Illusion of Safety is the long-running project of experimental musician Dan Burke. This album, originally released on Staalplaat in 1992, was one of Burke’s last collaborations with a young Jim O’Rourke (who was still in college, actually). I am a big fan of both O’Rourke and veteran post-industrialist provocateurs in general, so I was expecting to love (or at least like this album) before I heard it. Sadly, after a few listens, the highest praise I can muster is “it’s kind of interesting.” At the time of its release, it was probably way ahead of the curve, but it does not hold up very well in the cold light of the two decades of noise/experimental music evolution that continued in its wake.
The main problem is that the album’s conceptual underpinnings seem to have taken precedence over listenability. Purportedly, the album “examines an audio landscape found between youth and innocence, manufactured entertainment, and suburban complacency.” Also, while I am too unfamiliar with IOS’s complete oeuvre to verify it, this album was apparently the beginning of a new, more restrained direction. What all that translates into is roughly an hour of long stretches of near-silence intermittently torn apart by brief snatches of collaged field recordings. Those interludes can sometimes be amusing (southern rock playing in a crowded bar) or wistful (children at an amusement park, the “It’s A Small World After All” ride music, barking dogs, etc.). However, they can also be quite annoying or seemingly pointless, like a multitracked traffic jam, a chorus of busy signals, or what sounds like someone handling a styrofoam cup with a contact mic inside. The more poignant, human samples are generally in the minority.
“Probe” is essentially lots of waiting around for occasional disconnected things to happen with no real satisfying pay-off or feeling of progression. Burke certainly shows that he knows how to throw together an unholy cacophony at times though, which makes me want to check out some of his other work that is not in this vein. He also seems to do ominous ambiance quite well, but combining the two sides of his artistry with stretches of nothingness maybe was not the best idea. On a purely cerebral level, I can appreciate this as an experiment in negative space and impishly subverted expectations, but on a musical level, this probably is not something that I would want to hear again. 4/10 -- Anthony D'Amico (26 May, 2010)