The Strangled Road of Six Organs

By: Dennis Cook

Ben Chasny by Andrew Kendall
Not everything can be explained. There's an engendered drive in modern man to peel away at everything until they arrive at the central kernel, the genetic skeleton key that unlocks the lot. But, despite all our genealogies and protein sequences, there are things that refuse explication. Six Organs of Admittance is one of them.

The primary outlet for Ben Chasny, who also plays guitar in Comets On Fire, Six Organs contains elements of psychedelic and folk music, delicate acoustic guitars slicing space from unruly electrics. Elegant and even a little alien, Six Organs is never what you expect. Track-to-track, it is its own thing, and, at times, evasive and cantankerous enough to make you wonder if it's even what Chasny wants sometimes. Despite often being a solo affair, though less so in recent years, there's the feeling of something larger being channeled through Six Organs of Admittance. If his voice is often a whisper it may be a sense of subconscious reverence surfacing. Six Organs has been pegged as indie rock, freak folk and experimental music but none of these really nails it.

"It's funny when you release a record and everyone thinks it's heading towards something or indicates a new direction you're headed in," says Chasny. "When I do a record it has nothing to do with what's coming next. I think it's a total myth about artists. With some musicians it's linear and you can listen to how they've matured, but it doesn't have to be that way. I've never seen this work in a linear trajectory."

Ambrogio & Chasny - Six Organs of Admittance
Shelter From The Ash (released November 20, 2007 on Drag City) is the ninth Six Organs full-length. Despite a somewhat cheerless title there's an abundance of light in its quietly coaxed spaces where Chasny's always intriguing guitar is backed by co-producer Tim Green (Nation of Ulysses, Fucking Champs), Matt Sweeney (Guided By Voices, Zwan) and Noel Harmonson (Comets On Fire) on drums. Elisa Ambrogio of the Magik Markers also lends a hand on backing vocals and a few guitar bits including a nasty outburst on "Coming To Get You." On the surface, Ash is more forthright than Chasny's more difficult early work but it also shows what ten years have done to this project's evolution. This is his third release on well-loved indie label Drag City, who've put his hard-to-categorize sonic haze in front of a growing audience.

"When I was around twenty to twenty-three years old, I basically listened to either folk guitar music or noise. That's it. The one fault with Six Organs is it sometimes ends up with both of those things being more tempered than I feel the actual experience of those things should be," offers the intensely self-critical Chasny. "Noise should be noisy, and the folk should be really folky. Sometimes I'm afraid that when you blend those two things together you get a new agey kind of thing. Sometimes I listen back to records and go, 'Fuck, this is really easy to listen to!' I don't want to take the noise out so it's too easy for cats to swallow but I'm kind of afraid I do that sometimes."

Ben Chasny - Six Organs :: From
The intersection of these two broad musical concepts – the delicacy and immediacy of acoustic music and the shattering, chaotic tumult of consciously crafted noise – is a really fertile place to cultivate sound. The active tension between the two approaches is what potentially elevates or dilutes both.

"Even if I combine the two I'd like them both to be really strong elements without it being a dichotomous listening experience. Have them blend into each other but where both are really strong rather than both of them being a little weak. You want both at the same time, and you don't want them to flit back and forth. That's obnoxious," says Chasny.

Shelter From The Ash thrives in those hours when the world's chatter dies down a bit - early mornings, late nights, loud on speakers so it can envelop the entire room. "I can see that," responds Chasny. "It's weird to talk about a record after it's done because usually I'm already thinking about the next thing. Sometimes I think, 'When would I listen to [Shelter]?' Now, I think, 'Never.' I mean objectively, why would anyone listen to this? It's always kind of confusing to me."

When I tell Chasny that I don't think he makes records with the end user in mind he bursts into laughter. It's not a dig but there's a level of stoic independence to his work that backhands traditional commercial intent. He's said in the past that the Six Organs name comes from the Buddhist concept of the five senses plus the soul. This idea creates a lot of area for the world, both seen and unseen, to enter in, and his pieces reflect that openness. However, Chasny shakes off such lofty observations.

Continue reading for more on Six Organs...

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