Meditations on Mamiffer

Orange St. Studio — February 7th, 2015

by NATHAN COLLINS

In the open art space of Orange St. Studio, accent lights of blue and red made silhouettes out of dynamic noise duo Mamiffer. Their shadows loomed as walls of sine waves curled from immensely powerful amplifiers. These two consummate experimental artists, heavy music legend Aaron Turner (former frontman of Isis… the band not the terrorist group, and main member of low-end supergroup Old Man Gloom) and his wife Faith Coloccia, offered their challenging aural assault to a small audience of Chico-cognoscenti.

Playing compositions from their latest record, Statu Nascendi, one of the group’s more approachable sonic undertakings, their set was one monolithic soundscape, seamlessly transitioning between one melodic-or-dissonant musical meditation to another. Waves of white noise breaking against cliffs of distorted guitar, then settling into tidepools of delicate piano and swirls of rotary organ.

This music is meant to be challenging, both physically and mentally. Physically, the frequencies used span the entire spectrum of human hearing. Then there’s the volume. Earplugs were offered at the door, a smart option for those interested in still being able to hear things after their twenties. And mentally, sometimes the atonal drones last so long your mind starts to walk off stage. But that’s the point. Like meditation, you have to bring it back into the harsh spotlight of the music.

Between blunt force guitar interludes, Turner focused on adjusting knobs on his assemblage of sound-generating tools and effects, while Coloccia swapped cassette tapes of samples through a Walkman run through another collection of audio shaping devices. A mix of heavy tones swelled to an overpowering volume and then fell away as she turned to her microphone, singing soft and sweet while striking out a simple melody on her stage piano.

The audience accepted this music, standing perfectly still in the big dark room. Like a group of monks standing around a gong. Tipping up cans of cheap beer in humble praise. A congregation of the few who can hang with this kind of raw sonic power.

Supporting Mamiffer on their tour was John Mueller, a musician focused on schizophrenic vocal loops and trance-inducing drumming. I would’ve given anything for a peace pipe of peyote during his set. I think I could’ve finally found my spirit animal. There was a subtle complexity to his music. Maybe just too subtle for me, or too complex. I’ve just never been a part of a drum circle, and I feel displaced at Pow-wows.

Hometown opener, Ave Grave, seemed an odd pairing with these two noisemakers. But if anything, Sean Galloway’s beautiful voice and traditional song structures offered the feeling of solid ground before being launched into the weightlessness of musical outer space. Longtime local Shimmie has a solo project, and a solo record, which you should check out if you’re into things like music and feeling things about stuff.

I had a chance to talk with Turner after the show about the purpose of music in modern life and the interesting challenges of bringing the savagery of Old Man Gloom’s new double record, The Ape of God, to a Cafe Coda near you, but I’m saving that interview for an upcoming show preview. Stay tuned, nerds!