Heavy-metal chill out

By JAMES PARKER  |  June 15, 2006

ALL IS ONE: With a lighter, more musical touch, Growing are the blissed-out yang to SunnO)))’s Satanic yin.
Like SunnO))), Growing have their beginnings in the Seattle/Olympia scene that coalesced around Earth, the band formed in 1990 by Dylan Carlson, godfather of drone. Joe Preston, the bassist who has played in Earth, SunnO))), the Melvins, High on Fire, and his own solo project, Thrones, was for several years DeNardo & Doria’s roommate, and he supplied them with many lessons and fuzzboxes.

Drone is nothing new: on the 1992 Joe Preston EP he recorded as one of the Melvins, Preston played — with frazzling slowness — a three-chord 22-minute piece called “Hands First Flower.” And SunnO))) began as a sort of Earth tribute band. But where the SunnO))) drone is an annihilation and an end in itself, Growing use the drone more in the manner of the pedal point in traditional music, the sustained bass note that roots the melody.

“The way we work with sound,” DeNardo says, “we’re gonna be using sounds that find themselves in different musics. There’s definitely stuff you’re gonna hear tonight that might be part of a black-metal song. You might not even recognize it at first, because the way we structure it is completely different, but the texture of the sound will be totally indebted to that genre. I mean, I’ve seen kids who come to our shows because of the metal thing — they’ve got the SunnO))) shirts, they wanna talk to us about SunnO))) — but then we play and it’s something different and they come up afterwards and tell us it was amazing. I don’t feel like we’ve disappointed anybody by not being metal enough.”

Nonetheless, with the droners we are at the artier end of things — the point at which the “funeral doom” of bands like Thergothon (suicidal Finns) intersects with a current of high-end experimentalism. SunnO))) startled the man from the Times with their fondness for minimalist composers like Tony Conrad and Steve Reich. Growing, when quizzed about their in-van reading, offer Andy Warhol’s Popism and a collection of architectural drawings called The Changing of the Avant-Garde. (What, no Lovecraft?)

CLASSICAL GAS: Composer Ken Ueno sees drone coming from “a post-Eno — and by extension Satie — ambient trajectory.”
Boston-area composer Ken Ueno, recent winner of the prestigious Rome Prize, has been droning for years: his 2000 piece Contemplation on Little Big Muff explored with obsessive attention the long, gorgeous groan of an amplified cello. “I’m very interested in drone metal,” he when I reach him by phone. “The orchestration of Sabbath, but the structural æsthetic of artists like Eliane Radigue and Tony Conrad, filtered through the more recent JapNoise artists like Keiji Haino and Merzbow. Groups like Growing, I see coming more from a post-Eno — and by extension Satie — ambient trajectory. I think people now are able to listen for what I’ve often said about the inherent qualities in the physicality of sound: the internal beatings, overtones, and the artifacts of production noise — qualities I find beautiful and in contrast to the hierarchical dominance of pitch/harmony in Western Classical music.”

A SunnO))) show is Darwinian, but it is also Kaufmanesque: in the touches of heavy-metal pantomime (the robes and fog) and in the vast pointlessness of the music there are elements of the classic Andy Kaufman put-on, inhumanly sustained, a punch line extended into eternity on a beam of black noise. Growing live are theater-free — just two young men bending to their business, faces averted, working their delay and volume and tremolo pedals (one of which, I learn with delight, is called the Treminator). The unbending hugeness of the drone is present, in all its primordial pomp, but there is an opposing principle at work too: high-frequency flutters, scuttlings, and twitters of impish merriment. Is there a point, I ask them, at which all of this stops being music and becomes . . . something else? “I don’t see the line between musical and physical,” says DeNardo says. “I don’t think there’s a line there. There’s just so much going on, so much available, why try to separate it?

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