A Programmed Nightmare of Sound

June 16th, 2009

Black Dice – The Bowery Ballroom – June 14, 2009

Black DiceBlack Dice have the uncanny ability to create sounds that are completely alien and utterly unique to them. They create sounds you have never heard, which is impressive in a music climate where every other band seems to be using effects processors and strings of guitar pedals.

Sunday night at The Bowery Ballroom, the heavily orchestrated tracks were primarily from their new album, Repo, and ran together in an uninterrupted hour-long set. Aaron Warren and brothers Bjorn and Eric Copeland don’t use monitors. Instead, they rely on stacks of amps towering behind them, playing from inside the epicenter of volume. Listening to the album at home is only a fraction of the experience. Black Dice are a completely different entity live.

Between the pulsing epileptic video projected over the stage and the sheer volume of indecipherable sound, I get the sense they are genuinely attempting to alter the audience’s senses. Almost as though they are a derivative of a ’60s psychedelic band. But unlike the hazy atmospherics of psych, the music never sounds improvised. The complex layering—the ebbs and flows—isn’t haphazard. This is a strictly controlled, programmed nightmare of sound. The group seems to be answering the question of whether music can still be compelling when you take away all song structure and melody.

This sounds deceptively easy: The machines must do all the work, right? Then go ahead and silk-screen a soup can on canvas or put a shark in a tank of formaldehyde. Black Dice did it first and they continue to do it better than anyone else. —Jason Dean