25 January 2008

Six Organs of Admittance

I owe my fascination with Ben Chasny's music to comrade Quisp Quake, who had a phenomenal radio show at Colby College's WMHB in Waterville, Maine. Several times during my episode in Bangor, I'd go down there with a box of CDs and co-host the show with him.

It was a great format, dubbed Dueling Freaks: We'd take half-hour shifts and devastate each other with recent musical discoveries. It was totally self-indulgent, but good fun. And a great way to ward off the Maine winter swirling outside the studio.

One of the tracks Quake played was something by Six Organs of Admittance called "It Was Written", from a split 7". It was decidedly lo-fi: just guitar, vocal, and hand percussion, but something was bubbling inside. It was spacious and folksy and trancelike. It was vastly psychedelic, yet minimal.

I was immediately hooked.

Fast-forward to 24jan08: Six Organs was scheduled to play at IOTA in Arlington. Immediately, snap into action! Start figuring out how to make the show while taking care of a young dog that needs to pee regularly, and a wife who is nursing a broken knee and is thus quite immobile... BAH! It must be done!

Opening the show was DC's own Kohoutek, who droned out a very strong, hairy wall of psychedelic trance-rock. It was hard to figure how much of it was improvised, and/or how much of a structure was worked out beforehand, but it came across like a fairly telepathic jam, with alternating passages of riff and loose noodling. The set sounded like the louder side of early Ash Ra Tempel, or The Spacious Mind, or maybe F/i... Not a bad thing, if you can pull it off. And they did.

This time, Six Organs of Admittance was an almost-duet, consisting of Ben Chasny and Elisa Ambrogio (of Magik Markers fame).

The first half of the set was Chasny solo, performing a selection of quieter numbers from the back catalog. It was truly awesome to hear favorites like "Spirits Abandoned" and "This Hand" (both from the excellent Dark Noontide lp); slow and haunting and full of color and wind.

Eventually, Chasny was joined by Elisa, who provided chanting vocal harmonies and some guitar support, and then they promptly exploded: I forget what the hell tune it was ("Dance Among the Waiting" maybe?), which grew from a low mantra to a swirling vortex of amplified crackling bees. Elisa stomped the bees out of her guitar, wailing a pungent stew of noise like a cyclone of dreaming devils, while Chasny churned his own blast of guitar heaviness. Both of them were weaving a very large braid of noise that filled Iota like a sunburst.

A click of a pedal, and we're back to the mellow side... It was magical shit, children.

I had to boogie as soon as it was over, and get back to Marian's broken leg and the dog's full bladder. So: no time to linger and schmooze. Hit the merch table, score some choice vinyl (the new 6 Organs lp, plus the out-of-print Basalt Fingers lp), and hustle through the frigid winter night...

It was a damned fine evening.


Dave said...


Stumbled upon your blog clicking a link from dcist, then, in hopes of discovering a new DC local blog, clicked around.

Six Organs!

Holy Shit!

It was a great goddamn show, thanks for your excellent review / pics. Any chance they'll end up in full hi-res glory on flickr?

Dave Roos

epota said...

Hey Buckaroo...

Excellent recap of the show. And cool pix. Of course, if it wasn't for your little CD teaser of 6 Organs a few years go, I might not have had a chance to fully realize what a wonderful artist Chasny is -- in both these recordings and with the Comets. Unbelievable touch with the guitar.

Thanks for the update.

Reya Mellicker said...

Thank you for this! Being old and out of it, I'd never heard of the band, but after reading your review, I got right on itunes and bought several songs. I even think I can use some of their music for massage, always a bonus for me. Thanks!

IntangibleArts said...

Dave: I dunno about full hi-res glory, but 1500 pixels wide or deep is the best some of them are (the b/w of chasny is a serious re-crop). See http://www.flickr.com/photos/intangible/

Epota: One nice revelation was seeing his live-loop technique; getting a fingerpicked riff looped on a pedal, playing more of a distorted roar over that, etc. Great stuff.

Reya: "Old and out of it??!" P'shaw! Six Organs may be new-ish, but it certainly ain't top-40. But I hear elements of older folk stuff (early Roy Harper, for instance) mixed in with the more moody psychedelia. Some of his stuff has a raga-like trance vibe that seems impossible to achieve solo, but the man has chops...and a vast brain.

snailhook said...

thanks for the review. glad you liked our set. and since you were wondering: the whole set was completely improvised. we vaguely discussed an idea beforehand and let it rip. it's all about the telepathy. ash ra, spacious mind, and f/i are all accurate comparisons.

six organs of admittance were fantastic, though i have to admit i have never seen ben chasny play a half-assed show. his first DC-area show was at my house (611 florida) in 2004 with jack rose, and that was one of the best nights of music i have ever been a part of. it's great that he's with elisa now, and the combination of their personalities is quite compelling.

scott verrastro/kohoutek

Ivan said...

Hey man, glad you made it out to the show, too bad i didn't get a chance to say hi. Great set from Six Organs, I also thought the part where he would get an acoustic loop going and then get feedback by swinging the guitar in front of his amp was really amazing. The first song that Elisa played with him btw was "Hum a Silent Prayer."

Take care,


IntangibleArts said...

SCOTT: Thanks for the comment, and yessir, that was fine sonic mojo. I've seen the great name Kohoutek around, but this was my first exposure. It's very good to have such music brewing locally.

Infact I think we spoke briefly at the last FreeFolk fest at 611 (I was hunting down Lida, who was supposed to play that night). I still need to get my own noise back in gear. I was active from '87 to 2001, then nothing. (see the myspace link for BlueSausageInfant).

IVAN: Man, I just barely made it down there & had to split as soon as that encore was done. Would've loved to hang out and meet the man behind the sounds. The live-looping process was fascinating; I did similar, with samples and other noises, back in the day. Seeing Chasny lit a great fire to get me active again. Just gotta find the time... But a great show.

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