Friday, August 10, 2007

Sigillum S "23/20" Write-Up

Here is a promotional essay that I wrote for Sigillum S, for the release of their new album, "23/20"

Sigillum S "23/20"

I have known – and I have been listening to – Sigillum S – for over twenty years, and one of the most important things about them – to me – is that I have never fully understood just what the band is quite up to. Yet, I feel like I have been rather close to them for the majority of their existence. I released their "Terror Auto-Obstetrics" 7-inch single in 1990 and I even played synthesizer as a part of the band at their Freedom In A Vacuum Festival appearance, in Toronto, Canada, in 1993. But I have never had an easy time discussing the band, or its recordings, and to this day, I still find it somewhat difficult to explain who or what they are.

Sigillum S comes from a post-punk, post-industrial music era… I know that at one point, they definitely would have been referred to as "industrial"… even if at times, the band, or its main constituents, have worked in genres such as "noise," "isolationism," "ritual music," "techno," "IDM," "ambient," "illbient," "dub," and even "death-rock" (as I believe their first, self-titled cassette to be). Sigillum S are cut more from the same cloth as diverse and innovative groups, such as, The Legendary Pink Dots, Coil, Virgin Prunes, and maybe Psychic TV.

Fittingly then, Sigillum S cannot be defined by a single style or genre, and neither can their enigmatic new release, "23/20." Even after several months of repeated listening to preview copies of both versions of the album (CD and double LP), it has been difficult for me to come to an easy conclusion about the two slightly different collections of songs that I have in front of me. I even know that I appear on the album… twice, I believe. I contributed a tape of my feedbacking screams, during the band's lengthy recording process. At times, I think that I hear my voice in one particular song, and then I think that it is mixed into another. But my own ongoing review might never fully reveal where I was placed into this puzzling assemblage of sounds.

Most recently, to me, "23/20" represents some sort of (perhaps "unsafe"?) sexual cycle. Not that this would be exactly new territory for Sigillum S, but it is certainly a more considered and a more mature take on it, than, say, their excellent, De Sade-tinged, 1988 LP, "Boudoir Philosophy" (ADN). There are elements of the foreplay that lowers ones inhibitions; of a buildup of stimulation; of increasing physical intensity; of sustained, overpowering, passion; of lurking danger; of an unhurried cool down period; and of some drifting, faraway dreamlike sensation. There are passages where one can easily get lost in the moment and there are also awkward or clumsy moments that can make one cringe, and that can bring one back to reality – just as in sex.

The album contains contributions by a number of the band's collaborators and friends – a curious assortment of musicians from disparate backgrounds and scenes – from free jazz to heavy metal, from avant-garde to dub, and from to pop to noise – and this only makes sense, given the band that we are talking about, given the songs on these slightly varied collections, and given the "anniversary"-related nature of this dual release. It has been a very long time since a newly recorded Sigillum S album was released and I welcome "23/20" with open arms and open, albeit somewhat damaged ears. I accept the ongoing challenge of trying to comprehend everything that has been set before me – and the fact that it will not easily reveal itself to me is just one part of why this album will remain an engaging listen for a long time to come.

Mark Solotroff, Chicago, August 2007