Perhaps more than most other groups that lean toward art, Forcefield, a Providence, RI four-piece, puts an increasing amount of emphasis on their visual aesthetic. Having achieved a (somewhat) respectable reputation in the New York City art world, the group, or collective, as they are often credited, was featured in last year’s Whitney Biennial. The installation featured a darkened room full of the group’s bizarre characters: mannequins, with glowing eyes and adorned from head to toe in knit costumes, that looked like a cross between Native American warriors and innocuous outer-space creatures.
Electronic noises, including blips, static, effects, analog synths and chanting — purported to be the sound of these characters communicating with each other — offered audio accompaniment. The result was amusing, sometimes hilarious, if the point not immediately clear. Forcefield’s latest offering on Load (they have subsequently released Lord of the Rings Modulator on Bulb) claims to be the “soundtrack” to the Whitney show, and in that context it presents itself as a more compelling listen than it otherwise would be.
Roggaboggas, or The Third Annual Roggaboggas as it seems to alternately be known as, is more or less a collection of the same (I’m guessing) sounds that accompanied the installation. Laid out in album format, the 17 tracks present, or at least hint at, a logic that offers some semblance to the world of Roggabogga and its loveable inhabitants. The album begins with a minute-long sustained note, “Herald of the Roggaboggas,” followed immediately by a 21-second repetitive synth note accompanied by a bass drum beat and the instructions to “repeat for duration of journey to Roggabogga.” The third track, “3rd Annual Roggabogga Motion Picture Soundtrack,” sets the stage for the rest of the album and features mostly dirty, unpleasant sounds: static, fat Moog sounds and a noise throughout that sounds a lot like water.
Like the Whitney show, the immediate and most common reaction to the sounds on the album is confusion and disorientation, followed by amusement and finally acceptance. The problem with the album, of course, is it’s practically un-listenable. There is a critical discourse that says (something to the effect of) the setting in which music is listened is essential to its critical judgment — an element too often ignored in most discussions.
This idea becomes explicitly true in Forcefield’s work. At the Whitney show, hearing the audio components at work in the piece, it was one part of the overall multimedia installation. Here, with the only visual reference being the album’s CD booklet featuring some of the mannequins and creatures from the show, we barely get a glimpse of what went on in that darkened room. Seeing the group live has a similar effect to their installation. The members — Patootie Lobe, Meerk Puffy, Gorgon Radeo, and Le Geef — dance around in their costumes and the comic effect of this happily naive world is a wonder to watch. Unfortunately, it is not such a wonder to listen to.
Forcefield’s recorded efforts stand as their weakest of their multimedia projects, which have also included films and videos. Perhaps they should follow labelmates and close allies Lightning Bolt and release a DVD, as their visual presence coupled with their audio work would be a much more cohesive and compelling document of the collective’s work.