In 1913, Luigi Russolo, one of the insane Italian Futurists, published his manifesto, The Art Of Noise. Writing at the dawn of the machine age, Russolo argues that traditional symphonic music is dead and needs to be replaced by “noise-sound,” an aesthetic revolving around the transformation of mechanical noises into art. He then makes a demand: “We must break at all cost from this restrictive circle of pure sounds and conquer the infinite variety of noise-sounds.”
If Luigi Russolo could’ve travelled forward 100 years to hear Author & Punisher, he would’ve creamed his trousers.
Reading The Art of Noise now, it feels like Russolo was writing to and about Tristan Shone, a mechanical engineer who, operating under the Author & Punisher moniker for the past ten years, builds his own machines to produce the most pulverizing industrial metal I’ve ever heard. Listening to Author & Punisher is like being stoned during a root canal: you can feel the mechanical noise grating away at your brain tissue.
The progression of Author & Punisher can be traced by the development of his machines. The Painted Army LP (2005) and Warcry EP (2007), both recorded while Shone was getting his MFA in sculpture, combine plodding electronic percussion and spectral layers of guitars and keys, like Nine Inch Nails channeling Godflesh. But then Shone built the first of his drone machines—a bizarre throttle system that produces bowel loosening sub-bass frequencies. The throttles push back as Shone tries to control them, giving concrete form to ideas about our push-pull relationship with technology. Soon afterward, he also built his sadistic percussion device, the linear actuator.
Armed with these new tools, Shone recorded the 70-minute aural punishment that is Drone Machines in 2010. The difference between this Author & Punisher album and his first two releases is like the difference between Sunn O))) and Black Sabbath. Drone Machines takes the ideas Author & Punisher began exploring with The Painted Army and Warcry to a cruel logical extreme.
After he wrote The Art of Noise, Luigi Russolo built his own noise machines in an attempt to realize his vision. He called his creations intonarumori, or ‘noisemakers.’ Each of Russolo’s 27 noisemakers was essentially a variation on the original—a wooden box and amplifying horn equipped with a wheel, which could be rotated with a large handle. The wheel then fucked with a string attached to a drum that worked as an acoustic resonator, producing drones that hum like a 727 engine, and anxiety-inducing grinding similar to the sound of a bike rim rolling across concrete. In a lot of ways, Russolo’s noisemakers can be seen as prototypes for Author & Punisher’s drone machines.
Russolo’s intonarumori might sound tame now, but they were abrasive enough during his time to incite violence. In 1914, his first noise performance devolved into a small-scale riot during which he and his Futurist pals fought people in bathroom stalls. Still, despite their capacity to antagonize listeners, the noisemakers could only produce a few of the sounds Russolo wanted to create, which he lists in The Art of Noise: “roars, bellows, shrill sounds, cracks, buzzings, percussive noises using metal, [and] human and animal voices: shouts, moans, screams.” But it’s easy to find examples of each noise in Author & Punisher’s music.
After Drone Machines came out, metal heads and art snobs alike were chomping at the bit to see Author & Punisher live. But the massive drone machines that spawned the album were a nightmare to move and set up night after night, so Shone designed and constructed lighter versions, called dub machines, upon which he wrote and recorded the entirety of 2012’s Ursus Americanus. Rather than seeing himself as someone who can fully control technology, Shone describes his writing process for Author & Punisher as a negotiation with his machines. If Ursus Americanus is any indication, the machines often threaten to take the upper hand and consume their creator.
And then there were the masks. Only six months after releasing Ursus, Shone fabricated his mute mask, the first in a series of devices that allow him to employ different methods of voice modulation. Now, he can scream and have it sound like a rapid-fire nail gun, or a dialup modem giving birth. The album that followed these inventions was Women & Children, a sadomasochistic orb of electric sparks and hazardous wiring. Imagine yourself getting suffocated by a curtain of aluminum foil—that’s what it feels like to listen to this album.
Recorded ten years after his first LP, Author & Punisher’s 2015 release, Melk En Honing, continues down the path of systematically alienating listeners. But, produced by Phil Anselmo of Pantera and Down and released on Housecore, it also takes Shone’s music in new directions. In addition to his army of machines, Author & Punisher uses guitar, banjo, and other traditional instruments on the album. Melk En Honing also illustrates Shone further realizing Russolo’s goal to make “human and animal voices” coalesce. Stream it in full below.
The album begins with “The Barge.” After enveloping you in a cocoon of scathing noise and sub-bass frequencies, Shone plays a sickeningly slow and repetitive kick/snare beat on his linear actuator, which emphasizes the bite of his nihilistic shouts. A toxic and bestial cloud of wordless moaning, similar to the vocal approach Neurosis uses on Enemy Of The Sun, swirls above this clamor.
While a union between Author & Punisher and the southern metal god Phil Anselmo might initially seem strange, Anselmo’s contribution to Shone’s sound is both brilliant and undeniable. Anselmo has been utilizing vocal layering since Cowboys From Hell, and you can hear how he’s influenced Shone’s vocal approach in “The Barge,” as well as throughout the rest of Melk En Honing.
There’s also several examples of eerie vocal harmonies on the album. “Cauterize” features a sallow chorus that sounds like one of Bjork’s hypnotic hooks travelling down a rusted conveyor belt. In “Shame,” Shone again experiments with vocal layering, but this time using his masks to make his voice sound like the fox’s in Antichrist.
In a lot of ways, the 7:21 dirge “Future Man” is the molten center of Melk En Honing. The track begins by smothering you in a static mass of electromagnetic negativity, which is chopped up by proletariat chanting—an entire factory of discontent sheet metal workers collected into one voice. An elephantine rhythm, so slow that it makes Earth sound like Motorhead, lumbers through this plasmatic haze, providing the foundation for Shone’s gristmill vocals. With a mourning rather than accusatory tone, he shouts lyrics that allude to how we’ve trapped ourselves in a shortsighted cycle of war, environmental degradation, and greed: “We’ve got no future plan / Locked up by needs of man.” While many people hope that technology will somehow save us from ourselves, Author & Punisher laments that any solutions will be “Too little, much too late / given how far we’ve fallen.”
This sentiment is the dividing line between Tristan Shone and Luigi Russolo. Whereas both composers exhibit staggering genius in their ability to transform the auditory pollution of industry into music, Russolo, along with the rest of the Italian Futurists, saw technology as a divine gift. Shone, on the other hand, sees technological progress as simultaneously promising and caustic, with emphasis on the latter. He knows that we now have a virtually endless world of ever-evolving tools with which to express and explore ourselves; but he thinks we’re more likely to use these apparatuses for ill. Thankfully though, this bleak worldview hasn’t stopped Author & Punisher from becoming one of the most prolific acts in aggressive music, and it doesn’t look like it will slow him down anytime soon.