The Australian band appeared on the internet screens around 2004, proposing a refreshing, antipodean twist on the increasingly tired format of underground free bio-folk occult improvisation cum tribal noise (no kidding!), or drone-folk (now kidding). What sets apart the impossibly named BOTOS from its English, American and Finnish predecessors is an uncanny ability to bathe overlapping frequencies in forms balancing with ease between realism and abstraction. Their drones, whenever used, are diverging and oscillating, rather than doctrinal and static.
BOTOS are a duo of Michael Donnelly and Kristina Donnelly. Churning out new material on a quarterly basis as if they were trying to live up to analysts’ earnings expectations, the siblings invite the willing listeners to their seemingly effortless collective ritualism and smooth, quasi-trantric interactionism.
Over the last decade, many followers of the drone-folk and improvised outsider psych scenes have noted the apparent (and if anything numerical) superiority of the free-flowing Kiwi productions over the Australian output. But the artistic success of BOTOS refutes the thesis that in order to meaningfully contribute to the development of this genre you have to trample the twigs of the forests of Kuopio, Kahurangi or Redwoods, sine qua non.
And then there was chaos. From the first bars, the combination of drum pummeling and droning is subjected to a singularly oval wah-wah treatment. Yet the reigning ambience never leaves the ozone layer of shakers, cymbals, wheeze, and a room-level (linear) reverb. Dry, tensile, firm drumming undergoes slow organization around the echoing reflectiveness, conjugated around mid-term cycles of demise and rebirth. This is followed by high-frequency amp feedback, but the development (if there is any) is obviously devoid of any sense of tempo or harmony. Instead, the duo masterfully optimizes a sense of spatial perspective. Sonic reflections and the varying speed of diffusion define the aural limits of the output. By contrast, the a-metric drumming and non-pitched percussive effects (mostly shakers) operate without any reflection. These effects crowd the space nearby, slowly reasserting themselves through increased familiarity. Meanwhile, the electro-echo sucks in the droning sources, displacing them into the background, irrespectively of the incessantly jerky percussive skitter. The track remains stuck between these two planes – busy upfront acoustic percussiveness and quasi-choral, alien, surreal echo.
Temple of the Sloth
The band reappears on a gamelan stage. This is akin to the sweeter (semar pegulingan) version of Balinese music, sparse, serene and intimate. But the Donnellys are not here to lull us to sleep. Simmering vocal, clanging guitar, space drums and wheezing engine cycles distract us from the soothing hypnotism of the declamatory bronze metallophones. The electric guitar catalyzes Kluster-like amp effects and deranged voices inject nonsensical phonemic material. As if hidden behind an iconostasis, haunted male baritone behind evokes a dark, stern figure of an Orthodox priest. The voice sources are deformed, reproduced on a tape running at twice the speed limit. The resulting whining is entirely contingent on the ‘gamelan’ mood, which by now sounds like a very domestic xylophone. It still has to compete for our active attention not only with voice tapes, but also with guitar condensations and a regular tenor drum beat. Surprisingly, the a priori simplistic speed manipulations of the voice track make this a highly rewarding aural experience. Another vocal track (1940s? in French?) is ground to a halt and choral stimuli are non-sequitur, very much in Stockhausen (“Hymnen”) style. The gamelan scale returns to prominence briefly at higher speed, and with the pelagic company of Hawaiian guitar.
The Flesh Shall Hang from Your Bones
The composition opens with another exercise in timbral contrast – the guitar reverb is being juxtaposed against instantly-dampened cymbals. Guitars scuttle, skittle, swaddle and sweep, always adorned with short-lived reverb. There are at least three overlapping, phased guitar tracks here, with some order meted out by the bass guitar. This is where the rhythm becomes more regularized, leaving just enough room for a guitar tremolo and an occasional bronze clang. The accumulation of echo guitar oscillations brings back the memories of Achim Reichel or Günter Schickert. Then guitars and drums begin to crash, sock and snap with abandon. The bass (or rather baritone) guitar loyally plucks on, underpinning the sparsely populated range, crowned with xylophone/triangles. When a cascade of gutter guitar à la Glenn Branca descends on us, it does so in a perfunctory, almost arbitrary manner, never generating the regularity of rhythmic cracking. Even that motif sinks within the percussive/echo guitar swelling of sonic anti-matter. Shortly before the end, the dispersed sources of string-plucking and drum-flaying do their best to revamp the marginalized echo device.
Run from Your Honey Mind
The 21-minute track opens with a droney whizz and a mallet-treated drum. Sizzling drone oozes in and out, burring in uncomfortable, brown frequency. Doubled in a drone chorus, it adopts a dubious quality of cosmic dust radiation, saved by alternatively glassy and metallic percussive effects and some electro-alloyed overtones. Three or four separate strata shift loosely like in a vintage recording of synthesizer rock. Slowly, a selection of drumming thuds builds up a periodic tapestry, initially distant and vague, but eventually decisive enough to frame the slow burning frizzle of various low-drone frequencies. When the hovering drones ebb away, the drumming echoes back. Metallic scraping shares this reverberating quality, but remains ambiguous, enigmatic and reluctantly multiplicative. Haunting organ-sounds and occasional tam-tam clank amortize somewhat the a-rhythmic pounding, while the ‘motor’ guzzle contests for aural space with an extrusive echo, tribal drum rolls and converter ricochets. The track gains on meditative quality as the drumming reverb and drone become completely detached from the non-realistic, echoing chorus. The echoing factor eventually recedes, yielding to uneasy sibilance and recognizable, because hand-operated tools: shakers, clappers and gourds. Electric guitar tremors define the final descent, concelebrated by self-reflective nylon string plucking and lukewarm gong overtones.
The discography below has been arranged according to the information included on the available CDs and CDRs, but the recording dates are sometimes dubious. The material described above stands out as a masterpiece and some of the more recent recordings raise the question of the artistic sustainability of such prolific output, but I reserve judgment on positions 10 -12, with which I am not (yet) familiar.
1. BOTOS: “Animal Speak” (2004)
2. BOTOS: “Goodbye” (2004-05)
3. BOTOS: “Lucifer’s Bride” (2005)
4. BOTOS: “Run from Your Honey Mind” (2005)
5. BOTOS: “Canisanubis” (2005)
6. BOTOS: “Odalisque at Secret Vortex” (2005)
7. BOTOS: “Suppress (Detached) Orchestra” LP (2004, 2006)
8. BOTOS: “Preying in Circles” (2004-06)
9. BOTOS: “States from Space” (2006)
10. BOTOS: “Mutact” MC (2006)
11. BOTOS: “Enter the Cult” 2CD (2006?)
12. BOTOS: “Temicxoch” (2007)
13. BOTOS: “Bill Burrowing Under the Moon’s Aerial High Above” (2007)
14. BOTOS: “The World Is at War” (2008)
BOTOS also appears on cross-cooperative CD “Chimes Against Reality” and a split CDR with Golden Oaks as well as several other compilations.