Lewis Carroll fans will recognize this title from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Watching a croc coax fish into his mouth with a warm smile, Alice recites a poem that begins “How doth the little crocodile; improve his shining tale …”
Carroll’s poem within a story was a parody of Isaac Watts’ “Against Idleness and Mischief.” The great Englishman published this children’s poem in 1715. Describing the industriousness of “the little busy Bee,” Watts warns that “Satan finds some Mischief still; For idle Hands to do.”
NoOne’s hour-long work slithers with the same dark, menacing movement we can imagine in Carroll’s famous scene. This is a powerful electronic work that slides back and forth between ominous sustained notes and moments of short, sharp tension.
It’s difficult not to imagine that giant smiling reptile slithering in and out of the water as the piece progresses.
Given the artist’s chosen name, it’s no surprise that he prefers to remain in the background. Midira Records’ promo sheet offers little detail: “An artist who is just focused on his music, giving no information about the person behind the moniker NoOne. … let’s say NoOne is just no one.”
Fair enough. We can report that the recording includes guitar sounds by Ashtoreth and field recordings from Vladimir Kryuchev.
Oftentimes, long works like this one are meant to push time limits. The introduction of CD technology in the 1980s allowed artists to record pieces that ran longer than a conventional LP side. That freedom meant an opportunity to experiment with repetition and slowly developing themes. The length of those works was part of the point. We were being challenged to stick with it.
How Doth the Little Crocodile Improve His Shining Tail belongs in a different category. There is a narrative here that progresses over the course of its 60 minutes. It may be murky and widely open to interpretation, but it is there. NoOne leaves the distinct impression that the piece runs an hour because that’s how long it takes to tell this story.
Its noisy, startling end confirms it.