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Hair Birth Richard Foster , September 10th, 2020 08:36

The debut album from Somerville, MA's Victoria Shen is a corroscating folio of sonic art, finds Richard Foster

Evicshen - aka Victoria Shen - is a very expressive, emotive artist. Having met and interviewed her at WORM Rotterdam during her residency there, I can attest to her boldness of spirit. Shen is an interesting character, often making a synthesis of the results of her audio research through wild performances. This often involves crawling around on the floor or jumping onto her table of gadgetry, or holding or using instruments in novel ways: inserting mics into the most unlikely places and the most inanimate objects to hand. Anything to further the cause.

Knowing this is an advantage when listening in to Hair Birth, a corroscating folio of sonic art that is also her debut record. For one, such knowledge negates the deadening feeling that you are listening to a set of overly academic, clever-clever sounds - a feeling that often plagues records of this stamp. Hair Birth is often closer in spirit to early Cluster, wild and outward looking and boasting a vast internal logic. It’s also very witty. The cowbell-esque “clang” that signals the end of the last track ‘Fever Pitch’ is a case in point.

But most of all, regardless of the moments when you think your tooth fillings might come loose, Hair Birth is a beguiling listen. The patterns on opener ‘Current Affair’, ‘Bolette’ and ‘Funhouse Mirror Stage’ are bewitching; all sounding like a turn of a dial on a huge old radiogram; vague transmissions of melody forming and disappearing in a trice. Tracks that veer towards noise such as the industrial rackets of ‘Under The Stall Door’ and ‘Lissajous’ are, by their very restlessness, there to keep you listening, just at the point when you think it would be safer to skip. The shortest number, ‘Classical Mechanics’, works because it breaks up the unholy howls made by its predecessors, refreshing the palette whilst still sounding tense.

Her inquisitiveness and energy can be seen in the packaging of a “special edition” of Hair Birth. The hand-printed sleeve is connected to a copper coil, which in turn creates a fully functional speaker that can be hooked up to your stereo system at home; affording you a listen of the album through its own artwork. Yes, there is always a “special edition” of albums these days. And yes this conceit is the sort of idea you would gawp at during the broadcast of some science programme or other, back in the 1970s. But it’s the sort of thing that is nevertheless, somehow, fun. If Shen feels the need to go this far in her practise to make her point, I for one applaud her.