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Haptic, "The Medium"

It's dark outside, the windows are open, and the light in the room is slowly bleeding into the shapelessness outside. A trickle of sound pours out of the speakers and evokes a half-frightened reflex; it isn't clear whether something just moved outside the house or if Haptic just added a new element to their droning melancholy. In slow, measured steps, and with liquid ease, The Medium plays out like a subdued, but troubling soundtrack to an unreleased David Lynch film. It's filled with both tense uncertainty and cool atmospheres drowned in low-end heaviness.

 

Flingco Sound

Haptic - The Medium

Haptic's technique is simple and direct. They begin both sides of their debut LP on Flingco Sound with metallic, but somewhat indecipherable drones. After introducing this trembling, often uncertain base, Haptic slowly breathes a plethora of tiny details into their music. The sensation is, at first, a disorienting and troubling one. I mistook several sounds on the record for sounds occurring outside my window. As the sounds intensified, I began to wonder what kind of thing was lurking about just feet away from me. Sizzling fire, dragging feet, muffled voices, bouncing balls, the buzz of electricity, and the whir of motors all find a place for themselves on The Medium. These bits of noise, samples, and odd productions are arranged such that they form convincing and detailed narratives. Within minutes of firing up "One" a complete and almost intrusive scenario had formed in my mind. I could see a weary and worn character shuffling down my street with a drained look upon his face. I could see the cigarette in his hand and I could hear the thoughts crushing his brain into a single-minded state. As he stares off into space and as "One" proceeds to work its magic, all manner of details are added to this picture. The drones turn into buzzing lights and the minutiae produced by the band turn into streams of thoughts and uncollected fragments of ideas. The progression of both songs is like peering into the mind of someone fixated on some premise or memory. The point is that their music is strikingly cinematic and well-sequenced. Their arrangements are obviously thought out and carefully planned or their improv skills are of the highest order. Either way, both sides of this record have an odd and satisfying logic about them.

Most of the sounds employed by the band are organic. Haptic's instruments, whether they be cymbals or boxes filled with junk, are largely naked, so it is easy to believe that what sounds like a piece of burning paper is in fact just a piece of burning paper. I highly doubt this is the case, but such nudity amplifies the band's potency. Not only do they craft shifting and somewhat frightening soundscapes, they produce them with objects that anyone would recognize from their everyday lives. The mix of the familiar and the unfamiliar greatly increases the album's proximity to the listener and the extent to which it can produce emotional responses. The human or emotional component of the record is emphasized by a DVD that is included with the first 100 copies of the record. Amid a progression of shimmering surfaces, video artist Lisa Slodki projects a series of human faces. Her repetitive and hypnotic technique, combined with Haptic's ghostly soundtrack, both emphasizes Haptic's cinematic side and increases the dramatic elements already present in the music. The frozen, sometimes listless faces she focuses upon are frightening in and of themselves. All of them seem lost, alone, or completely without emotion, somehow swallowed by the images projected behind them or by the music that is the occasion of their presence. The only sign of happiness is one that is affected for show. Still, Haptic's music isn't simply doom and gloom. It exudes a kind of ease and directness that makes both songs float by rather quickly. The sounds of a manipulated xylophone and gentle bass pulses push the album along and, at some points, add a jazz-like feeling to the entire affair. The band never breaks character, thoug; their droning simplicity and monolithic approach holds the album together from beginning to end. This simplicity lends the band a cool, almost untouchable aura and ultimately turns all the creeping despair they produce into noir-ish calm.

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Review of the Day

"Intransitive Twenty-Three"
Intransitive
Intransitive founder Howard Stelzer has been careful to point out that his label in no way attempts to group its artists under any genre-defining ethos; nor does it give face to any marginalized society of artists, or a voice to any supposed "scene." As curator, he does not assume anything, but merely presents, offering beautiful examples of only what he finds compelling or inspiring at a given time. Stelzer's approach is more personal than most, while at the same time less selfish, resulting in musical selections that neatly expand past 'high art' definitions of experimentalism and into the approachability and directness of home listening. Twenty-Three, Intransitive's second compilation following 2001's similarly double-length Variious, is a perfect reminder of the label's unhurried, quietly-progressive history. The collection develops much like the high-school mixtapes Stelzer uses as touchstones for the compilation process, visiting a series of diverse artists with a distinct range of compositional methods, the only binding quality being their uniquely homespun way of approaching electroacoustic sound, a trait that is significantly accented by the curator's insistence that no digital devices be used for any of the recordings. Whatever the source, each of these tracks is a miniature lifeforce, a squirming, tactile mass of tension, energy, and changing dialogue, rooted firmly in the present tense. These sounds play the speakers differently each time, their frequent silences always in a new embrace of the room's ambience and their louds ever-poised to uncover or create new memories and fresh associations. Though most of the twenty-two contributions feature relatively thin, uncluttered production, nothing here sounds insubstantial; on the contrary, the delicate, near-vacant construction of many of the tracks becomes a point of paradoxical continuity for the collection, where the exploitation of one faulty connection or lapsing field capture might just eclipse the entry of another artist into the discs' drifting digest. The intimate, chamber-room experiments of Ronnie Sundin and Olivia Block are rendered new, and at some points indistinguishable from the brimming, rural psychedelia achieved by fringe artists like the Animist Orchestra and Birchville Cat Motel. Elsewhere, Guiseppe Ielasi's warm and hazy drone piece, "Two Chords," touches on the spherical minimalism of Francisco Lopez, whose contribution, "untitled #134," answers back with a hint of the lyricism that has defined Ielasi's output. The positioning of old and new works by a host of outsiders and obscurities, alongside pieces from the medium's more dependable busy-hands, also adds to Twenty-Three's vitality, rejecting canonical treatments in favor of a more mysterious and accidental unfolding. Unsurprisingly, this pace feels very natural, with continuity between the different pieces evolving at imperfect, very human measurements. Every contribution contains the seductions of impulsive, event-oriented listening, with its primacy of the improvised detail, while at the same time becoming part of a rapturous, intensely 'constructed' sound-environment that fills Twenty-Three, making it more of an expandable mood-piece than a label sampler. It's true, many of the artists included here have never seen releases on Intransitive, and if this labor of love is any indication, Stelzer's label is poised for bright future.

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