Flux Information Sciences | Private/Public | Review

PopMatters | Wilson Neate

The cover art of Private/Public alone is worth the price of admission.

A blue-toned photograph catches an unsavory bunch apparently in the act of recreating a scene from The Night Porter inside a dimly lit, cell-like space that's part bar and part interrogation room. A monocled gent sporting a leather top hat and tuxedo < a dissolute reincarnation of Burgess Meredith as The Penguin < sits drinking with a woman whose pallor suggests that, in a former life, she may have been a silent movie heroine. They're accompanied by two shifty-looking men c one bearing an uncanny resemblance to Manuel from Fawlty Towers < attired as Eastern European postal workers, or perhaps train conductors. Behind them, another vaguely military individual wearing a forage cap and commedia dell'arte half-mask (the one with the big nose) stands to attention. In the foreground, a woman rounds off the louche tableau with a convincing Charlotte Rampling/Lucia Atherton imitation, complete with officer's hat, black leather elbow-length gloves, braces (suspenders for US readers), and, of course, bared breasts.

However, the scene depicted on the cover pales in comparison with the scene in the studio when Flux Information Sciences recorded this album, if we are to believe the press release. By all accounts, most of Private/Public was taped live before an invited audience of friends who were obliged to stand naked and blindfolded while the band went about its business.

If you've already been put off by the (admittedly cursory) account of the cover art and the band's unconventional approach to recording, then the sound of Flux Information Sciences' maiden release for Michael Gira's Young God Records probably won't be to your liking.

Private/Public comprises 19 variations on the theme of industrial noise, each averaging around two minutes and featuring Top-40-friendly titles such as "Liposuction" and "World Class Fuck". Much of the material suggests a fondness on the part of core FIS members Tristan Bechet and Sebastien Brault for the un-easy listening pleasures of Throbbing Gristle, Test Department, Einstürzende Neubauten, Foetus, and of course, Swans. (Michael Gira produced the album and provided backing vocals for a couple of tracks.)

In the spirit of its precursors, FIS takes a studio-as-foundry approach to recording, treating guitar, bass, and synthesizers as raw materials to be pounded into assaultive metallic rhythms and textures. Private/Public boasts numerous varieties of aural battery: the ponderous thud of "Love Me Love Me"; the stop-start crash of "Sit Down, Silly!"; the mid-paced pounding of "Supermarket"; and the frenetic, busy beat of "Adaptech".

Additionally, FIS litter the proceedings with seemingly incongruous electronic bits and pieces that add a further quirky, warped dimension (as if that were necessary). "Jewelry", for instance, features the kind of synth sounds that already sounded wonderfully cheesy by the late '70s. Tracks like "Dollar Days" and "Details" incorporate Space-Invaders/video-arcade sound effects from the same period, underscoring the band's kitschy leanings.

Not surprisingly, Private/Public offers little in the way of songs (in the conventional sense of the word at least), or even singing for that matter. While a number of the tracks do actually feature human voices, much of the vocal delivery itself comprises barely comprehensible, snarled slogans ("The Shocking Truth") or else evokes field recordings that document the plaintive whimperings of lobotomized asylum residents ("Love Me Love Me") and torture victims ("Demise").

That said, Private/Public isn't a completely anguished and disturbing affair. With its organ and backward guitar parts, "Love" is uncharacteristically melodic alongside the rest of the material < although you can't help suspecting that something awful is about to happen before it finishes < and "World Class Fuck" is an only slightly menacing cocktail interlude.

"Life-threatening and entertaining" is how Michael Gira has described Flux Information Sciences, and that gets right to the heart of the matter. Despite drawing inspiration from the work of earlier captains of industry such as Swans, Flux Information Sciences does so with a measure of knowing humor and an off-kilter, ironic sensibility largely absent from the work of its predecessors.