The world of American experimental music is often disconsolately sprawling. Parsing a path through its endless offshoots and diversions is an exhausting pursuit in the present and diving through history posthaste is a sisyphean task resigned to those with boundless time and resources. For younger audiences, this predicament has made a label like Alex Cobb’s Students of Decay an essential roadmap, sprawling in its scope and definition, but contained, directed and beautifully arranged.
Started in 2005, SoD has released essential works from artists like Anne Guthrie, Jeff Witscher (as Marble Sky), Jefre Cantu-Ledesma and Sarah Davachi, laying out an expansive musical language that rarely shies away from intellectual pretensions, but always approaches matters of the heart with equal gusto. SoD released excellent new albums from Blue Chemise, Caroline No and Guthrie in 2018, the latter of whom’s Brass Orchids is a brilliant horror show of dripping water and retro-futuristic cranking metal, but our focus today is on a new project from Cobb.
Soda Gong is a brand new entity “posit[ing] a sovereignty predicated upon egression, naivety, and fluid understandings of the sacred and the sublime.” The project follows the birth of Cobb’s son and a process of both quitting alcohol and diving into recovery literature and was inaugurated in early November with a new Cobb solo project titled Hui Terra and under the Etelin pseudonym. In an extensive interview with JASONC at Tiny Mix Tapes, Cobb described a frustration with “po-faced quasi-academic drone music” and a desire to embrace a freewheeling curatorial ethos outside of the confines of Student of Decay’s almost 15 year release catalog.
Starting the label with the tactile warmth of Hui Terra was both a brave and natural decision, an attempt at stripping away the artifice and self-awareness of so much experimental music, not to mention arthouse film, literature and institutional art as Cobb notes.The album was recorded in what Cobb refers to as “newborn haze”, a period marked by lack of sleep and a fracturing of connection to the outside world. It’s in this interstitial state that songs like “Hour Here Hour There” and “Little Rig”, the latter largely sampled from Cobb’s infant son’s voice, thrive in, flowing between liquid and solid state and effortlessly seeping into the listener’s subconscious.
Functionally, the record relies on digital synthesizers and a sampler, a step away from previous work based on guitar manipulations and a stab at the flexibility offered by new tools. As an extension of both his own work and the SoD catalog, Hui Terra doesn’t come off as a radical shift per se, but Cobb’s altered approach shines through and continues to shine through on his Astral Plane Mix, comprised of an hour of “forthcoming, unreleased, sympathetic, and influential music.” Extrapolating the earnest breadth of Hui Terra, the mix touches on ambient, drone, musique concete and techno, devoid of traditional narrative arc, yet full of pronounced individual movements and points of divergence. The mix is a tantalizing look into a fledgling label’s forthcoming work and a composition that easily stands on its own, marking a new chapter for Cobb. Download Soda Gong’s Astral Plane Mix here and grab a copy of Hui Terra here.