Geocidal is a debut album by tētēma, a collaboration between Mike Patton and Australian pianist and composer Anthony Pateras. It was released on 9th December 2014. The album has been categorised in the rock genre, although none of the tracks has anything like a typical rock song structure, apart from perhaps ‘3-2-1 Civilisation’. The album has elements of jazz, electronic music, and heavy metal. It was released on Patton’s label, Ipecac Recordings.
The process of the album’s production began in 2012. Its recording took place over half the planet’s continents, in locations as various as a convent in rural France, Paris as well as a two-day stint in San Francisco. Pateras comments that:
The interesting thing about the record is that every element is recorded in a different country, and this gives the sound a displaced, almost vaporous intensity. I moved country twice during its genesis as well… the whole geocidal thing is about coming from no place, re-birthing, watching the place you are from be altered beyond recognition that you have nothing to do with it anymore.
When spoken to, Mike Patton said the following of Geocidal:
This is much more Anthony’s baby than mine. All I was trying to do was to fit into the fabric; not dominate, not change the arrangements or the structures too much, and just be a little bit of wallpaper.
Some of the concepts that inspire the work—namely, the destruction of a stable sense of place by modern technology, the erasure of individual specificity by globalisation—are derived from the book Pure War by the radical theorists Sylvère Lotringer and Paul Virilio, written in 1982. Both writers are associated with the independent press Semiotext(e). The title of the track Pure War here is, of course, taken from that book, published in 1984. On the CD’s shrink wrap, a sticker announces the album’s theme: ‘Mike Patton & Anthony Pateras investigate the murder of place to bring you tētēma….’
The album came about after Mike Patton added vocals at a one-time show with Pateras in 2011 for an earlier project called “PIVIXKI”. Patton arrived and was super-prepared for the show.
The album was recorded variously at Instants Chavirés in Montreuil, France, the University of California in San Diego, Electric Dreams in South Melbourne, Australia, Hardy Street, Fuldastraße Gartenhaus in Berlin, Worm in Rotterdam and Piethopraxis in Cologne. It was produced at Gold Tony Love’s Audio Hell and mixed at Les Ateliers Claus in Saint-Gilles, Belgium. It was mastered at Moose Mastering and designed at Implant Design. Geocidal was recorded with the help of the Australia Council for the Arts.
Invocation of the Swarm
Eerie percussion and didgeridoos give way to the sound of bells, a collection of electronic glitches, Patton’s screaming and, of course, the sound of a swarm on this apocalyptic opener.
A slab of metal thunder and Patton’s hard-consonant shouting feature on this heavier track. Crashing percussion, a feast of electronic tones and screaming sounds are followed by a sonic ambiance that feels like city lights at dusk.
A happy soundscape like a gamelan plays along before Patton’s tuneful vocals say ‘cannot find Irundi’ in this world music-inspired track.
The Hell of Now
An indeed hellish piece, this bassy and deep composition is joined by pleasant glockenspiel tones before Patton introduces his grunting, growling vocals. A reverberating gong closes this track.
Ten Years Tricked
An eerie, unnerving treble piano chord and a very deep, pulsing drone on the bass accompany Patton’s airy, ethereal high tenor vocals. A surreptitious trumpet enters with a single note and begins a very jazzy solo, surrounded by an apocalyptic future soundscape and shivering cymbals. Patton whispers in a sinister manner while trickling sounds like the inside of a sewer combine with an atmospheric piano to create an urban gothic ambiance.
The most traditional track on the album, ‘3-2-1 Civilisation’ begins at great speed, sounding not dissimilar to drum and bass. Patton’s gravelly vocals chant ‘you, us, them… them, us, you’ before a section of characteristic shouting. An intriguing interplay of digital glitches and electronic bleeps take this track to a close.
A rhythmic, metallic start kicks off this track before Patton chants his layered vocals in an unclear language. Soft, offbeat organ chords take us through choral vocals into Patton’s declaring in English ‘even when immobile, we are in motion’, emphasising the general argument and theme of the album—the murder of place by technology, the destruction of dwelling by a world of proliferating transnational linkages and constant traffic. The gentle play of contrabass recorder is interrupted by a sudden slab of howled sound.
This shorter, faster track deploys the best of the team’s electronics skills.
Kid Has Got the Bomb
This rhythmic track has much shouting and a smorgasbord of digital bleeps and bloops. It features sound effects of typing and strategically placed silences.
Emptiness of Ecstasy
A deep, reverberating, gritty drone starts this track before Patton’s layered vocals in a higher register create the effect of a ghost in the machine. Then a sudden silence occurs, giving the listener a breather and a sense of balance.
Death in Tangiers
The final track starts with a recording of children talking before the piano plays and Patton whistles. With warmth and depth, Patton sings in unison with a piano melody before dissonant strings play in a Gubaidulina-like section.
Ipecac’s own notes on the album describe it as featuring a ’12-piece all-star cast of incredible musicians’. Anthony Pateras was a composer, arranger, engineer, mixer, pianist, and producer on the album and played the synthesizer. Mike Patton was a composer, engineer, lyricist, vocal engineer and of course a vocalist on the album. He was also responsible for the vocal arrangement.
Judith Hamann played the cello. Natasha Anderson played bass and contrabass recorder. Jessica Aszadi sings soprano. Anthony Burr plays clarinet, bass clarinet, pedal steel guitar and worked as an engineer on the album. Lachlan Carrick provided mastering. Rhys Corr worked as a string engineer. Axel Därner played the trumpet. Samuel Dunscombe played clarinet and bass clarinet and worked as an engineer. Etienne Fayer provided drum and piano engineering. Will Guthrie was a composer and guest artist on the drums. Alexander Parsden played guitar. Matthias Schack-Arnott played glockenspiel, marimba, vibraphone and general percussion. Byron Scullin was a string engineer. Valerio Tricoli worked the tape recorders while Els Viaene deployed field recordings. Erkki Veltheim played viola and violin.
The CD comes with drawings from Sydney-based visual artist Nik Kamvissis. Kamvissis also designed the album fonts. Schehab Tariq designed the album’s layout.
Reviewer Danny Baraz at Janky Smooth warns readers that if they’re looking for an album of ‘sing-songs’, then Geocidal will disappoint. But for originality, the album is a winner, with its ‘pleasing and haunting sonic landscapes’.
Mark Deming at All Music gives the album a strong vote with four stars. Patton’s gregarious desire to collaborate with many other talented musicians has led him to create the tētēma vehicle and give birth to a ‘ferocious mixture of avant-garde experimentalism, world music accents, and heavy metal velocity’. He praises the apocalyptic ambiance throughout the album and its intelligent balancing act of both quieter sections and more abrasive, explosive parts. Though Geocidal is less heavy or absurdist than other Patton works, Deming regards it as having a deeper philosophical meaning, a dangerous vision that is highly compelling.