Should you take this life seriously enough to listen to it, I would suggest you head to local electro-organic thinkers I Am Spoonbender’s Web site right now, before you read this story, and download the trailer for their latest self-released album, Buy Hidden Persuaders (IAS, 2006), another three-sided disc (their gorgeous Teletwin 12-inch had concurrent grooves on one side, allowing for a randomly asserted listening experience) from the wizards of esoteric musical realism. Sure, the aesthetically thorough trailer’s bricolage of images and texts deals with everything from hypnosis to Illuminati-style dollar-bill machinations and just happens to act as a manifesto, art show, music preview, and persuasive cinematic display all at once.
But don’t fret. Dutifully check the "I Agree" button when the site lets you know that "IASBHP [I Am Spoonbender’s Buy Hidden Persuaders] is a subliminal advertisement for itself … produced by control, and is an album of ‘engineered outcomes.’ " Grin and download, watch and get ready to strangely rock, because you will surely make use of the free album download in WAV format and proceed to share these pulsing soundscapes with everyone you encounter, whether you intend to or not. William S. Burroughs’s notion that language is a virus was tied to his ideas about time as a sort of viral petri dish, and that makes sense here, in reverse. Persuaders is a soundtrack to its own propagation.
"I firmly believe that after spending three and a half years working on this album, there’s no way to hear it all in less than that time," Dustin Donaldson said recently on the phone from his San Francisco home. The mastermind behind IAS’s infectious, rhythmic stylings knows sound inside and out. "It’s designed to be encountered repeatedly and to reveal itself over time," he continued. "The longer you listen to it, the more you’re going to hear recurring musical themes, say, in different registers on different sounds, lyrical themes reflecting on themselves."
The entire Persuaders project – which includes the album, their first performance in three years, the succulent Web site, the Shown Actual Size EP (Gold Standard Laboratories), the book that will soon accompany the new album, and even the band’s dreams as they go to bed at dawn in San Francisco after nights of channeling and creating – is aimed at balancing out and exposing as a fraud the harm done by advertising and the like to our very beings. If we envision corruption and mind control as diseases, then Persuaders is an equally potent and uniquely celebratory vaccine – a careful dosage bordering the illuminating and the lethal. It’s celebratory because it co-opts subliminal and similar techniques in order to start a conversation, rather than to sell or speak about any one thing in particular. It’s potent because it refuses to double back on itself without adding more meaning. The three sides, or collages – "You Have Been Suggested," "Penetrate to Deeper Levels," and "Slowly Replaced in Mirrors" – seldom ring the same bells twice. And yes, there are hidden messages: don’t be afraid to slow things down, speed them up, listen from afar …
The thing is, you’ve already heard Persuaders, sizzling through your mind just before or after media stimulation. When Cup, the other core half of IAS, sings, "We all need mirrors to know / Who we are now," over surprisingly guttural organ sounds, her expressive vocals and multi-instrumental prowess, here as throughout, lend a sense of flight to Donaldson’s Middle Earthy rhythms and organic mechanics. Imagine Laurie Anderson playing tag with Robert Ashley.
The material for Persuaders came from everywhere and nowhere. After years watching "thousands of films" but no television, Donaldson was shocked when a friend moved in and they got cable. "I just was absolutely unprepared for … the aggression in marketing tactics," he said. "Drug company television ads became a big source of, well, I guess it’s inspiration in some sense, something to create a mirror-state protest record around. We attempt, through this record, to send the same amount of energy back toward these sources. For every action there’s a reaction, and at some level there’s a neutralization, hopefully – in audio terms, phase cancellation.
"For me, specifically, there was about a year of experiments in sensory deprivation," Donaldson continued. "Sleep deprivation … also, going into the studio often late at night and turning off all the lights and turning on huge, 750-watt strobes … setting them at different tempos and playing drums to that and just getting out – open to receive." There was even a resulting side project, yet to be released, where nothing could be recorded until the entire group had been up for 30 hours. Of course, the results were carefully edited for clarity.
Excited, you should now flock to the Mezzanine prepared to buy whatever IAS chooses to sell. If you print your own money, make sure the paper sparkles, and don’t forget to record the sounds the bills make when they leap, calmly, into flames. *
I AM SPOONBENDER
With Steven Stapleton, Ariel Pink, and Phase Chancellor
May 11, 9 p.m., $15 advance
444 Jessie, SF