Testing Vault ‎– The Smile Of A Chain

Looney-Tick Productions ‎– EAFMC0131
2 × CDr, Limited Edition, Digipak

Tracklist Hide Credits

1-1 The Animal 1:53
1-2 The Tapes Traps 7:53
1-3 The Aural Crying (Mourning Angus MacLise) 17:12
1-4 Interlude
Cimbalom – Simon Balestrazzi
1-5 From The Journal Of The Apprentice
Voice, Lyrics By – Emma Doeve, Matthew Levi Stevens
1-6 Erehpsomta 11:27
1-7 Ancient 4:51
1-8 Owl 1 5:58
2-1 The Animal 2 0:50
2-2 The Tapes Traps (Again) 5:11
2-3 Denseen
Gamelan – Andrea NightofPan
2-4 Black Tar Mouth
Cimbalom – Simon Balestrazzi
2-5 Interlude 2
Cimbalom – Simon Balestrazzi
2-6 Last Call
Voice, Lyrics By – Ram Led
2-7 Ancient 2 (Jupiter's Fauna)
Sampler – Cristiano Deison
2-8 Owl 2 (Owl On A Highway)
Clarinet – Grant Regnaert


"The Smile Of A Chain" Double CD Limited To 150 Copies, Is A Release Inspired And Dedicated To Cyclobe, Coil, Angus MacLise, Ira Cohen, LaMonte Young And All The Sixties Avantgarde New York Scene.


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August 24, 2013
edited over 3 years ago

I have closely followed Testing Vault since it began a decade ago, in 2003, with the self-released L’Umor Finstere; by 2013, this sole cassette has extended to being just one of 13 releases. Recent releases have seen several double albums and a collaboration, Pariah (Section A), with Allan Zane (Wyrm, Le Scrambled Débutante). Every release since Cities of the Red Lights (2011) has served as a massive breaking down of Testing Vault’s sound. This newest album, The Smile of a Chain, is described within the linear notes as the Third Cycle, which resonates with me as there have indeed been three cycles in the development of Testing Vault. There was the creaky crackly avant-garde of the early releases where old Black & White films and loops of early twentieth century instrumentation made dusty soundtracks of inner conflict. In the Second Cycle, electronics, Santagiuliana’s vocals and a dark ambient sound were the core elements of

several releases. Since 2011, the Psychic maps of cities, space, midway geometries of past and present have been traveled and realized as albums. The Smile of a Chain, in my eyes, is the sixth release of the Third Cycle of Testing Vault.

The influence and presence of an artist called Angus MacLise (1938 – 1979) weighs heavily throughout The Smile of a Chain. Despite the different Cyrcles, Testing Vault, at least at times, has traces of various incarnations of its former self within its sound, as if it attempts to exist between the past and now; a constant self-dialogue. This is demonstrated in “The Tapes Traps” after the brief intro, “The Animal” — along with electronic bleeps — as dANi seems to pull aspects of his other projects into the sound; the big dirty bass of an older project called Citizen Insane keeps surfacing within the song. A distanced ambient sound is also woven in; this is Testing Vault demonstrating a fluidity that looks to previous work whilst moving forwards.

The first of several lengthy passages of work begins, this being “The Aural Crying (Mourning Angus MacLise)”. Percussive clicks chatter away along with constantly shifting ambient drones. There are also references to New York-style Avant-garde going on via MacLise’s work, Inside the Dream Syndicate. The sound lies in-between natural or organic and electronic; working within the past and now. An interlude snatches threads of the retro transmission that throw us into “From the Journal of the Apprentice”, and through its reeds and drones the music stays on key with the “The Aural Crying” whilst referring to William Burroughs through a text read by Matthew Levi Stevens.

“Erehpsomta” is another big work; drones relate to those used in other tracks before spacey electronics begin to buckle and warp. This also causes the track to appear stagnant, but quieter noises simultaneously progress, so it can appear confusing if attention isn’t paid to the proceedings. The screwy electronics continue into “Ancient” as it bubbles and boils into form as it coincides with a creaky ambient soundtrack and throws up new Testing Vault forms. “Owl 1″ is warped even further, as it shifts and pulsates through noise and reduced instrumentation. It was at this point that I became impressed by the breakdown of ‘The Aural Crying” as it landed elsewhere from its original mission.

Disc Two – “The Psychotropic Carpet” — starts with a brief choppy passage of electronics. “Animal II”, which moves into hypnotic bongos and drones that introduce “The Tapes Traps (Again)”, instrumentally fills massive depths with drones and creaks, depths that are formed as “The Tapes Traps” grows. Clicks continue the rhythm into “Denseen”, as deep drones build and vocals form a narrative. Explosive keyboards allude to Maurizio Bianchini; this refers to the reality of another past, before static hiss breaks the time-line and indicates that the broadcast is over. Feedback crackles into action for a resuscitation that is “Black Tar Mouth” — a long, abstract work that steadily gains more cohesion as its time progresses.

Impressive warped feedback combines with strings to create “Interlude II”, effectively striking a balance between the creaky avant-garde Testing Vault of a decade ago and the TV sound of now. That balance continues into “Last Call”, a recorded narrative that carries on to a performance off odd sounds and film samples. Laughter and domineering statements mock the main narrative, pushing it into further despair. Drones build up to emphasize the mood during its decline. “Ancient II (Jupiter’s Fauna)” continues from the drones of “Last Call”, and occupies the same murky bubbling territory as its brother on Disc One. “Ancient II” builds well within the lower frequencies and really finds its own sound. “Owl II” finishes off The Smile of a Chain with a final MacLise reference via bongos and drones. Distant vocals add a feeling of closure to the Third Cycle.

I like the scope and ambition demonstrated in The Smile of a Chain. It seems unperturbed by the achievements of the previous TV album, Cities of the Red Nights, which served as a massive reinvention of TV in 2011. This seems to want to stretch reinvention out further and forces progress through lengthy explorations within passages of sound, some elements of which continue into other tracks until new identities are formed.

Review By Zenon Gradkowski For Heathen Harvest: http://heathenharvest.org/2013/07/07/artist-feature-daniele-santagiuliana/