Roadside Picnic is a noisier project from Justin Wiggan. It is also Arkady and Boris Strugatskyâ€™s 1972 sci-fi novel that inspired Tarkovsyâ€™s 1979 classic film â€śStalker.â€ť (The book is finally back in print!) Much like Tarkovskyâ€™s psychological/existential/spiritual masterpiece, this tape is a possible answer to a question beyond articulation. Also like â€śStalkerâ€ť this is a long work (two tapes packaged handsomely in signature Los Discos Enfantasmes die-cut); a work where much occurs under the surface and impressions strike more forcibly thanks to long stretches of inactivity.
Tape 1 side A opens with an extended blast of subtle tinnitus. Then a few textural scratches. Then zero. From the silence comes a half-industrial, half Gagaku movement haunted by predatory ghost animals. Wiggan moves from cyberpunk-Japanese-ritual-dance to cybernetic swamp, conveyed through wobbly sucking noises and bits of robotic sentience. Then the swamp drains and the tones become thinner, less saturated, rustier. ConcrĂ©te gestures evolve in greater complexity over the suggestion of drone, radiating like hidden coals.
The flip begins harsher, with strange industrial/animal hybridizations that project anguish. There is a sense of confinement in this long piece that conjures images of experiments behind cages. What follows are the thick walls of an echo chamber, a crucible for doomy sound events that gurgle in the dark before fading fully to nil. You expect to hear chains dragging. The side concludes like a rocket from the crypt; from dungeon up suddenly to moribund Sputnik, numbers stations, radio interference. The Russian sci-fi allusions now coming full blast.
On the A side of the second tape, gradual blips usher in a crystalline energy pattern. Itâ€™s a phosphorescent auditory lattice that magnetizes with its clarity while repelling you with its sharpness. After this- more space (both auditory and metaphoric) dotted with scattered points of light (filaments of sound). Then- crash! The vast field of space is compressed in a sudden sonic implosion as time, metal, and stone are made one with gravity. What follows is one of the rare melodic moments to be found on either tape as rubbery sounds carom of one another, finding a fun and elliptical groove.
As with the other sides, Tape 2 side B begins gradually, with stray frequencies and technological detritus echoing across lonely stretches of nothingness. The electro-acoustic minimalism slowly comes to life as sounds arise more rapidly and from more erratic angles. But soon weâ€™re in a Sun Ra-esque suite of raw percussion and atonal honking before the whole shebang drifts out on stretched and layered tones fanned across the sky in farewell.
This is a vast release to explore and one that doesnâ€™t offer up its secrets so easily. Like â€śStalkerâ€ť the room to roam makes the payoffs all the finer. Songs are scenes, atmospheres, suggestions. Zones perhaps. Wiggan plays with dichotomies of earth and space, emptiness and fullness. Perhaps consciousness and matter. Certainly sound and its opposite.