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Oblivion Ensemble – Seraphim Hallucino

Oblivion Ensemble - Seraphim Hallucino

CD, Malignant Records, 2007

“(I) summon all the powers God has given me). ( you)Die fphst pfhss fphst pfhss phst pfhss phst pfhss egg pulls chewing depth aquatic …tic …tic …tic …tic …tic”.
So begins the vocal part of “Seraphim Hallucino”, a very unorthodox and surprising approach to lyrics which arouses curiosity and provokes derision in equal measure. A crackling computer noise pans aggressively from left to right and a repetitive, delicate melody plays as in a horror film soundtrack as the peculiar words are voiced softly in the background. In addition to printing all the vocal lines, the inlay card instructs the listener to use headphones, and in doing so, the complex and professional production can be appreciated in full, at the same time as the unusual sounds and voices test the patience.
“My skin is torn and stretched out on branches …plip …plip …plip ‘BAN-JO:OJ-NAB”
Oblivion Ensemble are a mysterious collective centered on founding members Brannon Hungness, a “virtuoso” guitarist and composer formerly of the Glenn Branca Ensemble, and John Bergstrom, a film composer who studied piano and composition at the Eastman School of Music. With such qualifications, it is evident we are to hold these artists in some high esteem, but given the improvised and random nature of this album, it is frequently hard to consider them above any self-taught and comparatively uneducated experimentalists performing on other records. “Seraphim Hallucino” comprises twenty-three tracks in a mere forty-seven minutes, therefore tracks are rarely over two minutes in length and the pace is fast and constantly changing, the structure akin to a film soundtrack rather than a more pleasing collection of “songs”.
“a voice of one calling (breathless motion in tone) (spent tasting your spine with fluttering of high voices)/flute/mutter/incandescence…”
On several tracks under two titles, “lifted, (yo u were near” and “always) I see y;our murder” there is a more relaxing period of atmospheric dark ambient, with deep synth washes before murderous crashes and rumblings jolt the listener awake once more. The following tracks are nightmarish collisions of buzzing, barking and banging, and even a crawling rhythm is allowed in to move things along convincingly as a distorted piano lets jumbled notes fall chaotically over proceedings.
“be- kis, kins is open, be- kiss me, iss, kiss me open, kiss- m, k- iss me, open skin, love-, :give love”
Given this is such a surreal and challenging album it takes a certain kind of listener to derive much real enjoyment from this, and it often feels as if they are trying a little too hard to impress us with just how crazy and insane they are. There are many moments which are profoundly moving or deeply unsettling, and there does appear to be much talent and innovation on display, but there is rarely time allowed to enjoy anything for any decent length of time. It would be fascinating to offer some of these pieces up to various dark ambient and industrial remixers to rework the sounds in a slower and more repetitive manner. If the more atmospheric and melodic elements were given space to develop, perhaps mixing the more experimental aspects over the top in a suitably unpredictable manner, a more widely enjoyable result might be achieved while retaining a similar feeling to the original work.


— Nathan Clemence

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