Helga Fassonaki’s output as a member of Metal Rouge and as a soloist under the moniker Yek Koo (or yek koo, caps dropped, bold mine) has never been easy to pigeonhole because, in both instances, there has been an ongoing emphasis on exploration. Death is a static thing, which is ironic considering the minimalist tendencies on display on Desolation Peak, but more on that later.
There are important differences, and on Desolation Peak she explores personal territory (with Kerouac as a distant signifier) in a solitary way that can only be done as a soloist. As she pointed out in my interview with her last year, “Metal Rouge (my project with Andrew Scott) and Yek Koo have a similar approach to playing – always inviting free expression and spontaneity into every rhythm, non-rhythm, concept and structure. The present moment is volatile and affected by present emotion and energy. This provides space to be radical with little space between thought and action. Maybe the main difference is process. In Yek Koo, I do a lot of pre-composing and conceptualizing…”
And that seems to be the case here, where Ms. Fassonaki’s brand of a “dirty kind of free,” the bound unbound, is more prominent than ever, where Desolation Peak becomes a space of paradoxical phonic fracas with herself. It’s a journey to the center of her nadir, the place where, for Fassonaki, down for her is up. Her peak is a barren, often derelict and alien sounding landscape that, when one pictures it, is as different from Kerouac’s mountain paradise as can be imagined, yet is as particular as it is universal. We’ve all visited our version of it. The question is whether we have the guts to stick around for a while and record what we find, or perhaps most important, if it’s the territory we call home. In context of the entire Yek Koo yield, I’m inclined to think Fassonaki is as at home in the icy inferno of Desolation Peak as one can possibly be.
The sounds here wind their way back through strains of outsider minimalism (I’m A Pure Wave), no wave (Future Outlaw) and, as it’s noted at the Emerald Cocoon website, east African chants, highlighting the atavistic feel of these mysterious goings on, in turn benefiting the stripped down sensibilities so befitting of the wan candlelit loneliness ghosting around track by track in an anguish sometimes parallel with that of Jandek, one impossible to divorce from the context of this world driven mad by war and superficial individualism.
Track after track of relentless, pounding monolithic foundations pave purgatory’s road for the star of this LP, the gothpunk-like obliteration of orthodox vocals (existential incantations here vaguely sung and spoken), which, unfurling outward like brilliant silver ribbons into a toxic red atmosphere, espouse dark matters and unlikely optimism, eventually tie themselves beautifully back into the whole, the self, the alien song, the slender figure bleakly braving its desert panorama by wit of oblique strategies. Indeed, the wabi sabi aesthetic evinced throughout the work of Yek Koo remains in play, focused solitary notes driving themes of the beauty of transience and imperfection, with all of those ensuing paradoxes bittersweetly intact. Desolation Peak is yet another irresistible, if beguilingly hostile, locale on the map of Fassonaki’s courageously private universe. It’s an experience, a stop along the way to an inevitable destination about which we know precious little. And in so being, is another outstanding example of her brave willingness to eschew any comfort of form or formula in steadfast favor of discovery in a world in which the genuine is fucking anathema. I would be remiss if I neglected to say explicitly that, at the top of Desolation Peak, we have the opportunity to get to the bottom of the essence of possibility and potential, and the irony that accompanies all good minimalist work shines through.
Postscript: Helga Fassonaki – Intermedia Works
Peer through the wormhole into Ms. Fassonaki’s sound and visual work at Olm Hatch. In addition to performing in more traditional band formats, she also focuses on sound installations, interplanetary language exploration, experimental media and sound and film work.