he below “press release” is of course a ridiculous and preposterous lie. Nevertheless we present it to you here as fact. A highly edited version of what appears below was sent to the media. I include the entire text here for my own and Larsen’s (if not your) amusement. Since Larsen’s brief tenure with YGR (who knows though, we may do something together again at some point) they have gone on to create some fabulous music. They also have a wonderful collaboration with Jaimie from Xiu Xiu… search around for them on the net…
- Michael Gira/YGR 2008
I worked intimately with the band Larsen for three weeks, but I never saw their faces.
Over the course of a year I had received a series of CDRs, sent anonymously from Torino, Italy. The packages arrived punctually on the 1st day of each month, then again on the 21st. The packaging was always the same – black rubber wrapped tightly around the CD, bound with leather strips. Sometimes, upon opening the package, little clumps of hair or a tablespoon of dark, moist earth would fall out. In one instance, what looked like a transparent, wafer-sized sheet of human skin fluttered to the floor. Upon closer inspection, I saw that it bore a faint blue tracing – a tattoo: the letter “ L “.
Sometimes the CDs contained music – a plaintive, whispered song, accompanied by a distant accordion, as if playing in the next room, or a drone of unknown origin, or a short burst of percussive chaos – sometimes just a single sound or noise, a scraping sound, as if someone were slowly etching a piece of rusted metal with a blade of some sort, or the sound of saliva working in the mouth, or the wet, sucking sound of a body (or bodies?) being penetrated in an act of love. That’s it – no other explanation, just an obscure sonic talisman, little pieces of an arcane vocabulary I couldn’t decipher.
Then one day a letter arrived. The envelope and the paper of the letter itself seemed to be hand made – heavy, flecked with bits of pastel fiber, and again, hair. The penmanship was elegant, as if written by someone schooled in 18th century calligraphy, and the ink seemed to have been artfully applied with a quill. The text of the letter was simple: “ Come to Turino. You will work with us from the 1st day of next month through the 21st. You will depart promptly on the 22nd. Consider the enclosed advance payment for your efforts…Until Then, Larsen.” Inside the envelope was an international money order of an extremely generous amount and a round trip plane ticket to Torino.
I was greeted at the airport by an elegantly attired chauffeur, complete with knee-high riding boots and cap. He very politely and deferentially inquired, in perfect, only faintly accented English, as to the comfort of my journey, and insisted on carrying my suitcase. He spoke to me in the 3rd person, and almost comically – to me anyway, being American – he addressed me as “Squire”. As we approached the limousine, he asked, “Would the Squire enjoy a beverage for the journey? It’s very hot here this time of year.” Then, opening the trunk, he removed a large leather case. He laid it on the asphalt directly behind the limousine and popped the lid. Inside, arranged neatly in plush brown velvet, were several glasses, a small bucket of ice, a few decanters of whiskey and brandy, some freshly cut limes, and a sweating, cold bottle of water. The ride into town was smooth and silent, except for the discrete and pleasant sound of birds and a gently running stream piped in through invisible speakers. The sense of dreamy comfort was aided by the whiskey and cool water, and I soon drifted into sleep.
I awoke naked, warm beneath the plush down comforter of a feather bed. The room was stark white, windowless – empty, except for the bed, a small sink, a small bedside table with an antique Art Deco lamp and a wind-up gold alarm clock, and an oak dresser and mirror. My toiletries were laid out neatly on the dresser next to a small calendar. Today’s date (June30), was marked “arrive”. The 22nd of July was marked “depart”. All days in between bore the message: “We own you.”
Just as I finished dressing there was a knock on my door. I was greeted by a young woman, completely naked. She looked as if she spent a great deal of time undergoing some kind of intense physical training – muscular and lithe, but still somehow voluptuous. Her body was completely shaved, and covered in elegant, ornately detailed tattoos (most of which incorporated the letter “L” into the design. She smiled politely, with something of the formal deference the chauffeur had employed. Behind her, I could see the recording studio.
