Evol’s Proper Headshrinker (2013): a call for its (re)consideration
Evol is a project helmed primarily by Roc Jiménez de Cisneros, joined at different times by a few other people. The “authorship” is blurry—clearly something they want to play with. Their 2013 album for Editions Mego, Proper Headshrinker, was one of the most compelling, genuinely unique albums of the year. It features Jiménez de Cisneros joined by Stephen Sharp for 30 disorientingly loud minutes of looped sequencing, produced with computer-controlled synthesis and a custom built phasing system. It was mastered by Russell Haswell and cut by Rashad Becker at Dubplates and Mastering, Berlin. Despite how good it is, the record got limited love, something that could be partially explained by virtue of Evol being an “artist’s artist.”
Mike Kelly writes about Paul Thek, whom he considers an artist’s artist (1). According to him, what makes one is that they do their own thing too much and as a result are typically excluded from major artistic discourse, which usually focuses on bigger, more easily circumscribed movements. Official cultural history is uncomfortable handling our artist’s artists, usually silencing them instead of adapting or dynamizing its mode of taking stock, of saying what is.
We do not want Evol to escape the seams.
They make what could be called noise music, but it certainly doesn’t fit too snugly within contemporary noise cassette culture as found on labels like Hanson Records, Hospital Productions, or Chondritic Sound. Roc Jiménez de Cisneros is directly involved with today’s very decentralized, more academic “sound art” scene—check his contribution to Mark Fell and Joe Gilmore’s wonderful “Composing With Process” podcast series for Ràdio Web MACBA as well as his challenging, compelling essays he often publishes online in conjunction with releases. But despite this affiliation, Evol is a little too wonky and mischievous to abide by the more imperious, apolitical, or flatline pretentious tenets of the general sound art genre. Evol specifically want to challenge the supposed clearance between high and low brow: they have a number of releases that cross-section and destroy the synthesizer in dance music as read in the popular imaginary, the resulting, bright chromatically-dyed 12” (his label Alku’s specialty) sounding like pop culture sewage, like gross bile: masterfully articulated, architecturally intricate, fractal bile.
The record does a wonderful job of abusing the “album” format. Not to suggest that we look to albums for coherent narratives or anything like that anymore. What puts “album” in quotes is how utilitarian this work’s experience-based listening experience is—how far it reaches into some fundamental part of us, dipping directly into subterranean psychic canals. It modifies the listener’s affect in a complete takeover. It merges with them; they don’t really have a choice. Proper Headshrinker jumps out of the wax. The music is basically drugs – the brain is fibrous material waiting to be threaded by it. Imagine the album as a cigarette pack, but instead of 20 you get ten tracks of pure synthesizer brain vibration. It makes doing anything but moving rhizomatically out of whatever line your day had been following impossible.
It is 10 concise, intense, highly specific views or modes. The record is a toolbox—in a way, each track is a different tool. In a word where all information, all music, all art, all whatever is “take it or leave it,” with Google literally telling you how many milliseconds it took to get you whatever you wanted, Proper Headshrinker makes a compelling case as a toolbox. It offers things to be used, designed for a number of purposes, to be employed in proximity to oneself. It can be minor or major for the listener—it can be their secret, it can be in their pocket, or it can coat everything.
To go back to Google for a second: by listening to anything, searching anything on the Internet, we are feeding highly specific, algorithmic demographic research about us. On first thought, I’m tempted to say that we’re creating our experience tomorrow—feeding, producing the way we consume by educating these algorithms. But that’s not true; there is no gap between feeding the algorithm and producing the algorithm—they occur in the same moment (2). We are both producing our consumption and consuming our consumption in the same second, and Proper Headshrinker is the insane sound of that. Time bending back on itself, our “selves” bending back on themselves.
A last tool-thought: these tracks are pure repetitious, psychoactive, synthesized bliss distilled. Repetition is one of the most important things in Western music; this music is an uncommonly fascinating commentary and utilization of that repetition. It’s taken to an order that simply is not familiar. Evol’s stuff is sometimes written about as "abstracted from the dance floor" but this is beyond that: Proper Headshrinker is about what a repeating synthesizer can be…
1. Kelley, Mike. “Death and Transfiguration (on Paul Thek)”, Foul Perfection: Essays and Criticism. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 2003. Print.
2. For further reading on similar ideas: Bauman, Zygmunt. Consuming Life. Cambridge: Polity, 2007.