Wednesday, July 07, 2004
P. CHILDREN Press Photo
P. Ch 3
(Vacant Lot Records/RRR, 1988)
Ah, Washington DC in July. While the rest of the city suns itself on the beaches of Delaware and Maryland, the Minotaur welcomes the youth of the nation to gaze at its vast maw. Witness Capitol Hill, where America's Youth Congress gingerly parade through the sweltering heat in their brand new suits, careful to step around the anti-terrorism building binge on the east side of the Capitol and the Library of Congress. Or see the less gifted youth of America, accompanied by their flyover parents, attending summer orientation at Foggy Bottom's George Washington University. See the parents seeing me eying them (and their embarassed children, two steps ahead while walking, seeing them eyeing me) and eyeing me back suspiciously as they ponder the prospect of sacrificing their young ones to this vicious and often cruel labyrinth of a city. Ah, summer. Ah, run-on sentences. Now walk down K Street and see their youth, years later, sweltering zombies shuffling to and from work: the disillusioned Gucci-clothed lobbyist-in-training with those little blue square sunglasses, the slicked-back watch-checking Navy-blue blazer salesman nervous that he miss the appointment and his Bethesda condo payment this month, the off-shift streetwalker with triangular plastic yellow earrings and a black spotted, too-tight top limping into La Vie France coffeeshop or even our local homeless Socrates proudly holding court with young impressionable girls in return for bites of their burgers [ This guy's great - I've found he likes to discuss the messages he has found in Neil Gaiman graphic novels when he isn't talking to himself...]
And what better soundtrack to it all than the now long-gone P. Children, a Carnegie-Mellon-based late 80's industrial/noise outfit collaboration between a classically trained composer (Robert Kirzinger, now an annotator for the Boston Symphony Orchestra!) and a Video Artist (Michael Walker). Shaking their jarring metal boxes, gleefully breaking glass in parking lots or tuning oxygen tanks, they mix this with more traditional instruments such as synths, violins, trumpets, drum machines and samplers and they bring to mind a more outre Throbbing Gristle or less rhythmic, more varied Blackhouse. They were known for their video shows which probably would have fit right in with Pittsburgh's fantastic black factory landscapes (driving west across the river in the '80s was like entering an modern version of Mordor - don't know if it's still like that).
Not to say that everything on this clear-vinyl (cum-colored, a vulgar friend once noticed) 500 limited edition is going to make it into my party shuffle. But here's four tracks that will. "E.O." is interesting in that it brings to mind a mash-up between the soundtracks of Se7en and Leaving Las Vegas, two of my favorite soundtracks. It makes for a surreal scene when walking down K Street. "Not Established" is one of those songs that people with a phobia about people sneaking up behind them while their back is turned and they have headphones on shouldn't listen while their back is turned and their headphones are on. It's a soundscape of a bleak world where a distant factory churns out this year's models and last year's decaying models limp about blindly spilling their change, slipping on glassy ice, breaking the bottles they are inexplicably trying to balance on their mottled heads. Eventually, they wind down and collapse onto the cracked earth while factory continues forever. "Social Life" is perhaps the closest thing to conventional industrial dance music -- I think of this as party music for the cars and trucks that take over the planet in that Stephen King movie from 1986. Watch as they careen around the demolition derby mosh pit, the alpha truck sporting the skull of Emilio Estevez as a hood ornament while cult co-stars Yeardly "Lisa Simpson" Smith and Frankie Faison (the guard from Silence of the Lambs) are forced to run the soundboard and light show. Unfortunately, I have a file limit of 5 MB on my server so I am unable to include that here. If you want a copy via yousendit.com, let me know. Finally, "Aura" provides a sample of a single 1/2 second from a tape machine providing percussion to ghostly cries and screechy processed violins in an echo chamber. If Sam Raimi had made Evil Dead in a factory rather than an abandoned cabin, this might have made for a good sountrack.
But alas, allot of industrial can be hit or miss and sometimes the artists are too close to know the difference. P. Children's LP is no exception. Some cuts such as "Aura 7" and "Deadbeat" are just too much to listen to more than once, at least for me. "Bolero" with the Big Black style Roland drum machine is an interesting concept -- updating Ravel's masterpiece by playing variations on a riff on various industrial percussion and conventional instruments but it is unfortunately marred by amateurish played and poorly recorded bass guitar. Bass solos rarely work with lo-fi recording equipment.
For those interested in their entire portfolio, P. Children's music has been collected by the now defunct San Francisco label, Charnel, in a single CD. RRR/Atavistic also included them in their Testament Video Compilations (go here). Here's one online seller with their collection CD in stock (I can't vouch for this online store, so caveat emptor, please). I've found my record for sale online at $300 so someone thinks very highly of them! My version has a bit of surface noise but I have the press kit sent to me by Mark of Vacant Lot.
These cuts will be up for about two weeks and are for evaluation purposes only. Please note that they are recorded off LP and so surface noise (crackle) exists.
(EDITED to add in review of "Aura" and correct typos)