I’m going to do something a little bit different this time. This is Blackout, two sides of live guitar/synth improvisation by Expo ’70, the project founded and maintained by Justin Wright, experimental psychedelic guitarist and synth manipulator. He’s joined on this release by Matt Hill of Umberto, who lends his talents on bass, analog drum machine, and Korg. Blackout is the ultimate in guitar-and-synth-based psychedelic drone, as each of its sides is a complete, half-hour live event captured to tape.
I’m inspired by the spirit of experimentation to take a different approach than normal to Blackout, a more scientific bent, if you will. See, because the sides are massive singular musical monoliths, tackling them as two halves of an album, or, God forbid, as two songs, isn’t as productive an endeavor as I’d like to embark upon. I think instead I’ll do it like the nineteenth- and twentieth-century explorers, jotting down my observations as I go, immersed in the spectral tones and wild, free naturalism bursting from the two players. The experiment will also be psychological, an endurance test for my will as I’m buoyed along by Wright and Hill. How will I fare? We’ll see, won’t we? Each side gets its due, but the album is experienced as a whole.
Ithaca, NY 10.19.09, minute 1: I’m settling in quite nicely, here, thanks. I’ve got enough snacks and water to last me for a while, and that guitar burst over the synthesizer bed was a nice touch. Feet, propped up. These tones are quite relaxing. This is live? Hopefully it’s in someone’s living room.
Minute 5: A lone wolf crouches atop a mountain, silhouetted against the setting sun, as a guitar wails lonely wails of wailing loneliness. The wolf represents self-sufficiency, individuality, freedom. The guitar knows this, and relates.
On the other hand, and to completely flatten the mood, the guitar also recalls the lone wolves of such military genre flicks such as Top Gun or Navy Seals. It is likely that Wright and Hill will not appreciate that I’m reminded of this.
Minute 9: I’m pretty sure I can hear everything in my backyard. I’m a little frightened, I think. I can’t see anything. Sounds as if Night Bear has emerged, and is shuffling through the forest. What’s Night Bear doing so far away from the remoteness of his home? Is he drawn by the rhythm so subtly introduced? The mantra becomes life, and we, like Night Bear, forage for sustenance in its ever-present glory. All hail! Om.
Speaking of foraging, I’ve already gone through quite a bit of my supplies… Blackout makes me hungry and thirsty, apparently.
Minute 15: And just like that we lose the rhythm. Now what? What does this mean? Have we lost movement? Are we in our death throes? Have we become the dying target of intergalactic carrion? Or are we right to hope for the spaceship to arrive and get us the hell off this rock? The night is dark and full of terrors. What’s that from? I’m hungry.
Minute 23: A miasma of guitar has brought us to this point, a dense, synthetic drone, palpable and tactile, but amorphous. Are we all just animated goo? I think I’m going to throw up.
Manhattan, NY 10.25.09, minute 4: This is all a pretty mellow, cosmic trip so far … What the hell was that? That noise, at 4:37? Gah, it’s terrifying! It sounds like … a flock of harpies. Yeah, that’s it. Evil creatures. Bodies of birds, heads of women, sharp, gory teeth, dead eyes, harbingers of torment … oh god oh god oh god this can’t be happening … whimper …
Minute 7: Is that my smoke alarm? Did I leave the oven on? I don’t even know what’s happening anymore.
Minute 10: Stillness descends. The noise, the hard, abominable noise, is past and I’m now floating in gentle flickering rhythm punctuated here and there by droning bass. I’ve long since run out of food and water, and I fear the end is near. Even with twenty minutes left on side B, I’m pretty sure I’m a lost cause. May this document of my final moments on this earth be a warning to you.
Organ, minor key, comes to accompany me. I welcome it, and am lifted into a state of hovering semi-consciousness. The night opens its secrets as guitar skirts the periphery, revealing galaxies. I’m almost there – I no longer have any wants or needs.
Minute 16: I think Expo ’70 is killing me. I’m sure of it now. Voodoo! Or something.
Minute 24: Gravity loses its grip on my atoms, and I dissipate at the molecular level. My matter drifts skyward into the cosmos. I am becoming and have become and I am the universe.
Holy crapasaurus, is that a flying saucer? Bitchin’!
Minute 31:27: That was the end? Huh. Only an hour or so has passed? I guess I’m OK then. I’m a little thirsty. I’ll grab some water. Really, I haven’t … evolved or something? Well then. As drone records go, that one was pretty good. I liked “Ithaca” in particular.
RIYL: Voder Deth Squad, Niggas with Guitars, Hawkwind