Underexposed Albums #3: Bob Ostertag – Sooner Or Later (1991)


Last.fm listeners as of 25th May 2015: 459

Part One (29:12)
Part Two (14:25)

The journey this record takes you on is repulsive yet alluring. What starts off proceedings is a sample of a Salvadorean boy burying his father, a casualty of civil conflict, through floods of tears. That sample is then cut-up and rearranged beyond all recognition. In the beginning it imitates a string quartet, with the boy’s strangulated yelps, sobs and sniffs wavering in the air like vibrations from a taut violin string. It then gets funkier and darker – the boy’s tears and yelps bounce around the stereo mix in varieties of irrepressible rhythm, only being a rhythm track short of a fully-fledged dance tune. Knowing the heart-wrenching origin of the sample gives you a guilt that is at odds with the movement that your body wants to perform. By side two (this time in accompaniment with a sample of Fred Frith playing guitar) it has dissolved into an ambient soundscape

Sooner Or Later is far from a pleasant listen. But there is a coalescence with Wilfred Owen’s project to write about the poetry that may be found in the pity of war. Ostertag says  “if there is a beauty, we must find it in what is really there… the boy, the shovel, the fly… if we look closely, despite the unbearable sadness, we will discover it.” – therein lies the moral, and it is only increasing in aptness as time goes on. Sonic pollution, both of the background variety and the kind we use to deliberately cocoon ourselves from the world, can make us deaf to the emotive nuances of single noises before they blur into fridge buzz. Ostertag has described how his composition was engineered by taking 6 second snippets and focusing on the most powerful sound within that clip, such as a sniffle, or strike of the spade on the soil. The transitions to dance in part 1 and ambient in side 2 are a wry demonstration of how much more palatable sounds, and therefore events, can be made with an editor’s hand.

Sooner Or Later was released in 1991, the same year as the Amiriyah Massacre, the most egregious example of using precision technology to maximise death. The boy at the centre of Sooner or Later, though he is thousands of miles away, is annihilated by technology, ripped into sonic shrapnel as a symbol of his grief being overwhelmed by an anonymous conflict.