By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
"EEEeeeeeeuuuggghhhh!" Playing opposite to type, the local music writer is utterly sincere as she twists her face into a rictus of pure disgust. The effort--which pulls the corners of her mouth down and the cartilage around her nostrils up, and for a moment makes her face look like one of those severe Japanese Noh theater masks--has been elicited by Vas Deferens Four, one of a series of albums made by the Vas Deferens Organization, a local avant-garde/experimental musical aggregation.
VDO4, released in 1995, arrived as a cassette in a CD jewel box enclosed in a biohazard specimen bag. The CD box is smeared with a flesh-colored (if you're Caucasian) wax in which tangles of human hair are impressed, and is overlaid with a spotty red pigment. The tape inside has "FLESH" written on one side, "BLOOD" on the other, in what looks to be White-Out and in the same scrawl usually associated with notes that give directions to previously unmarked graves. Most disturbing of all is the fact that the pink stuff massed around the corners of plastic gives no sign of ever hardening and is still sticky to this day.
The music on the cassette is weirder still, seemingly the product of an outre Ibogaine- and LSD-fueled soundtrack to a movie in which actors dance and twirl about, following a script only they've read. Metal machine noises carom off of processed rhythm tracks and less definable sounds that might be what shortwave radios hear in their dreams. Gnomish babble comes and goes. Strange days indeed, but the music of the VDO--working in conjunction with Brad Laner, formerly of Medicine, and members of Mercury Rev (Grasshopper, Suzanne Thorpe, and Jayson Russo) on this year's Transcontinental Conspiracy--has just gotten some very big attention in the form of an absolutely ecstatic review in Alternative Press which called the VDO "geniuses," the disc "the heavenspawn of unfettered musical creativity," and correctly judged that the album's "results come not so much out of left field as from clear out of the ballpark."
The Vas Deferens Organization got its start in Dallas in 1992 when Matt Castille, Chris Moock, Forbidden Books' Jason Cohen and his wife Barbara Lambert, and Craig Carlton decided to embark on a 10-tape journey that would chart their interests and tastes. Although currently mostly a studio/engineering endeavor, the group has played live, appearing hooded, masked, made-up, and hurling hot dogs; they were also regulars at the Galaxy Club's Orgone Night.
"Every performance we've ever had has been completely over the top," Castille says. Around the time of the group's second tape--1994--Castille met Eric Lumbleau, and the pair bonded over a love of what for most is musical arcana: bands like the Silver Apples, Shub Niggurath, Mahogany Brain, and Steaming Coils. Together with Moock they form the VDO's main drive, uniting a rotating roster of other players with varying degrees of association like Mercury Rev, Japanese noise rockers the Ruins, and Laner.
Lumbleau is the rumpled philosopher, the kind of a guy who might not ever change out of his bathrobe if provided with enough stimulating media. "I don't listen to much that's 'straight' anything," he says, describing his musical ideas with hyphenated adjectives like "electronic-spaz-no-wave." Castille is a bit more direct, with Ohio Players and Howlin' Wolf albums in his collection. "I know it's a cliche to say 'I like everything,'" says Castille, who has twiddled knobs for acts as diverse as J. Bone Cro and Dragline. "But I do. I mean, I love Dwight Yoakam." Maybe so, but the suspicion persists that if the VDO were to make a Bakersfield album, it would be by recording the various tones and noises produced by the mammoth windmills that crowd that town's high ground. Throughout the VDO's history, the product has been sound freed from its moorings, decontextualized, and re-presented, sounding one minute like falling rain, the next like frying meat, and finally like the chitinous bustle of thousands of insects.
It's a creative impulse that spills over into their packaging as well: VDO3 came in a form-fitting "sock" of silver and black fabric; VDO4 was the waxy, hairy mess described above.
"In hindsight that was a mistake," Lumbleau says. "But at the time it seemed like a riot; everyone just took it wrong."
"The music was so goofoid and so unlike the packaging," Castille adds. "Electric Shock magazine gave it their 'most offensive cover' award, and they're hard to impress. I'm glad we did it, though. I still think it's funny."
With VDO5, the group abandoned the tape format for CD. "We just weren't getting any respect on tape," Castille says. "And our stuff needs distinctly hi-fi equipment to sound as good as it can." (In fact, due to sub-par manufacturing, VDO5 was pulled from circulation, to be reissued properly later.) The group no longer feels compelled to follow the 10-album idea out to the bitter end, releasing Miasmata this year with Moock and presenting it as a work by Christopher and the Vas Deferens Organization, an amalgam of sound that apparently fried brains over at The Met, which found it less than radio-friendly.