She recited an obviously rehearsed greeting, welcoming me and assuring me that Larsen would do everything possible to make my stay in Torino a comfortable one, but unfortunately it would not be possible for me to leave the studio during my visit. Work hours would be from 12 noon until 2 A.M. each day, with a leisurely lunch and dinner break in between. The food would be prepared by a personal friend of Larsen, a chef at a local 4 star restaurant. I would however be dining without the company of the band (though she would be happy to eat with me), due to the fact that it would not be possible for me to see them, ever. During working hours I’d be required to wear a hood when in their presence, and as I’d be spending most of my time in the control room with the engineer, Larsen would perform in the studio behind a screen in the recording area beyond, so that I could communicate with the engineer more freely. I was welcome to speak to the band, of course (through the talk-back microphone in the control room) and they’d be anxious to hear my comments and suggestions regarding their music. I accepted these conditions, and she led me into the studio.
Sitting in a chair in the center of the recording area – now wearing the white hood (which was pleasantly perfumed, by the way, though the perfume seemed to be covering an underlying, more musky odor) – I was introduced to Larsen, one by one…
Fabrizio (“Melo”): An elegant handshake, and a soft mellifluous voice, betraying his noble origins. His family crest bears the sign of the Camel. He “plays” guitar (or “gently chokes” it), as he prefers to say, and also sings, seductively. His occupation outside music is “Bodywork” (I don’t know what this meant – could have implied anything from sex, to murder-for-hire), from which, he immediately informed me, he has amassed a small fortune. His goal now is to reclaim the family castle in the mountains outside Torino with this fortune, and once established there to set up, with the rest of the collective, a school of anti-architecture-in-life, influenced by a seemingly incompatible and conflicting schools of thought, most of which had little to do with architecture per se. Throughout the strenuous recording sessions I heard these names, sometimes shouted like curses, sometimes whispered, in thick, impenetrable Italian, as Larsen would argue (sometimes quite violently) amongst themselves: Gurdjief, Ouspenski, Rudolf Steiner, Raoul Vaneigem, Guy DeBord, Karl Marx, Albert Speer, deCorbossier, Jesus Christ, Aleister Crowley, and even on to the violent aspirations of the Italian Futurist movement. “I want to make buildings that explode, that self destruct,” he told me while reciting his credentials (as each member did), expertly translated by the young woman who had greeted me at the door. “ I want life to be the like an exquisite moment of sexual pain, as it turns to self-erasing, and all architecture should reflect this, and in fact it should force this sensation on the public, willingly or not…”
Marco (“Mr. Ox”): His handshake was that of a boxer or a highly disciplined assassin. He crushed my hand as if it were a baby’s. I felt instantly helpless, as is doubtless his intent upon shaking hands with anyone, though I sensed no malice. Mr. Ox plays the drums, and belying his sobriquet, he does so with precision and grace. Perhaps he learned this distinction – that true power is never brute, but shaped by nuance and intelligent strategy – in the military, as he comes from a long line of “Noble Officers”, stretching back, he claims, to the 15th Century. Still, I sensed a sadness, a weariness in his voice, and he’d often break into pessimistic monologues, which had nothing to do with the work at hand, as if they’d set the correct mood for the moment: “Happiness doesn’t exist, it’s just food for fool’s minds. I believe in the power of a single, isolated person, in the possibility to get out from the sea of shit and sail it, even just for a while. Everything contains the seed of its own loss, like a cancer. There is no God or any other greater intelligence, but this life is a game into which some wicked mind threw us - just to laugh at our ant-like, stupid efforts.”
Sylvie (“SHE”): A hand like a soft, fragile bird, but tense with brooding strength, the kind of hand that would delicately hold a scalpel as it carved the initial “L” into your cheek. “She” plays the bass, sings. She refused to look at me or speak with me the entire time. I’d often see her huddled in the corner, weeping. Occasionally she’d leap up, run to the center of the room and screech horrible noises from her saxophone, as if violently hexing everyone in hearing distance…
As I say, I was never allowed to see them as we worked, though I was soon able to dispense with the hood. The band played behind the screen in the recording studio. I was treated with perfect courtesy by their numerous assistants, who also acted as able translators.
