With Ivan FU Pjevcevic, Francesco Cossu, Gillian Leigh Bowling, Gaia Bevilacqua, Franz Hauzinger, Enza Amato, Stefano Pilia
Released by Erototox
Available on Bandcamp, CD and LP
John Duncan has never meant to use a lot of words to expound concepts that stand well above and beyond the so-called common feeling. For those who had followed him from the start, and without even taking into account his now legendary performances influenced by Viennese Actionism, it was sufficient to absorb the brain-cleansing waves of his soundscapes – from harmonically complex noise to shortwaves, and everything in between – to realize that they were witnessing crucial stages in the pursuit of uncomfortable verities, however harsh those realities were appearing at that time.
Starting from 2016, though, Duncan has switched the focus of his research to a miscellany of spoken word, experimental song, semi-abstract sonorities and more delineated, yet continually evolving compositional structures. The early extremism may be (deceptively) reduced in his recent output, but there’s still a noticeable fluidization of meaning in both the lyrics and the instrumental options. With 3NDLSS, Duncan has condensed several decades’ worth of grueling treks through the labyrinths of the self, frequently marked by an interior anguish that no cathartic condition can ever totally eradicate.
Seven tracks make up the program, one of which – “Interwoven” – is a multiform suite from indefinite spaces, with Gillian Leigh Bowling corroborating Duncan’s recitation in brief verbal snippets. The most distinctive aspect of Duncan’s approach is its sibilant, sandpapery vocal tone. It does not obey the rules of perfect pitch, but systematically confronts us with deep-striking visions and hard-to-fathom nightmares. The stark intensity of the singing and speaking reminds of a wise preacher who has the Truth clearly laid out in his mind, but gradually becomes enraged with others who listen, but do not appear to understand. Duncan is assisted by Gaia Bevilacqua’s equally uncontaminated vocalism in “What Keeps Mankind Alive?” (Brecht & Weill, ladies and gentlemen) while Enza Amato takes on the role of the female sentient in the impressive “The Swirl”; here, Franz Hautzinger’s superimposed trumpets measure a lightless, despair-imbued environment.
Truly outstanding orchestrations and backgrounds, ranging from utterly tonal to “ritually alien”, contribute to a significant amount of this album’s appeal. Hats off then to Francesco Cossu, Stefano Pilia, and, in particular, Ivan FU Pjevcevic. The latter built an electronic/synthetic cosmos that is full of twists, turns and progressive illuminations, and in which the protagonist finds appropriate references for profoundly incisive expressiveness. All of the aforementioned concretized what Duncan describes as a labor of love that took years to emerge. Shamelessly borrowing from the late Ian Curtis, that love made repeated attempts to tear us apart as we were listening.