception.
Despite a disappointing conclusion, it’s obvious that Kobi accomplishes something rather special and unique during Projecto’s first half. Compared to some collective projects I’ve heard, Kobi can actually create pieces of stunning focus and intensity, especially given the unstructured approach behind their construction. At the same time, Projecto also provides examples of what happens when the same approach takes a wrong turn.
I don’t quite agree with Silber’s statement that this might be the most exciting thing they’ve put out to date (I contend that honor belongs to Aarktica’s No Solace In Sleep). But even with its notable flaws, Projecto does contain material that’s stunning and inspired enough to merit it a solid recommendation.
It’s also worth noting that Kobi features input from several members of Origami Arktika, whose album, also on Silber, is worth checking out. Though not quite as substantial and fulfilling as Projecto, it offers yet another example of the intriguing electro-acoustic experiments that seem to be emanating from the Norwegian underground these days.