AMN Reviews: Output:NOISE Improv Collective – Soundtrack to DSM-IV

Output: NOISE Improv Collective: Soundtrack to DSM-IV

Music has often been inspired by written texts—think of the influence on music, both instrumental and vocal, of Lewis Carroll’s Alice books, Edgar Allan Poe’s various works, or James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake. These works of literary imagination would seem to provide natural sources of creative material for the musical imagination. How unexpected then to find a musical cycle inspired by a very different kind of source text—the Fourth Edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV). But this is precisely what the Output: NOISE Improv Collective has done: Created a set of improvisations taking as their starting point selected DSM-IV entries defining psychiatric conditions.

Each track on this new release features a randomly assembled quartet or trio subset of the seventeen-member collective creating sound portraits of the following disorders: Delerium, Pica, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Depression, Tourette Syndrome, Cymophobia, Sleep Terror Disorder, Narcolepsy, Catatonic Schizophrenia and Trichotillomania. The results make for intriguing if sometimes difficult listening, as could be expected from the source material.

A number of the pieces really do provide recognizable impressions of the title disorders. Delerium, an improvisation for guitars, percussion, bass guitar and cello, melds scrapings, distorted staccato guitar and feedback to create a convincing simulacrum of hallucinatory perception. By the same token, the repeated guitar figures opening Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder remind one of the obsessive’s unstoppable attention to tiny details. Depression’s oppressive drone is the soundtrack to a grey, overcast mental state that won’t lift, while Tourette Syndrome aptly layers aggressively spasmodic sounds over a spoken stream of invective and shrilling soprano saxophone. Trichotillomania, a disturbance in which one pulls out one’s own hair, is conveyed in a weirdly concrete way by the manner in which the track’s violin and cello foreground the sounds of bowhair on the strings.

Beside their relationship to the underlying extra-musical concept, the pieces on this recording are meant to function as integrated electro-acoustic improvisations in their own right. And they do.