Review: WELP. – Emergency in Six Movements (self-released, May 17)

There aren’t many musical releases (good ones, anyway) that can be accurately summed up with a single sentence. Maybe it only takes a few words to communicate a defining feature, a unique approach or lyrical preoccupation or historical context, but inevitably such a succinct description will fall short of truly representing the multitude of things that actually happen within the confines of the release. Sound artist Johnny Beaver’s newest work under the alias WELP., however, doesn’t have this problem; one phrase is enough to convey the entirety of the contents of Emergency in Six Movements, and it is very helpfully provided on the Bandcamp page: “This is a cover of the original US emergency broadcast system tone.” Yes, that is all that this nearly two-hour, six-part odyssey contains: a single, completely homogeneous, stubbornly static tone, and one that has motivated many an American to screw up their face in discomfort and plug their ears to boot. Stuff like this often makes music enthusiasts (purists might be a better word) angry—just look at reactions to some of Sachiko M’s more extreme releases like Sine Wave Solo and Bar さちこ, compared to which this might be seen as even more “difficult”—with phrases like “shouldn’t exist” or “not even music” frequently cropping up in the large volume of, erm, very respectful and thoughtful reviews. But isn’t it so much more fascinating to avoid normative, opinionated assessments and just examine something for what it is? It doesn’t matter if it “shouldn’t exist,” because it does, so what does that mean? In my opinion, Emergency in Six Movements is a piece of music that will most likely tell you more about yourself than the other way around. You’ll question the way you hear and process sound; you’ll find yourself at the mercy of your own mind as it tries to reconcile something completely stagnant, coaxing out overtones and harmonies that couldn’t have been there before (they were); you’ll evaluate your own capacity for patience, maybe even realize that your time isn’t worth nearly as much as you think it is. Check this out and come out the other side with a perfectly uniform hole drilled through your brain. You won’t even feel it.

Or, an alternative opinion, also provided by Beaver: “‘I would rather drink paint than listen to that entire emergency tone album’ – Jonathan Weinmann.”

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