Leather Tongue is the project of Buffalo-transplant Mike Mahoney whose release Negative Dialectics is a sludgy pair of tape drone tracks–titled simply “A” and “B”–that together top out at nearly twenty minutes. The notes to “A” indicate that the track was recorded for use in an installation by photographer Julia Fjelddalen, who is a student at the Korea National University of the Arts. Fjelddalen also provides the cover image for Negative Dialectics and her haunting, dreamlike photograph of trees is an appropriate visual accompaniment to the weird, dark places that Leather Tongue takes us.
Mahoney uses few sounds and textures that seem high-tech or musical, and the results are subtle but precise. “A” shifts slowly, humming with the groans of manipulated tape. There’s something distinctly organic about the way this recording feels, as if we’re listening to the sped-up sounds of the roots growing and spreading underneath the trees photographed by Fjelddalen. The track gradually opens up to much more mechanical drones and sounds, but the raw creaking persists underneath these somewhat smoother parts.
“B” is tinged with the sounds of water lapping against a far-away boat, as if the boat is floating in a distant memory. As with “A,” “B” looms and then recedes, only to return again to shadow us from afar. Where Negative Dialectics succeeds the most is in evoking a sense of a journey that moves outward but instead leads us inward.
The title of Negative Dialectics comes from a book of the same name by the Frankfurt School’s Theodor W. Adorno, whereby the author offered a critical analysis of multi-national neoliberal capitalism. Another fitting theoretical link for this release might be Donna Haraway’s “Cyborg Manifesto”; like the ideas explored by Haraway, Mahoney creates a sonic chimera of human, machine, animal, and vegetation. A merger of the spiritual and the technological, in sound as well as form, this recording evokes a mystic past without being shackled to its baggage. This is music that cyborgs make.
Review by Cayden Mak