Nurse With Wound - The Surveillance Lounge / The Memory Surface [United Dirter, 2009]


Go ahead, overwhelm yourself. True, you could just pick up the new Nurse With Wound album, The Surveillance Lounge, and bask in its complex web of wyrd. Or you could dive deep into the temporal abyss of The Memory Surface, a three CD set available only through mail-order, featuring the aforementioned album plus “studio outtakes, historical documents, the sequential evolution of an album and a primitive version of 'The Surveillance Lounge'.” This is your best bet and worth every extra penny.

Let’s begin with the brilliantly named The Surveillance Lounge, which has been heralded by some, those who didn’t quite grasp the ingenuity of Huffin’ Rag Blues, as a return to form for Steven Stapleton. But there is a marked progression here. Stapleton may be sharpening old tools but he is using them to create new and surprising soundscapes that seem convincingly ancient and forbidden. There is an unsettling mood that builds, bristling with what sounds like old EVP ghost-recordings, with layers of atmospherics accumulating eerily until they discharge in bursts of cacophony.

In considering the liner notes to the bonus discs, we’re told,” In 2007 Steven Stapleton and Andrew Liles were invited by the Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau Foundation via In Famous to perform a live soundtrack at La cité de la Musique, Paris, to the 1922 Murnau film 'Der Brennende Acker.'” This soundtrack comprises Akts One through Six, followed by early, drastically different mixes of material from The Surveillance Lounge.

Many of the recordings are artificially aged to sublime effect. The crackle of ostensible surface noise takes us backward in time, where subtly shifting layers of sound induce fits of nostalgic unease. There are hints of dreadful ritual, set in a landscape of ghostly decadence, recorded on some ancient medium. Strains of delicate beauty come and go; glimpses of distant, murky places, insistent spirits of lost eras. Atmospherically, this project is akin to the short fiction of Thomas Ligotti or the suggestive creepiness of Robert Wise’s The Haunting. It quietly invades the theater of the mind, triggering strange associations and feelings: the pain of memory and its mercurial nature, the fine line between consciousness and dream. In doing so, it invites collaboration with the listener rather than passive absorption. What you hear may not be as jarring as the part of you that responds.

To maximize your appreciation of this experience, slap on your best headphones and sit in a quiet, darkened room. No words can prepare you for the sonic phantasmagoria and the singular mood it conjures. Repeated listening may induce an experience analogous to rapture of the deep. Even in a career marked by consistently brilliant experimentation on a radical level, The Memory Surface stands out as a masterpiece. This is adventurous listening at its finest. Absolutely essential.

Steve Aydt

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Nurse With Wound - The Surveillance Lounge / The Memory Surface