REVIEW: Author & Punisher @ Record Junkee
It’s one thing blasting out Author & Punisher on Spotify, or even firing up a live performance on YouTube, but actually seeing it in the flesh, well, let’s just say nothing can fully prepare you for the sheer onslaught of straining audio fibres the one-man metal sound scientist assaults you with.
Reader, it’s the loudest thing I’ve ever heard. Like, ever! The moment the opening drone rumbles through Record Junkee, I’m slightly regretting forgetting ear plugs. I’m not sad about it though. I was expecting big. I was expecting punishing, industrial chaos. It delivered… and then some.
But before we get into all that, in the clear light of the following day, with my hearing partially restored, it’s probably worth giving an explanation of what Author & Punisher actually is: A metal act at heart, San Diego’s Tristan Shone writes songs that groan with discordant rhythms and doomy reverb. He shrieks from his gut. He manipulates raw audio signals into distorted, sacrificial lambs, slaughtering them with each new, crushing layer. So far, so metal, right?
Right. But what’s endlessly intriguing here is the way he does it; At root, he uses the same processes and equipment as other electronic artists, but, utilising his professional and academic background in mechanical engineering (Shone has worked at the National Centre for Microscopy and Imaging Research at the University of San Diego since 2007), he designs and builds his own unique controllers, which he calls drone and dub machines.
These machines look and sound like dystopian torture devices. Take Rails, for example, a sliding, pistol-gripped controller programmed as a drum machine. It looks like a deranged butcher’s meat slicer and creates the sound of the world ending (and it probably is for any drummers out there telling you they’ve got a difficult job – the man is doing it all with one hand!). Shone grips Rails’ handle with his right hand and pumps it throughout the hour-long set, pummelling out beats using the triggers under his fingers – it’s relentless.
There’s a fair amount of geeking out over the instrumentation to be enjoyed. I mean, I can’t think of another show where, pre and post-performance, the audience lined up to take photographs of the instruments. Frustratingly, the technical mastery behind these creations is far beyond my comprehension, but what I can appreciate is the passion that stops all this frenzied ingenuity from being a mere gimmick. Shone’s contorted energy and brutal stagecraft is what brings these disparate electronic signals to life.
In his newer material, there’s even a bit of traditional melody and (almost) straightforward singing, and the addition of guitarist, HEALTH, for this tour further beefs up the wall of sound, and maybe even humanises it a bit.
Not that anyone is looking at the human guitarist. I’m sure he’s lovely (kudos on the fetching goatee ‘stache) and I’m sure he’s doing interesting things, but Shone’s struggling cyborg performance is a far more mesmeric proposition. At one point in the set, he wraps a trachea microphone around his neck and captures warbling, chesty vocals, probably best exemplifying his unique union of man and machine and his struggle to tame the technology he’s created.
His agony, his concentration, his sheer workload while on stage is an awe-inspiring feat of musical craft. I can’t think of anything else like it. I can’t think of another artist so completely in control of a sound that is so relentlessly straining at the leash. Nothing is in the same league. It’s not even in the same timeline!