Their ideology seems to be arcane and extreme (though I’m not clear on all the exact details), and from what I could glean they operate as some sort of hermetic cult/collective – they’re obsessively protective of their personal identities, apparently out of both a need to remain hidden from legal authority and out of a sense that their personal identities are superfluous to the agenda of their work.
The material on this CD was recorded as one might execute a “field recording”. The band would play a piece, sometimes for hours, over and over. Then, when they felt they’d reached the correct level of concentration, I was directed to record. I had the sense of eavesdropping on some kind of private ritual. Often, I sat in the control booth for a few hours, watching the shadows move behind the screen, with no “music” being generated at all – just the kind of highly ritualized sounds mentioned above, contained on the initial CDRs they’d sent me. Just as often, heated, violent arguments – shouting matches, really – would lead seamlessly into a soft and beautiful groove, or just as likely, a martial stomp, or a kind of miasma of dissonant electric atmosphere. My role as producer was simply to capture these moments on tape. We worked later on the editing of this material – some 10 hours of original recordings, as I recall – with the band standing behind the screen conferring, shouting/arguing, laughing, or simply directing me and the engineer (all in indecipherable Italian, sporadically translated). With simple instruments – electric guitars, accordion, organ, bass guitar, drums/percussion, their voices, a trumpet or trombone, and an occasional handmade tape loop – Larsen had worked and worked themselves into the core of the rhythm and sounds they generated. Often, a groove would begin with a certain feel, then transmute entirely by the time they’d wrung the essence of it into it’s final shape, which is what you hear, in edited form, on this CD. That’s why I say they’re like field recordings in a way, to me – they’re excerpts from a sound/ceremony that was ongoing, documented by a (hopefully) non-invasive stranger. – Michael Gira/Young God Records 2001
4/15/2002 | All Music Guide | Andy Kellman
Larsen | Rever | Review
delicately brushed melodies come along and whisk you out. The mystique surrounding the making of this record is enough to make one take the great music on it for granted. This Italian quartet initiated a courtship with Young God's Michael Gira by sending him bizarrely packaged CDRs with varying contents, thus enabling Gira to acquaint himself with the band's sound and range. For what purpose was unknown to him at the time. Following a series of these discs, Gira received a final package that included a round-trip flight to Italy and a sum of money -- the producer was invited to work on the band's record. Curiosity aroused, Gira obliged. For three weeks he recorded the band and edited the results without actually seeing the band; the band, a pair of engineers, and the producer communicated through a translator as a screen divided them.
The result? Much like Ulan Bator's Ego: Echo, another record overseen and released by Gira, Rever is an excellent LP that carries in the tradition of Gira's own Swans and Sonic Youth without making overt references to the past. It sounds like most of the record derived from extended jamming sessions that were chiseled into coherent pieces and then shape-shifted into a superb sequence for maximum effect. Shortly after most of the guitar riffs are found, they're abandoned or temporarily tucked away in favor of lulling drones, pendulum-like instrumental segues, chanted/whispered vocals, and the occasional blurt of accordion and/or trumpet. Just as you find yourself sliding down trap chutes made from densely sculpted dins of moaning guitars and ugly textures, delicately brushed melodies come along and whisk you out.
If you're troubled by the retrograde state of guitar-based music, Rever (and any other Young God release) warrants your attention. This is a nudge forward.
3/25/2002 | Pitchforkmedia | Dominique Leone
Larsen | Rever | Review
What I get here: gray skies, hollow trees, gallows poles...
...night beasts along the moors, bouts of depression lit afire with trance, and trash can percussion-- not to mention more than an ounce of poetic pretense. But of course, when was emotional music supposed to deliver anything more weighty? It's very contagious, and I can hope that was the intention. Truthfully, I have no idea how or why this mysterious Italian band made this music. Furthermore, I'm not alone in this.
