Tunnels Of Āh is the creation of Stephen Ah Burroughs (Head Of David), and Deathless Mind is the fifth album in this guise. I’ll happily admit that I have no prior knowledge of his work, nor any background in the genres in which he’s worked. It’s quite a challenge for an old punk rock fan to make sense of such an abstract piece of aural art. (Is it music? I’m not sure.)
The album contains no discernible rhythm or melody, but it’s clearly created by and for transcendent states of consciousness. For the novice such as myself, what does that mean? Ornamental? Dreamy? No. Harsh and harrowing would be more accurate – maybe even nightmarish.
The sounds on this album don’t soften your sensory perceptions like the tinkling sounds you hear at your local crystal and incense retailer. They don’t veil your consciousness to draw you into forgetfulness or sleep. In fact the unsettling array of clattering cybernetic abstractions grabs you by the collar, drags you into mindfulness and dumps you there unceremoniously.
The album consists of seven pieces, and the religious and mystic intent is clear in the titles and aural content. Floating through the metallic scraping and demented electronic cicadas of Rituals For The New Dumb, we hear the chanted or moaned sound of ‘Ah’, a seed syllable used in Buddhist mantras. Parable Of The Sewer is a mire of pulsating, squelching, machine rhythms and disquieting burring; the title is a pun on the bible story known as the Parable Of The Sower. The cavernous rumbles and screaming waves of noise in The Cult Is On The Move merge with a voice distorted beyond recognition.
As we move onto Saint Of Slaves, the religious imagery continues; the patron saint of slaves was Pedro Claver y Corberó, a 17th century Jesuit missionary. Through the rumbling and the clanging, the glassy tones and the static, a voice, clear for the first time on the album, intones: ‘saint of saints/slave of slaves/slave of saints/saint of slaves’.
What the hell have I just experienced? A ritual, a meditation, a soundtrack to a nightmare, a commentary on trauma and decay? Probably all of this and more…
The voice persists, droning and screeching: ‘smokestacks remain like poles of forgotten flags’, and another major influence on Burroughs’ work becomes very obvious: psychogeography.
You can find a suitably dry definition online if you like, but most of us have an intuitive idea of the effects of our environment on our mind and mood. How do you feel when you walk through an abandoned building? Or, as the artist’s name suggests, how do you feel when you walk through a tunnel? According to the press release: ‘Deathless Mind is set on a half mile stretch of abandoned railway where various human transgressions have occurred.’ It’s a chilling image.
Ascetic starts with percussive blatter and subterranean grumbles. A repeated crackle makes me check my headphone connection, but maybe it’s my interface with reality that I should be questioning. Cum Iron In The Spine is appropriately liquid. It shimmers and drones. The sounds of gurgling and draining fluids merge and give way to abrasive rattles and something like a throat-singing overtone.
Final piece Sanatorium Lawns feels like an epilogue. Someone, maybe a witness to the aforementioned transgressions, maybe a victim, sits on the sanatorium lawn, lost in trauma and heedless of their surroundings. There’s an ominous throb, muted screams mingling with bird-like shrieks, and waves of Geiger counter percussion.
The album ends, and I’m deposited back into the mundane world. What the hell have I just experienced? A ritual, a meditation, a soundtrack to a nightmare, a commentary on trauma and decay? Probably all of this and more.
Scribed by: Rob Bryant