Abhilasha Chebolu and Ishmael Ali – “Many Calmly Ordered Rules of Death” [Lurker Bias, 2020]

Abhilasha Chebolu & Ishmael Ali
Many Calmly Ordered Rules of Death
Lurker Bias, 2020 (LB_142)


Noise as a genre has the power to unsettle and overwhelm, I think, effectively re-contextualizing the listener’s relationship to sound. At its best, the raw canvas of the sound field can paint a new representation of the world that stimulates the ear, and, through differentiation, can even provide a new and radical mode of listening to all the other everyday sounds around us. But too often, in my opinion, the potency of noise is undercut by an artist overindulging in the brutal, relentless side of the genre—and in the dense miasma of its harshness, it can lose its effect. The sounds can wander and get lost in an aimless over-saturation. As a listener, I sometimes find myself less affected by this kind of unrelenting noise, and it slips into the background self-defeatingly despite its confrontational approach; like a white noise machine covering tinnitus.

This is not the case with Abhilasha Chebolu and Ishmael Ali’s 2020 release “Many Calmly Ordered Rules of Death” on Lurker Bias. Here, silence is an operative quality. There is noise, to be sure— familiar and skilled uses of short delays, feedback, white noise, contact-mic scrabble, and electronic buzz—but there is a silence and space between irruptions that gives each iteration its own power and effect. Sources are panned lightly to either side of the stereo field, giving a space and identity to the interplay between the two, defining the territory of its engagement. 

There are no track names, weighing any context heavily onto the title of the release. And the title is apt: there is a calmness and discipline in the ordering of textures that makes the whole more than the sum of its parts. Over the 25 minutes, I sense a tension at play between the human intention of the authors and the inhuman abstraction of the musique concrète-like pure sounds. The quality of intention encourages me to listen into the silence between bursts, listening for the living hand of the artists as they make their decisions for action—and, when these actions occur, to listen into the pure sound in opposition, as primally inhuman, inacoustic, unliving, and absolute.

But importantly, as counterpoint to this abstract palette, the subtle sound of breath underpins the release, halfway between white noise and embodied voice; in a certain way, the release as a whole comes together through an inversion of its own title. As example, about halfway through the second side a brief but clarion voice is heard: “oh, that thing, oh, OK, um…” — a sudden, human clearing in the noise, a playful reification of life behind the ‘death’ that abstraction gestures toward. Deeply expressive. To my ear, there is nothing indulgent here. Many Calmly Ordered Rules of Death is an exceptional context for listening into abstraction through silence.

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