Wozzeck – Act 5

Taking up enough space to fill two complete CD’s and a half with its 200 minutes of play time, experimentalists Wozzeck‘s Act 5 is an experience in tediousness, repetitiveness, droning, long polyrhythms, and slowly evolving music.

The album is divided into 5 parts, each of 40 minutes, and each with its fundamental concept. It was recorded as a trio consisting of bass, drums, and a computer/keyboards/electronics/voice/guitars person, who happens to be the mastermind behind the project, Ilia Belorukov. The first part, “Act 5.1”, stems from a single 11/8 bar at 120 bpm, and is divide in 8 parts with 5 one-minute fragments each. The whole song isn’t in 11/8, though, as there are some variations on the theme throughout. It is pretty straightforward yet full of unexpectedness. Like I said, it’s slowly evolving, so you get caught in the monotony of a part, and then, all of a sudden, it changes and you have to adapt. It’s a fun beat (with variations) to listen, the bass and drums do a great job of keeping the groove, while there are spoken samples and other electronic noises brought upon it all.

“Act 5.2” is based upon the ratio pi. Well, at least its first 40 numerals. The first minute of the song is in 3/4, while the second is in 1/4, and the next ones are in 4/4, 1/4, 5/4, 9/4, and so on. Sound-wise, the bass signal goes through the computer to get processed and thus gives off an abrasive electronic tone. Add on top of that the various electronic divagations, similar to those found on Act 5.1, and pounding drums, and you’ve got it. This section more resembles Lightning Bolt, or even Wozzeck’s Act IV in sound: it’s relentless and dirty. An interesting moment here is when the sequence reaches the number 0, a 0/4 time signature: there is no sound, only feedback from whatever microphone was left open.

The third part of this monstrous work is rather based on a short guitar riff reminiscent of what you’d hear from a black metal band. There are 40 patterns here, each played intuitively, as some sort of improvisation, where each member has to closely follow what the others play in order to provide adequate musical support. Here the riffs are played and silenced in alternate 30 seconds sequences. Between which the band gets to know what part to play next, but this makes for a very disjointed piece. Each part could’ve been played one minute, instead of thirty seconds, and it wouldn’t have been too long either. I get that it would be quite hard to communicate what part to do next in a live setting, but I believe it would’ve been better for the listener’s experience of the song. Definitely my least favourite track.

5.4 is allegedly the most tranquil and slow part, with a tempo of 30 bpm. It’s based on the C major scale, where each note is played consecutively, and each chord lasts five minutes, finally covering all the triads of the C major scale within 40 minutes. Improvisation is minimal. The song is mostly bass, organ, and drums, all playing a very minimal part. The interesting moments really are the note changes: from Ionian to Dorian, to Phrygian, to Lydian, to Mixolydian, to Aeolian, to Locrian, and back to Ionian. When you’re in a chord, you can only difficultly grasp its place in the chord, its resolve, but at the junction of two notes, you really see a movement forward. That’s a small moment of action separated by long moments passed in the same waters. It’s a somewhat interesting experiment, mostly for those of you who like ambient music.

The final instalment of Act 5, “Act 5.5”, is a composition where each 1-minute fragment is separated differently, from half-half to one-third/two-thirds, to 1/59, and many things in-between. Each sub-part is quiet, with only keyboards, while the second is some sort of wonky drums, with bass and weird electronic noises. This one is not nearly as exciting as it sounds on paper. I feel like 5 minutes of this was annoying enough, but 40 minutes is simply overkill. This idea, I feel, wasn’t thought out well enough, or simply was poorly executed. Along with 5.3, this one is a song that I would excise from the record without remorse.

Overall, it’s a really interesting experimental album, for those of you not afraid to sit for more than 3 hours of monotonous music. Three songs out of five were worth it, however, and a 20-minute version of 5.3, without the silences, might also prove a good listen. For the rest of you, I still believe you should check it out. 5 dollars for that much music is a steal!