Various Artists – ‘Immersion’ A DVD-Audio review by Stuart M. Robinson

From Starkland records comes ‘Immersion’, a disc that reintroduces us, the DVD-Audio generation, to everything that was bad about the Quad era of the 1970’s, including the pretentious, conceptual, drug-induced music of the time.

Using the word ‘music’ to describe the contents of ‘Immersion’ is something of an overstatement because, aside from one, perhaps two tracks, the disc is simply a collection of noises, or more accurately, a collection of noise.

What we have here is the musical equivalent of modern art, the type of art that could be produced by a two-year-old child but has great ‘depth’ or ‘meaning’ to those pompous critics who desperately try to justify what the rest of us can quite clearly see is an amateurish daub. ‘Immersion’ is a collection of tracks produced and composed by a group of artists cut from the same cloth, artists whose only ability is to assemble a group of sounds into a conglomerate mess. Melody? Talent? Think again.

The disc opens with the horrible off-key vocal tones of Pamela Z, who proceeds to walk around her ‘studio’ (sounds more like a one-room apartment to me) naming every item she comes across, including “powered speaker”… “powered speaker”… “powered speaker”…

Next up is one of only two tracks on the disc with any musical merit. Composed by Bruce Odland, ‘Tank’ is an unusual mixture of reverberating trumpet (recorded in a vast metal tank) and percussion. While there isn’t a great deal of musical ability on show, the piece does offer an interesting and unusual sense of atmosphere, largely due to the huge decay times introduced by the recording environment.

The disc then descends into a collection of ridiculous, self-indulgent rubbish, reminiscent of university students’ ‘concept’ performances, only worse. Maggi Payne’s ‘Wind Turbulence’ is four and a half minutes of processed noise, Carl Stone’s ‘Luong Hai Ky Mi Gia’ a recording of a fast-forwarded Compact Disc (that juddering, clicking sound you hear when whizzing through a track), Ellen Fullman’s ‘Margaret Tuned the Radio in Between Two Stations’ is a collection of random tones… I’m sure you get the idea.

The low light of the entire piece does however deserve a special mention. ‘2000’ by Merzbow is a track composed (I use the word in the non-musical sense) of nothing but random phase noise. Yes, noise, that whooshing sound you hear when calibrating a surround receiver. Apparently, Masama Akita, the person behind this work is “…likely the world’s leading noise composer…”. He writes: “2000 combines two stereo multiple noise loops (front and rear), transformed in real time by different pan effects, with a monaural subsonic bass loop and a high feedback loop. The work especially aims to create accidental Doppler crash effects from the sounds surrounding each other.” “There is no difference between noise and music in my work. If ‘noise’ means uncomfortable sound, then pop music is noise to me”.

Good grief. I hate to break this to you Masama, but your composition is noise, in every possible sense of the word.

Aside from the Bruce Odland track, the only other piece on the entire disc that is even remotely worth listening to is ‘Sighs and Murmurs: A SeaSong’ by Ingram Marshall. It is a gentle, atmospheric composition that manages to convey the sense of space and desolation intended by the composer. In the face of much of the remainder of this disc, it is the most unusual track simply because it has musical undertones. Imagine that.

With the exception of the two aforementioned works, ‘Immersion’ is a horrendous collection of screeches, bangs and clanks presented as ‘art’. There is little to enjoy and much to endure. My half-star Musical Content rating has been awarded on the strength of the Odland and Marshall tracks alone.

Many of the artists featured here have their roots firmly imbedded in the Quad era, therefore the surround presentation is deliberate and aggressive throughout the entire disc. I strongly believe that such ping-pong use of the surround channels does a great disservice to the cause of multi-channel music; discs such as this are often used by two-channel die-hards as examples of how unrealistic surround music can be. However, in this case there is some excuse since the entire disc is conceptual and is unlikely to be taken seriously by anyone arguing either for or against the format.

In terms of fidelity the disc is moderately successful, although the 48kHz 24-bit audio does appear to be a little lacklustre at times – admittedly it’s difficult to tell how anything sounds when all you’re listening to is whooshing pink noise. The LFE channel is used sparingly and there is no obvious deep bass, whilst some artists leave the centre channel idle throughout their own work. There is a two-channel MLP alternative and also Dolby Digital versions of both, the lossy format being more than capable of delivering this disc’s content.

There are no disc extras, other than a selection of still images to accompany each track.

Composer and critic Kyle Gann is quoted on the disc’s artwork as saying: “In this disc, a new genre of music is born”. Let’s hope it doesn’t live too long.