Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle Roadkill

By Raoul Hernandez

July 21, 1997: 

Sunday, July 20

As of several years ago, there were exactly 49 isolation tanks commercially available throughout the world. Best known for their star turn in Ken Russell's hallucinatory salute to Darwinism, Altered States, isolation tanks, according to one NASA psychologist, can cause hallucinations as well as out-of-body experiences because of their sensory deprivation aspects. At the very least, enclosing oneself in a rectangular, 8'x4' box filled with warm water can be unsettling. Welcome to the world of Hovercraft.

Touring in support of their Mute/Blast First full-length debut, Akathisia (a neurological disorder in which one can't stop twitching), this Seattle trio finds its own universe of sounds somewhere between the galaxies of Sonic Youth and Can -- an instrumental collage of noise that's at once disturbing and soothing. Beth Leibling, the bassist to whom Eddie Vedder sings "Beth" and who goes under the pseudonym of "Sadie 7," isn't even sure what to call the group's music.

"God, I don't know," she says. "One article referred to it as `ambient metal.' I kinda like that."

To make matters weirder, she and her bandmates, guitarist "Campbell 2000" (simply Ryan) and drummer "Karl 3-30" (Dave), play in the dark, silhouetted by a film backdrop. Their sets have no breaks, and the audience is never addressed. Talk about sensory deprivation.

"It's trying to tap into your unconscious and that's usually the highest peak of what we can achieve," she says. "We're getting to that state where you're not consciously thinking or even aware that you're in the room -- where it's just flowing."

Like dreaming, or some sort of meditation?

"Yeah, but it's more messed up than that. Not as relaxing. It's more like race-car driving sometimes. It's like going from being a Buddhist on a mountain to being in the Indy 500."

And this is good?

"I think if all of us could live in some kind of Alice in Wonderland thrift of all these sounds, we would. Hopefully, people, when they've seen it, come up and tell us that as soon as they look at the film, they forget for 40 minutes where they even were."

Altered States indeed. Pay no attention to three musicians behind the curtain of darkness.

"Exactly, that's pretty much what it is." -- Raoul Hernandez

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