Rob Mazurek is a multifaceted artist who explores not only music but also painting and multimedia. His work reflects ideas posited by John Cage about the continuum from music to noise, but Mazurek is allied with the "underground," and Mandarin Movie might be called prog-industrial or prog-techno music, sort of analagous to prog-rock or grunge-rock. Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, but much of the record is engulfed in layers of extreme distortion, and it felt to me like an assault much of the time.
The record starts off with the difficult "Orange that lays down the ground rules: very heavy rock-type drumming, many layers of sound that are processed and distorted in some way, little melody, motives rising above the grunge and then sinking back again. This is the assault and you might just take the record off after a few minutes. But, even with gritted teeth, if you have patience and get to "The Green Giraffe, you meet with some floating chords and bass theme against lower key drumming. However, this again shifts to extremely distorted power punk guitar and drums.
If you continue to investigate the record, the two parts of "Black Goat present themselves in all their electronic glory, driven by manic drumming with lots of cymbals and repetition. "The Ghost Ship is Sinking breaks the pattern, as if Mazurek feels that his audience might need a respite in the middle of the record. It is actually pretty, with trombone-led long chords supported by "ghostly electronic sounds, echoed four tracks later by "Ghost Ships Don't Sink in its use of processed guitar chord arpeggios.
The next three tracks bring in various mixes of electronic grunge, heavy drums and many other sounds. The record ends with the longest track (13:26), "The Highest Building in the World. The impulse for it came from a dream Mazurek had in which he found himself "atop the highest building in the world where 'It was all light beams and flying discs and dense beautiful sounding explosions which put a good feeling in the back of your head.' This is pure soundscape, with so many layers and so much distortion that it is hard to hear anything specific, so you just have to flow with it, or take it off.
I don't really know much about the electronics involved, but while there probably is much skill needed to put all of this together, it does not sound like it. Music that is more sound than ordered pitches within a rhythm is not a problem for me. With Mandarin Movie however, the "aural assault becomes too much at times, with little reprieve. You may wonder, "is this jazz?" But the more important question, perhaps, is whether the intent of the composer and players is communicatedor indeed, what that intent might be, and this is clearly an issue for each listener to decide.
Track Listing: Orange (5:57), The Green Giraffe (4:57), Black Goat (Part One) (2:46), Black Goat (Part Two) (2:01), The Ghost Ship is Sinking (2:19), Peking Duck with Steam Dumpling (2:58), A Very Modern Camera (Part One) (2:58) A Very Modern Camera (Part One) (1:14), Ghost Ships Don't Sink (2:27) The Highest Building in the World (13:26)
Personnel: Alan Licht - guitar, Matthew Lux - bass guitar, electronics, Steve Swell - trombone, Jason Ajemian - double bass, electronics, Frank Rosaly - drums, Rob Mazurek - computer, electric eels, moog, pianette, cornet with John Herndon - drums, programming (track 2), Rick Rizzo - guitar (track 2), Mikael Jorgensen - computer (track 1), Jim Becker - fiddle, banjo (track 5)