John Watermann – CALCUTTA GAS CHAMBER

Die Stadt

Already reissued in CD by Cold Spring last year, Calcutta Gas Chamber is now released for the third time by Die Stadt on a splendid picture disc in 444 copies, a project John Watermann had started to work on shortly before his death in 2002. He had originally published the album after a 1990 visit to Calcutta which somehow traumatized him into conceiving a sonic experience that might describe the various phases of death by machines through the organization and deployment of field recordings (made not in Calcutta but in a deserted power station in Brisbane, Australia) into 57 minutes of harsh hiss, glacial clatter, distant vocal malaise, and looped noise. It’s like being locked in some kind of lightless, airless antechamber with no hope of being liberated any time soon, intuiting that something bad is happening to others in the same condition. Truth be told, it’s not a “pleasing” listen, and probably not meant to be; consider it instead an aural documentary about psychological oppression, and remember to situate it in the right temporal frame: the early 90s, when this kind of Industrial-connected music was all the rage. Nowadays Calcutta Gas Chamber makes sense more as a collector’s item than a groundbreaking opus. Not a record I’ll be revisiting often, though far from shallow.

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