(attenuation circuit, 2016)
Imagine, like me, like Michael Ridge (aka Zebra Mu), that music can be considered through the same philosophical lens as impressionist paintings. Easily translatable subjects are rendered by the artist to evoke space, depth, movement, light (or its lack); subjects are thus defined by the artist as particular moments, and musical interpretations provide auditory explanation of the artist’s intention. Michael Ridge establishes this outlook through noise experiments, creating his own “sound paintings” in the vein of such works as Cézanne’s Boy in Red Velvet, Monet’s The Water Lily Pond, or Van Gogh’s Wheat Field with Crows (or, haha, Boy with Apple). His elucidations on specific themes unveil particularities, and it is up to the listener to continue down that path to discovery.
That all sounds a bit overwrought for a limited-edition CDR (50 copies), and maybe it is, but it’s not without its truths. It’s even more notable (or less, depending on how much credence one gives to the notion of the album as the true outcome of artistic endeavor or of the individual pieces themselves, but I’m going with “more” here) that Years of Extinction is a compilation of tracks collected from various releases between the years 2009 and 2012. Freed from the trappings of “overarching concept,” listeners are able to take Ridge’s specific compositions on their own without worrying about tying them all together. That’s just as well – I find it comforting to be able to focus on a single track at a time in this case.
The titles of several pieces here help with the visualizations, and they also served as my inspiration to travel down the impressionist path. “Cranking Broken Moan” promises just that, and imagination fills in the space as to what’s causing each sound to interact with the others. “Squeakily Crumbled Clattering,” “Shorted Out,” “Church Bells and Squeaking Chair,” “Rusted Trapdoor,” and “Abrasive Waters” deliver on their titles just as suggested. Other tracks aren’t so obvious, and their titles free the imagination even further, allowing it to spill over into abstract territory. “Untitled” has a static, destroyed-tape sound while “Live A” features industrial ambience and shortwave manipulations. “Vision Serpent” is two and a half minutes of angry white noise, and I’m perhaps surprisingly experiencing what it would be like to be held in the gaze of the Hypnotoad, except of course I’m mesmerized by the titular creature here.
Zebra Mu is clearly having a great time crafting these noise pieces, and Years of Extinction is as good a place to start with his catalog as any. No two tracks are the same, as each exists within its own contained sound world. There are even hints of more obvious artists like Wolf Eyes when something like “Woodland Dread” unfolds. But still, Michael Ridge’s vision of time and place is uniquely his, and his palette is ever-changing.