Onibaba & Nick Millevoi Split

Posted by on November 18, 2014


Ivory Antler Recording & Publishing, August 2014

At times, it’s tempting to call every slowly-developing, unfolding, creeping sequence of noise “glacial,” given the expectations and implications that accompany such a term. A glacier moves at a pace that completely defies our logic and perception, but their movement is neither flimsy nor whimsical. Glaciers carve, glaciers form; the outcomes of their pace, their movements are entire landscapes and formations. Glaciers, at their best, are structural, and it is in this sense that the work of Onibaba and Nick Millevoi is “glacial.” Over an hour long, Onibaba and Millevoi share a split on Ivory Antler, each composition contributing to the excruciatingly slow pace and dark landscape invoked from the opening notes of the CD.

Between both artists, the sound of the album is consistent, which helps both sets of songs maintain a specific tone. Despite serving as a true split, the dark, monolithic timbre of the recordings gives the CD a feel of a collaboration. These long-form performances were meant for one another, even if they explore completely different instruments and dynamics (given that Onibaba play as a collective, and Millevoi plays solo). With bright purple-and-white artwork, an oversized CD jacket, and a special packaging design, the comprehensive feel of this split extends to the physical realm. Together, the performances, sound, and artwork complement one another, producing a striking vision for the listener.

Onibaba’s tracks begin with the slowly-paced and aptly-named “Sinking.” Distant feedback is enhanced by crashing symbols, which mask other synthetic noises creeping into the mix. The cymbals build and build, charging currents of rhythm into amorphous feedback. While the feedback seems to wiggle and writhe without purpose, the cymbals march onward, outlining a sensual dance and establishing the theme of structural presentation. This feeling of structures, or the theme of structural music, surfaces immediately during this opening track, and boils throughout. The players exhibit great care with their introduction of instruments, placing the intuition of their performance, their collaboration within this environment, beyond showcasing each individual sound or tone. A howling, distorted wail creeps into the track, replacing the feedback as the background noise festers. This noise becomes clearer by the middle of the performance, as the players present distorted sounds that are tastefully modulated to match their surroundings. By this point, the cut feels ready to implode into a mess of feedback or decay, but the musicians persist. Onibaba’s drive and interaction ultimately define their performance.

Onibaba’s ensemble feel is one of composition, rather than unfettered improvisation. For Onibaba, Alexander Toulas plays percussion, synth, flute, and feedback. Nicholas Capote and Rob Murray are also credited with feedback, while Capote also plays synth and autoharp, and Murray manipulates bass, synth, and effects. These credits are helpful, for they add an aura of mystery to the listening experience: since the timbre of the recordings take precedence, it is nearly impossible to discern these individual elements. As a result, the music’s subtlety is quite impressive and also entirely shrouded. This ensures that the recordings envelope the listener, rather than a catalog of sounds or display of traded lead and rhythm parts.

Onibaba expand the structural explorations on “Dust,” primarily using crackling percussion and buzzing electronics throughout their performance. Their manipulation of circuitry foreshadows Millevoi’s guitar attack, which also relies on pushing the boundaries of his instrument and tone (rather than exhibiting specific leads or tunes). Whining feedback cries escape Onibaba’s instruments, a dangerous feeling accompanies their synthetic background. These crackling, buzzling sounds almost seem like microphonic distortion, as percussive beats push the trio’s recording devices to their edge. As a listener, Onibaba’s slow plot is captivating and then terrifying, as a series of clustered noises explode nearly 30 minutes into their tracks. At first, their intensity was confined to surging-while-festering background drones, so the development of loud clusters of noise sounds like an outward act of violence, a lead part absent throughout the early developments of Onibaba’s performances.

Nick Millevoi immediately matches their intensity with careful trudges up a wickedly saturated neck. Sustained hits fight their own tone, amplification and space in order to be heard, giving an effectively-contained, focused feel to a wide-open guitar space. Aside from some modulation sheen, which sounds like the brown noise of a cassette tape mastered too loud, it is difficult to follow the effects Millevoi uses on his instrument. As a result, Millevoi’s physical exploration of his guitar takes precedent over individual signals or harmonics, matching Onibaba’s production of disguised elements. Structural developments reign on “Where Is The Crime?”, as smoldering series of bassy divebombs depart and return with endless devotion. Between dive bombs, Millevoi feathers his strings, reaching deep into his listener’s teeth and bones to deliver his vision. Eric Carbonara’s recording sounds crisp and clean, which allows each squeal and slither to fully register its voice.

“Rockets Redglare” completes the split with the most frantic application of sound manipulation. Millevoi abuses his frets, strings, and instrument to yield a series of glitches and fractured signals. Despite the freeform pace of this track, it suits Onibaba’s collaborations by completely filling those voided spaces from the beginning of the split. The closing track inverts the logical codes of Onibaba’s instruments. Fluttering feedback follows the glitches to close the CD with righteous hum, which promptly returns the listener to “Sinking.”

Despite basking in structural, physical presentations that mask individual instruments and elements, Onibaba and Millevoi ultimately uphold values of collaboration and improvisation within their experimentation. Their messages are slowly developing, and from this both artists form landscapes. The physical feeling is so effective because of the consistent tones and recording aesthetics on the disc, as well as the outlines of unorthodox playing exhibited by both Onibaba and Nick Millevoi.