Tuesday 20th OctoberOctober 20, 2009
A Trebuchet was a large catapault used in the middle ages to hurl things over the walls of under siege cities. It was also the name of a ducking chair used at a similar time to humiliate or kill anyone that did not fit in with society for one reason or another. Â It was also apparently the name of a Duchamp ready made sculpture he created by nailing a hatstand to the floor of his apartment, and is a chess position that leaves whoever is next to play the loser of the game. It is also the name of the new album by Haptic on the Entr’acte label. Fortunately it is the last of these that I had to get out of bed this morning and engage with.
I’ve written quite a bit about the music of Haptic of late, mainly because there has been a flurry of strong releases from the trio, or the Dropp Ensemble group that they are part of. This new album is the most recent release, containing two tracks assembled in July 2009, but also a third that was recorded eighteen months earlier. I have probably only heard about half of Haptic’s released music, but this is probably my favourite example yet. Haptic are, by the way the trio of Adam Sonderberg, Joseph Clayton Mills and Steven Hess. Exactly what instrumentation the trio play to create the sounds they make is never completely clear, but it isn’t that important. All of the tracks here have either been later mixed or assembled by Sonderberg, sometimes alongside Clayton Mills, so what we hear is a mixture of live improvisation and later editing and layering to create the final work.
The first track on Trebuchet, named Counterpoise is only just over three minutes in length, and acts as a kind of front page for the album. It is quite different to the other two pieces, consisting of warm, relatively high pitched tones, not unlike the sound of metal vibrated gently and lapping slowly over each other while electronic pulses brood underneath and a grainy layer of itchy, scratchy scrapes and tapping sits on top. This short piece is full of bright glowing colour and no small degree of elegant beauty, and its simplicity works well as a counterpoint ot the dense, grittier material that is to follow.
Haptic’s other recent album, called The Medium contained two tracks named One and Two, so Trebuchet’s final two pieces are named Three and Four, so revealing the continuity through from that album into this. Three is gorgeous. It opens with a roaring, detailed rush of sound that might be a field recording of a busy road, or an airport, or something… but is soon bathed in hisses, lulling moans, piercing tones and a repeatedly chiming bell sound which doesn’t stay still four one second and gradually melds into a layered continuous drone for a few moments with the chime still ticking underneath for a while. “drone” might be a difficult word to use though as never does the music hold its form completely, and constantly shifts and evolves through different sections, always offsetting a kind of crunchy bed of sounds against a layer of ringing tones, sometimes light and airy, sometimes deep and cloying. After nine of the track’s seventeen minutes everything strips back to some kind of unidentifiable field recording, vaguely industrial in its feel, but quiet and distan tin nature. This lasts a while before a peculiar thud is followed by what I think is a deeply resonant piano note and a rush of heavy swarms of oscillating tones which form the basis for the last five minutes of the piece, always changing, sometimes with other sounds added, dying into what could be another field recording to end the piece.
Four is the track recorded earlier than the others, this time with Dropp Ensemble colleague Salvatore Dellaria added to the ranks. At twenty one minutes it is the longest track here. It opens with what sounds like a heartbeat, or a musical approximation of one murmuring away quietly. Very slowly through continual accumulation of material over the next ten minutes the track builds into a heaving mass of grainy detritus, few tones, little colour, just overlaid recordings that suggest different shades of grey peppered with dusty fragments and static. ironically, given recent discussion in these pages about Taku Unami’s Malignitat reocrdings I swear Ihear a helicopter buried deep in there as well. The beauty of the music though is wrapped up in this layering of multitudes of interesting sounds that all merge together into one sensual detailed mass so that the individual elements or instruments can’t quite be made out, but it all sounds great together. Four contains long passages of driving electronic fuzz, verging on white noise through its second half, but again always full of detail. then, as the noise subsides into a stream of thin whispery elements a field recording emerges from beneath the music. It is (ironically, given a recent comment I made about musique concrete’s reliance on particular sounds recently!) the sound of children at play. The field recording quickly engulfs the other sounds, and then sits alone at the end of the track for just a few seconds before cutting dead to end the album. The interesting thing about this moment for me is that, while field recordings have been used throughout much of the album this is the only one that can easily be identified as definitely a field recording and a recognisable one at that. Its place here at the end of the piece is somehow very powerful, a statement of some kind after the rest of the music, though what kind of statement I am not certain.
One of my favourite creative pastimes involves layering different, often random photographs over each other in Photoshop and just enjoying the new shapes and textures that are formed when you adjust the transparencies and allow one photo to come through under the other. (A couple of Cathnor sleeve designs have utilised this technique) Haptic’s music, at least on these last two tracks remind me of this so much. The power of the music, its almost symphonic grandeur comes from the layering of so many sounds, perhaps many of them in realtime improvisation, others in post production. the cumulative effect is one that really focusses the listener, really pulls you into the music. It feels like I am being dragged down headfirst into it. It needs to be played loud rather than on headphones, on a hi-fi rather than on tinny computer speakers, and placing yourself midway between left and right speakers has an impact. Another real winner then. Available here.
(The above image isn’t the sleeve design)