A sample of I/O\I’s artwork
I really dig experimental, cacophonous music that makes use of wall-of-sound techniques to overwhelm listeners with waves of dis
sonance. That’s why I/O\I (a.k.a. Stafford Davis) first appealed to me. But I discovered that there isn’t just sonic chaos to be found on his self-titled album. In fact, that’s a very small portion of the album. It also derives a lot of its appeal from softer, more ambient songs and other tracks that are strange derivations of more traditional musical styles. All in all, I/O\I is less of a musical endeavor than it is modern art exhibit of sound that is stored on CD, so it covers a fair amount of ground, sometimes literally on tracks such as “Dirt and Dark,” which is 25 seconds of footsteps crunching on a dirt path.
Let me get through the intensely weird and the most unusual material first since that’s what sticks out the most in my head and we don’t normally deal with this kind of stuff on Radio KRUD. The track that is playing as I write this paragraph is “Footprints from the Day Before.” You would have to do some serious arguing to convince me that this is music as opposed to poetry. I’m not trying to be uptight or condescending or anything like that. This track is more post-modern, performance poetry altered by electronic effects than it is a song in my opinion. Granted, there are similarities between poetry and music, but they are not the same thing. The track starts out with what sounds like the common noises you might hear from any suburban neighborhood, then a chorus of voices altered in post-production comes in reciting lines of poetic prose. It’s a mix of male and female voices, but they have been altered to the point where they sound like demonic Transformers chanting a prayer to summon their dark overlord who will bring pain and suffering to the peaceful suburban community we were introduced to in the first minute of the track. There’s something disquieting about it, but isn’t really scary. It just makes you stop, take a listen, and think.
There are other unusual tracks that aren’t quite as interesting as “Footprints from the Day Before.” The problem with them is that they have no substance. It just sounds like there were times during the creation of this album where I/O\I accidentally left his mic on and upon discovering that he had used up some tape on what I’m assuming are the sounds of a vacuum cleaner (“Cyclical Feedback Loop”) and an air conditioning unit (“Cardboard Dinner Night Owl”), he decided to include them on the album so as not to completely waste that tape. Of course that’s not the truth behind reason. It’s probably more of a John Cage scenario where I/O\I is attempting to capture the music inherent in the environment. Something else to compare it to would be DuChamp’s ready-made art. The focus of this kind of art is less on the product, which is never very interesting, but more on the concept. It was revolutionary for DuChamp to claim that a toilet was art or for Cage to say that four minutes and 33 seconds of audience reaction to a piano player’s inaction was also art, but I/O\I is providing us with something that has been done to death. Though I suppose it does help to have someone still throwing wrenches in the system and making people take notice when something is out of whack.
On the other hand, there are other tracks where I/O\I uses environmental noise quite differently and incorporates it into a song as opposed to using it as a standalone piece. “Grocery Store Checkout = Cultural Toxic Waste Dump” springs instantly to mind, a song that makes three dramatic shifts in tone. First, it starts off with a semi-mellow world music/jazz kind of sound altered by I/O\I’s own particular brand of sonic chaos. Then it shifts into a deep, grinding industrial beat mixed with electronic scratches. Finally, the sound of what I’m assuming is a grocery store checkout line is worked in and then is left to play on its own. The message behind this track should be pretty obvious from the title, but the key thing about “Grocery Store Checkout = Cultural Toxic Waste Dump” is that the background noise is included as basically another instrument in the song and is not just the song itself. That sound sample has a unique beat of its own, the rhythm of which may have been added in later by I/O\I or it could just be something from the moment of the recording, but either way it is successfully woven into the rest of the track and creates a flow of thought while still maintaining a fair amount of musical chaos caused by the sheer diversity of sound.
There are also a number of tracks that are simply short instrumental snippets, which seem to be brief dabblings into different styles of music as opposed to full-fledged songs. They are very brief and simple, but there is something intriguing in their lack of complexity. It’s as if I/O\I extracted one element from a longer song with more layers to it and just isolated this one part to draw more attention to it. “Green,” for example, sounds like the lute part of a Medieval dance song, as strange a concept as that sounds in the context of the rest of the album. Then there’s “Sykels,” which sounds like a basic guitar riff separated from the rest of it’s instrumental brethren in a rock song. It’s a strange form of sonic experimentation that allows you to appreciate the more basic building blocks of larger song structures. Though perhaps I’ve drawn some overly complicated interpretation from these tracks that wasn’t even there, which is often the case with modern art.
I could say plenty more about I/O\I, but my fingers and eyes are starting to wear out. I guess that’s part of, if not the entire, point of experimental music: it gets people to think and talk a lot. It creates a stir. I guess in closing I will be honest and say that I will probably not listen to this album very often because it’s so weird that it will start to get very tiresome after too much exposure. I can only take so much modernism before it just starts to drive me nuts. But if you’re a real artsy type and/or you want to really challenge your mind on a creative level, which is always a good character building exercise, then I/O\I will be worth your time. Although, I wouldn’t recommend playing this at any parties, unless it’s a super trendy one where everyone is wearing skin-tight, black outfits and berets.
Purchase I/O\I’s self-titled album
I/O\I – Exit 286
I/O\I – Green
I/O\I – Footprints from the Day Before
I/O\I – Grocery Store Checkout = Cultural Toxic Waste Dump
For more information on I/O\I, visit his MySpace page.