For Eric Hardiman’s Rambutan project, 2016 was an uncharacteristically quiet year. This new tape from the Upstate New York multi-instrumental experimentalist did not appear until November, and as best as I can tell it was the only release of the year. Perhaps that singular focus on this album was a good thing, because Universal Impulses is another fascinating release, up there with Remember Me Now and Inverted Summer as a complex, beautiful and mysterious work.
The instrumentation Hardiman utilizes throughout this tape are, as usual, rather ambiguous. The brief opening piece "Aside from What Matters" seems to be built from a slightly malignant sounding bit of scraped guitar playing. It stays as a repeating element to which more dissonant electronics are added, to the point that the piece eventually dissolves into a melodic mass of decay. Beyond that, however, the instrumentation is most definitely less apparent.
It is that juxtaposition between melody and noise that Hardiman does consistently through these seven compositions that gives Universal Impulses its greatest strengths. For "The Slow Pulse," he leads off with a bit of aggressive, dense noise that obscures a churning foundation that eventually takes the focus. With its subtle panning and processing and low, pulsing passage of what may be bass guitar, it overall feels reminiscent of Motion Pool era Main with its hint of traditional music scattered throughout the more fragmented moments.
A bit of crackling on "Backwards to Never" acts almost as a rhythmic backing track to which a subtle melody is added. The aforementioned melody eventually swells to a more distorted outburst and takes on a humming drone-like quality to shift things up very well before closing on a gentle, soothing fade out. "Inside the Minute" has Hardiman pairing an almost marimba like base layer to which he adds scraping noises and bells, and enshrouds the entire thing in a wonderfully murky ambience that adds just the right amount of obtuseness.
The album culminates effectively in the nine and a half minute conclusion "Surface Elevation." At first a combination of filtered bell like tones and random noises, sputtering bits of radio static are slowly mixed in. He again keeps a repeating melodic layer the focus, suspended by a grimy accent of audio dirt. The pace is slow but piece opens and envelopes beautifully. The weird clipping effect that appears, sounding almost like a rat or insect, is a bit unsettling, but as a whole it is a wonderful, if occasionally bleak sounding piece to end an already powerful album on.
Besides this balance between melody and noise, Eric Hardiman's Rambutan also excels on this tape with the sheer dynamics of his sound. The pieces are never disjointed or inconsistent, but never overstay their welcome either. He keeps elements constant long enough to be appreciated, but not so much that they start to feel dull or repetitive. Because of that, repeated playing results in a work that unravels more and more of its secrets each time, but always seems to maintain a sense of being a mystery that is never entirely solved.