The Secret Life (Of Gart & Seekatze)

Among Ron Van Hee’s assorted pseudonyms, Gart & Seekatze is – since the beginning of this acquaintance – my preferred alter ego of this unassumingly insightful performer. He has released at least two records in the past that are worth of a scrupulous internet search (perhaps hopeless, given the non-existent quantities of copies in which these works are issued). I’m referring to The Secret Life (Of Alvin Tsunoda) and H/mm/ng S/ngs, diminutive masterpieces of tremendously minimal low-budget reductionism which surpass the pretentiousness of certain illustrious “names”, and not by a little. Van Hee – lovely as always – sent me a batch of discs recorded in the last three years or so, both live and (presumably) at home. Let’s try and sketch a path among the silences, the incidents and the background hiss ’n’ rumble of which this music is pregnant despite an apparent meagreness.

Gart & Seekatze uses few colours, mainly developing moods and tones from the scant quivering of an isolated element and the contribution of the natural hum of the ambience where the sounds occur, but also by rubbing and scraping percussive sources such as small bells and drum skins (well, maybe – our friend doesn’t like to specify details on the covers). The process is always informed by an essential purity: no hidden intentions, just the determination of measuring a brief segment of life’s momentary breath through the juxtaposition of poverty of means and wealth of inner intuitions. There’s no fancy editing, no post-production or peculiar processing: everything is heard as played in total lo-fi gloriousness. The best use is as a soundtrack for a short-lived solitude: by paying too much attention to it, one might start to count the imperfections, which is not the name of the game. This stuff should help enhancing the grey and the black, not depicting illusory butterflies of idiotically vacuous “knowledge”. It just exists – therefore, accept it as it is.

The Secret Life (Of Shops) contains seven tracks which show the Belgian artist’s vision pretty clearly: no actual “aesthetic”, only the sheer reality of a man and his craft in a definite place. Here like elsewhere, a fundamental tool is the eBow, placed on a string and let alone in complete immobility, a single tone accompanying a series of circumstantial activities that include surrounding echoes from the outside, tampering with various kinds of objects and the presence of an audience, more or less abundant, that at times is brought at the forefront in the mix in all its chit-chat invasiveness. In Tardigrada Van Hee, as per his own admission, pays a homage to “the usual suspects” (Sugimoto and Malfatti) alternating the apathy of gestural stillness to extremely sporadic touches on piano and guitar, thus sending any expectation from the listeners into hibernation as this matter-of-fact approach to expression is contained by a veritably transitory frame (the CD lasts circa 24 minutes). 2006’s Loothok – taped at Brussels’ Le Bunker – belongs to this reviewer’s very favourites: contemplative guitar plucks and repeated metallic tolling dapple an otherwise entrancingly industrialized backdrop of semi-drones and cyclic abrasive emissions, with the addition of acute frequencies akin to shortwave (or are they?); once in a while, the customary eBowed note emerges unaccompanied, symbol of a finally achieved awareness of the futility of further explanations, then the primary vibration affirms its convincing power, delivering us at last from any residual propensity to breakdown. The traffic noise appearing in the final track is somewhat inspirational, and we don’t really know why. A propos of this, the oddity of the lot – namely the double CDR The Secret Life (Of Cars) – is better left explained by the composer himself: “Imagine a car ride then imagine a car ride superimposed on the first then imagine another car ride superimposed on that, then imagine that tenfold. We are modern nomads caught in a hamster wheel”. Indeed – and the swish-and-whoosh sort of reverberation of this collection of layered engines (as perceived from within a truck’s cabin) makes us feel intoxicated by those vehicles’ exhaust, immobilized by a kilometric queue – or, alternatively, experiencing aural hallucinations similar to hearing an FM radio station while trying to find shelter amid a snowstorm. Ply virtually encompasses all the principal traits of this musician’s attitude, captured as it was in a seemingly domestic environment (at one point a rooster, quite amusingly, joins the proceedings from a very close distance). Nude pitches amidst a desolated quietness, minor dynamic changes underlying equal sounds, a general sense of self-discipline that highlights the intimacy of these takes – underscored by a permanent earth loop purr – that sometimes last less than a glimpse.

The ragged flimsiness and the pragmatic concentration of these creations are rare commodities in a world of intellectual posing and ignorant arrogance. Many people preaching about the most concealed aspects of being – which will never, ever be clarified by inconsequential formulas, not even to ourselves – can’t get near the intensity of Gart & Seekatze’s remoteness, as sharp as the sudden realization of the uselessness of comfort. Unintentional teachings that will probably end blown in the hot air generated by the worthless chatter of desperate entities reaching for eternally closed doors, the nowhere-to-be-found way out from a matchless presumptuousness.

(Availability of the above releases to be checked here.)

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