Review: Alice Kemp – Songs in the Key of NO (Fragment Factory, Oct 1)

The England-based sound artist Alice Kemp is easily one of the most distinctive figures in the contemporary avant-garde when one thinks of particular styles or approaches. Her ability to sew the smallest slivers of sound into expansive, immersive tapestries is easily seen in the surreal microscopic throes of 2016 modern classic Fill My Body with Flowers and RiceSince that album, official recorded releases from Kemp have been quite sparse, limited to a difficult-to-acquire LP on Tochnit Aleph last year, a brief single-track contribution to the Amplify 2020: quarantine “festival,” and an even briefer appearance on Regional Bears’ recent sound poetry cassette compilation New Tulips. Thankfully, Songs in the Key of NO, despite being released by the often physical edition–reliant imprint Fragment Factory, is available for paid download or streaming on Kemp’s Bandcamp page, and offers a multi-course meal of both expected and completely unanticipated sonic delicacies. Like Fill My Body…, as well as the short Doll EP from the same year, this 20-minute affair is not for the faint of heart, but in the subtlest of ways. Largely absent, however, are the extended yet minimal spacial meditations or conventional instrument deconstructions; here, Kemp unfurls her creations in a manner much more gestural and impermanent, each new texture or recording a fragile, fleeting brushstroke across canvas disintegrating before our very eyes/ears. Bizarre disparities are unabashedly layered atop one another, resulting in unsettling coagulations like the queasy, shifty “Putrefy My Love,” while the somehow unclean silence left behind when it all fades away is treated and presented with equal reverence. The second part of that track unfolds like a fatally damaged industrial composition, beaten and broken into a metal-filled pulp yet forced to play back anyway, while “Hot Fat Conduit” burbles like the desperate half-breaths of a newly-reanimated corpse. This one will have you looking over your shoulder and checking behind the shower curtain for the foreseeable future.