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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

EYVIND KANG, "VIRGINAL CO-ORDINATES
Ipecac
As a violinist, Eyvind Kang has played with the likes of Sun City Girls, Bill Frisell, Secret Chiefs 3, Laurie Anderson and many others. As a composer, Kang has carved out a unique position for himself, releasing a series of studio albums drawing on his concept of the NADE (a concept which I won't attempt to explain here, mostly because I don't understand it). The albums combined elements of disparate ethnic music forms with esoteric spiritual ideas, and sudden, unexpected transitions into fully-formed pop songs or long passages of pastoral ambience. I've liked most of his work that I've heard so far (especially 2000's The Story of Iceland), but it appears that Kang has outdone himself with Virginal Co-ordinates, a beautiful recording of an ambitious live performance staged in Italy last year. Kang composes and conducts a 16 piece ensemble—called the Playground—augmented by himself on violin and several guest musicians, including Mike Patton on voice and electronics, Michael White (former Sun Ra Arkestra violinist) and Tim Young on electric guitar. I suppose the inclusion of Mike Patton is the only reason this album has surfaced on Ipecac Recordings, seeing as it's otherwise entirely different from the label's usual output. It's quite an impressive work, split up into ten movements of varying lengths, each gently joined to the next with gossamer instrumental threads. The title of the work evokes images of untouched glacial expanses, secluded valleys and mountains untouched and unadulterated by the progress of man—Virginal Co-ordinates in which the mind and spirit are free to find connections with nature beyond those limited ideas inculcated in us by the artificial strictures of society. The album artwork is pure white, the color of virginity, with a white cobra in the center, appearing poised to strike. The cobra is a perfect symbol for the current of hidden menace that runs through much of the music. There is a spiritual yearning throughout, but it is often joined by vibrating undercurrents of dread. "I am the Dead" transforms into a full-blow orchestral pop song with echoes of Brian Wilson, but its lyrics presage the death and rebirth rituals of the Bardo Todol. Mike Patton's voice lends an ethereal beauty to certain passages, and Walter Zianetti steals the show with his acoustic guitar solo on "Taksim." Elements of Spanish guitar, Indian raga, tonal Oriental scales, film soundtracks and American pastoral symphonies all weave their way into Kang's work, culminating in the majesty of the title track, a magnificent, shape-shifting wall of orchestral noise in which musical phrases from earlier movements are recycled and juxtaposed to hypnotic effect. At 73 minutes, Virginal Co-ordinates is never boring, which is something that cannot often be said for works of modern composition. In fact, its appeal goes well beyond the usual modern classical crowd, and I imagine it would be enjoyed by anyone interested in the transformative and magical possibilities of music. 

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