Last year, Swans founder Michael Gira (and Young God Records chief) started getting odd packages from Torino, Italy. Inside were CD-Rs of sounds compiled, produced and otherwise emitted from a band of people known simply as Larsen. On his website, Gira describes the music therein as ranging from soft, accordion-based abstractions to "sometimes just a single sound or noise, a scraping sound, as if someone were slowly etching a piece of rusted metal with a blade of some sort." The final package he received had nothing like that, but rather a wad of cash, a ticket to Italy, and a request for him to produce an album for Larsen. And as anyone with even a hint of adventure (or sadism) would, Gira accepted the invitation.
Upon arriving, Gira was never actually permitted to see the members of Larsen. Apparently, he was relegated to the control room as the band, behind a silk screen, made music and, when it fancied them, communicated to Gira via translators and other strangers. He speaks of frequent "heated, violent arguments" and "watching the shadows" from behind the cloth barrier, as Larsen played for hours on end before deciding it was time to actually start recording. This is the introduction I had before me as I listened to Rever, and never let it be said that a band's lore can't be as much a factor in their music as the sounds they make.
Now, taken on its own, this record doesn't possess quite as much of the macabre as its back story would indicate. It does come awfully close, though. Larsen's sound has elements of damaged, arty rock from all over. I can hear lots of Sonic Youth-- conceptually, even when it doesn't directly call to mind their music-- in the dread-full, repetitive figures and omnipresent guitar noise. That isn't to say that Larsen are necessarily "noisy," but a lot of the playing reminds me of similarly tense, rock deconstructions by the American band. There are also some hints of post-rock, though what I really want to say is that Larsen doesn't mind taking a groove and running into the ground, all in the name of lulling me into a damp, sickly stupor. Gira calls them "highly ritualized sounds," and if that means they're often uncomfortably numbing, I agree.
The opener, "Impro #2," features just such cyclical meandering. It begins with an up-tempo (for Larsen, anyway) march pattern, featuring triangle, accordion and lazily strummed, clean electric guitar. Soon, an unidentified male vocalist (musicians include Roberto Maria Clemente, Paolo Dellapiana and Sylvia Grosso, though no specific performance info is provided) chants indecipherably, sounding like a cross between a Tibetan throat singer and a restrained death metal growler. I would call this a mantra if not for the old recording of a trombone which comes in at the very end.
The epic "Radial" follows, and this is where Larsen really lets its strengths shine. Thunderous reverberations act as fanfare, and a distant accordion waxes the floor for the onslaught of distorted bass and guitar which has crept up so subtly as to make me wonder how things got so impenetrably loud all of a sudden. Someone begins to saw at a zither (or some such piece of arcane craftsmanship) in the background, until about four minutes in when the rainstorm softens a bit. The bass is still hacking away, but slowly receding to reveal that the accordion from the beginning has in fact never stopped moaning. The track is 11 minutes, and Larsen doesn't let on that this was just an introduction, until the "tune" starts at the 51Ž2-minute mark. At that point, they rip into genuine fuzz-trance, Goth-psych-- let's just say that it's gloomier than This Heat, yet punchier than late-period Swans.
The fairly brief "Mentre" lightens the mood considerably (and the fact that it's in a major key tonality helps a ton), and even manages to use the guttural growl of the male vocalist as a droning counter-line to the spoken female narration. "Finger Number Six" tightens the rhythmic arrangement (just sticks and a tom), though retains the light electric guitar strum as an accompanying instrument for the ultra-minimalist (read: two notes) melody. During their more experimental moments, Larsen might seem to fall into the psych camp, with big, echo-treated atmospherics and dark, acid-purified espousals from the unknown singers. However, the beat strategies presented on this tune (and others, like the aggressive "Akin") often tighten the reins on the group's tendency to spill.
Chiefly, my issue with Rever isn't that the band works up too much lather in their mud bath; rather, they only really seem to make one mess, over and over. Fifty minutes of brooding, pensive mood music might hit the spot for me on occasion, though could be a bit tedious if I'm not up for it. But at least as I write this, it's fairly impressive. With any luck, Larsen may one day raise their black curtain to reveal something frighteningly good.