The Small & The Many

An album inspired by a sonified bee colony causes quite a buzz

In the Bandcamp liner notes for beißpony’s third album, The Small & The Many, among the usual mentions of cover photographers, mastering engineers, and the like, also credited are “the bees”. Artists love to overplay certain influences or references in the literature that accompanies their music, but in this case it is a genuine testament to the insects that both inspired and helped create Laura Theis and Stephanie Müller’s strange new album.

The Small & The Many started to take shape after Theis and Müller visited a “sonified bee colony” tended by apiarist and experimental musician Pitchu (who also appears on the album). The liner notes state that this meant the “beißpony core team had the opportunity to learn from the complex ‘grammar’ of the bees”. This has translated into song titles, lyrics, and a wide variety of bee-like sounds. Even the song structures move like bees – they’re chaotic, but somehow controlled, a little wobbly, and yet decisive. For instance, ‘News for Hungry Iggy’ builds with a swarming intensity drawn from great skittering folds of sheets of white noise, mangled textures, and fragmented, wordless vocals, before this scatters into empty spaces, populated by a sparse piano piece or lazily clinking percussion.

Much of The Small & The Many seems fleeting and fragmentary: tinny keyboard sounds, lo-fi drum machines that short out, degraded samples. I was reminded more than once of Mouse On Mars, and their ability to sculpt poor quality recordings into great tapestries of sound, and mould glitchy samples into thumping, complex grooves. The song ‘Curtains Of Wax’ seems to contain hundreds of different textures, as if each has got stuck to the enjoyably boingy percussion, then discarded.

Without wishing to damn The Small & The Many with faint praise, the word that kept coming to mind was “regurgitative”. Songs like ‘News For Hungry Iggy’ and the title track surge and recede, while ‘Ideonella’ has vocal processing that almost seems to retch. The lyrical refrain – “bees are wasps that have forgotten how to hunt” – is repeated across different songs. The contact miked recording of bees crawling in a hive gets reused, as if they crawl and buzz over every inch of the album, given free reign to pollinate each track, assembling then dispersing while Theis and Müller thread together their discombobulated, impressionistic songs. It’s an album that seems half-mangled by stomach acid, digested, then transformed – and the result is oh so sweet.

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