Much like with Human Heads’ In the Afternoon (which I reviewed earlier this year), but even more so now, I tried to take every possible out I could to avoid writing about Vital Attachments. Not because I don’t want to, of course, but because the uncompromising work of performance/visual/sound art paragons Katz Mulk and their creative offshoots is formidably indescribable. Sure, one could just list the various elements contributed by each Mulker that comprise these edited recordings from pieces commissioned for Counterflows and Experimentica 2019: Ben Ellul-Knight’s immediately distinctive free-associating robot rants (combined in gloriously uncanny harmony with Jess Higgins’ on “Never Been So”); agile electronic flits and flutters from the computer-based workstation of Ben Smith tracing every possible dimension of the two-/four-channel grid; the mesmerizing kinesis of Andrea Kearney’s space-spanning movements and interpretations; the palpable obstacles, complications, and connections created by Siân Williams’ physical sculptures. One might suspect that the latter two artists’ less sonically replicable, more presence-dependent actions are lost in this medium, but thanks to the expertly arranged recording setup during the original performances and an excellent mastering job by Alexander Pustynsky, the music captures enough nuance to establish the essential roles occupied by Kearney and Williams; this audio-only document is an undeniably different work from what it documents, yes, but in that difference it both does justice to and mirrors the simultaneously de- and re-constructive predilections of the project.
Kearney also contributed the abstract graphic score that formed the basis for these compositions (the cover art and other graphics, drawn by a different artist, were inspired by the original images), mostly consisting of sparse, gestural 2D geometry loosely structured with explicit verbal instructions—e.g., “look at the space from a low angle and feel the floor.” Live Eye TV’s Iggy Pot observes that “[i]t appears those words are directed to the performers, but they might be just as valid for the spectator, or in the case of Vital Attachments, the listener. While familiar rhythmic elements and sound tropes offer a leg to stand on or even dance on, the Katz Mulk experience continually subverts our vertical orientation, offering in its place the horizontal as a new location for the communal. Meanwhile, an echoing blizzard of vocals deconstructs the experience into philosophical quicksand demanding surrender to the supine as the unfamiliar becomes common ground (down).” These words apply to the whole album, but especially to closer “Host,” which is probably the best official track the project has released so far (and it even arguably has a chorus!). As Ellul-Knight commands, or perhaps implores, before descending into gratingly synthetic incoherence, “On the horizon, test the boundaries.”