Okay I’ll be honest, I’m not really sure what’s happening on Black Cube Marriage’s Astral Cube. Listening to it for the third time I’m considerably more intrigued than I was the first time I listened. That’s not to say the first listen wasn’t intriguing. The first time I put this record in my ears I was in the midst of an antihistamine haze and had laid down early with headphones on. The otherworldly noise that drilled its way into my brain was like a cross between interplanetary messages, various instruments being dropped into a worm hole, and a dentist’s drill running through my back molars. It’s like all the noisy bits of Agharta and Pangaea morphed into one single blistering moment. It was chaos multiplied. On my third listen it wasn’t any less dense and chaotic, but I found a center to plop down into and let it all soak in nicely.
Black Cube Marriage is the brain child of Chicago cornetist, sound manipulator, and improvisor Rob Mazurek; as well as members of his Brazilian connection Sao Paolo Underground, Austin-based freeform unit Marriage and special guests Jonathan Horne (guitar, saxophone) and Steve Jansen (tapes, guitar). This is the essence of experimental free form noise. This isn’t college kids playing power chords over a motorik beat while under the influence of several cups of Sumatran pour-over. It’s not some dudes jamming with an occasional squall of noise or some tape loops. This is deep, heavy noise. It’s like Morton Subotnick devoured a string quartet, a horn player, and some cafeteria silverware and regurgitated it all in front of a microphone. It’s not for the faint of heart. But if you’ve got an ear and head for true intellectual music journeys, Astral Cube might be your trip.
According to El Paraiso’s press release: “Formed in the wake of a couple of Austin, Texas shows in late 2015, this 11-person strong ensemble creates waves of sound that can best be described as cathartic. Astral Cube draws from multiple styles and traditions and the result is a sonic eruption where past, present, north, east, south, organic and electronic collides and is poured into the unknown. Traces of cosmic jazz – think Don Cherry, Pharoah Sanders, Sun Ra – appears alongside abstract electronics and heavily manipulated instruments – not unlike Autechre or Matmos.”
There’s mention of the music conjuring visions of flowing mountain streams, colorful wildlife, and ancient rituals, as well as buzzing power lines and technology gone haywire. I would agree with all of those. At times the music is an absolute catchall for a schizophrenic noise filter. Album opener “Spectral Convergence Wing” greets you with the sound of hysteria. It buzzes and wheezes with chaos. There seems to be no rhyme nor reason. A mental breakdown put to tape. “Fractal Signal Clone” has the essence of Miles calm within a storm. Strings chatter as Mazurek’s cornet plays a mournful melody. Think something like Godspeed You! Black Emperor falling into some sort of sweet abyss with Ron Carter close behind. “Magic Sun Ray” puts me in mind of Nels Cline’s solo records, while “Time Shatters Forward” sounds like oncoming traffic in some post-apocalyptic world.
If there’s a centerpiece on this record its the 13+ minute “Syncretic Illumine”. It opens like noise coming from a distant jungle, but slowly builds into a mammoth groove number. Latin flavors mix with a steely hard bop attitude to give the track a feeling of both history and intergalactic travel. The past and present colliding beautifully.
Astral Cube isn’t for everyone. It’s dense noise making and experimental art of the highest order, but not for the musical window shopper or those with a weak constitution. But for those with unique tastes in intellectual noise and those who’ve taken heady trips with the likes of Pharaoh Sanders, Sun Ra, Bitches Brew-era Miles, as well as electronic noise makers like Morton Subotnick, Pauline Oliveros and Oneohtrix Point Never, Black Cube Marriage may just have what you need.