Evan Caminiti’s Toxic City Music is a collection of heavily processed sound collages, contemplative drones primarily informed by the towering metropolis of New York City. But the record is also a personal expression of frustration and helplessness. Caminiti calls the album “a direct indictment of the world around me,” which can be interpreted both as a criticism of America’s teeming urban center but also at recent global shortcomings: climate change, political instability, the refugee crisis, economic uncertainty…just to name a few. Caminiti is one in the recent order of musicians who have become enamored with the sonic possibilities of modular synthesizers. He’s been exploring electronic timbres throughout his solo career, a departure from the sound of his post-rock/drone band Barn Owl, finding guitars to be somewhat limited. Created from field recordings of the city and diligent studio reworkings thereafter, Toxic City Music’s sounds become divorced from their origins, shells of their former selves, an amalgamated effect that points to the sense of alienation often found in the modern era.
Live, the album is a different beast, less a recreation of the studio sound and more a standalone piece that shares a similar mood. At Caminiti’s performance at Issue Project Room in Brooklyn, New York, the album takes physical form, a cloud enveloping the audience as its menace roams the space. The undulating ambient sounds spill into each other like ocean waves or morph like clouds on a bright day. Caminiti achieves this through a lengthy Eurorack modular synth improvisation, allowing the audience to focus on the pulses and drones of our metropolis as the living organism to which we’re attached. Studying the sounds, not just hearing them, enables us to become drenched in them.
Though the electronic tones are meant to estrange, they also create a wash that becomes highly meditative, only heightened by the visuals. Helmed by Paul Clipson, the images stand in stark contrast to Caminiti’s timbral electronic ambiences. Clipson mans a film projector that whirs quietly in the back, displaying double exposures throughout Caminiti’s set. The footage gleaned is not entirely urban imagery as the music may suggest. Various flashes of nature, such as water, light through trees and branches, and various reflections are also part of the visual syntax. The twitching movement of the shots, bursts of color, and the persistent double exposures generate a frenzied feeling, a visual representation of the city’s congestion and pace.
Toxic City Music is out now on Caminiti’s own Dust Editions imprint.