Sunn O))) Endurance Runn O))): Preamble

Hey folks, I thought I should do something interesting on this blog since I tend to write a lot of stuff and then not post it because it’s too late and no longer topical, or I think it’s dumb and nobody wants to read it. For some reason though I think everyone would love to read my experience of listening to the entire discography of American guitar feedback enthusiasts Sunn O))).

For a band whose aesthetic involves dressing in robes and performing almost exclusively in a dense and choking fog, you’d be forgiven for thinking they take themselves too seriously. Not so as we will hopefully discover over the course of this experiment.

I’ve loved Sunn O))) since the year 2006, but their catalogue includes a lot of limited edition material that I’ve never owned and never heard – because I’m somewhat subscribed to a rather absolute notion of preserving an artist’s intent.

Fortunately the band has just uploaded their entire discography to Bandcamp, an incredibly wonderful independent digital distribution site for music that I think everyone should know about at this point. Bandcamp allows you to stream material, embracing the notion of evaluating before purchasing in a way that is much more valuable to the artist (in terms of stats and click-through sales) than anonymous piracy.

Getting back to me for a moment, I thought it might be fun to indulge myself into something intensive but theoretically enjoyable, and to document the experience somehow. Sunn O))) are not a band for most people, and that’s not something I’m really all that interested in addressing – were I even capable of adequately doing so. I’m really more interested in the idea of this as a kind of journey.

I guess the way this is going to work is that it’ll end up being like a seat-of-my-pants review of the music, but one where I’m sometimes listening for the first time. So much it is will be first thoughts, filtered through my understanding of the band’s oeuvre. I’m sure it will branch out into entirely unrelated ramblings too, as I run out of interesting things to say about guitars.

The feature should also chart the progress of the band’s musical evolution, as their compositions expand in scope, both in instrumentation, tonal and structural variation and aesthetic. I may also touch on their place in the continuum of western music, as grossly under-qualified as I am to do so. Sunn O))) are a band focussed on one very specific musical idea, but they explore the limitations and preconceptions of that idea over time, pushing the boundaries to interesting places. All of this hopefully this makes them a worthwhile subject for “study”.

On the left, Greg Anderson, aka The Lord, aka Mystik Fogg Invokator, etc. On the right, Stephen O'Malley, ak SOMA, aka MK Ultra Blizzard, aka Caveman Skillz, etc. Fully berobed.
On the left, Greg Anderson, aka The Lord, aka Mystik Fogg Invokator, etc. On the right, Stephen O’Malley, ak SOMA, aka MK Ultra Blizzard, aka Caveman Skillz, etc. Fully berobed.

As for the title, “Endurance Run”, this might imply that listening to this kind of music is a negative experience, one that can only be endured and not enjoyed. It’s not. Generally my experience of Sunn O))) is one of enjoyment. But at the same time, this is a band whose modus operandi is exceptionally loud distorted guitars droning away for sometimes 20 minutes or more at a time, barely even changing chords. The music is, by its very intent, overwhelming. And in the example of Black One, the aesthetic becomes so specifically dark, like staring into an oblivion that stares back, that yes, there will absolutely be an aspect of endurance in listening to such a glut of this material.

The way I intend to listen to this material is in relative isolation, largely on my Sony MDR-7506 headphones. These have a fairly flat frequency response, so I am not going to experience as much of that lung-vibrating bass end the band are famous for. Also, I don’t have a high-end headphone amp or anything like that here in Canada, so I’ll be listening through my Line6 Toneport interface, which is perfectly reasonable in comparison to the laptop’s cruddy buzzing headphone jack.

For albums that I already own, I might listen to those on my mp3 player with my RHA MA450i’s, though I if so I will still try to listen in a semi-controlled manner. Or maybe that’ll be a Gonzo thing, the story of me listening to White1 in a Starbucks in West Vancouver. Oh look, I’m sitting alone in a coffee shop listening to bizarre semi-satirical Odinist poetry over the top of phased guitar rumble. WHAT HI-JINKS MAY ENSUE?

In this photograph, SOMA and The Lord are joined by Hungarian vocalist Attila Csihar, and Australian experimentalist Oren Ambarchi. On a Mesoamerican stepped pyramid.
In this photograph, SOMA and The Lord are joined by regular collaborators Attila Csihar and Oren Ambarchi. On a Mesoamerican stepped pyramid obviously.

Anyway, in terms of the structure of this ongoing feature, I am going to try to listen to them in order of release, and probably talk about several records per installment. Since their live records bear only passing reference to their studio material, I will be listening to all the live releases on their bandcamp also.

My word, this sounds like a bucket full of fun doesn’t it? Yeah, well, we’ll just see about that. #makingupasigoalongforeveralsofucktwitter2013.

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