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Main, "Hz"

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cover imageHz was initially a series of six EPs, released monthly, then compiled into a six disc box set, and later a two disc compilation.  In my opinion, the then-duo of Robert Hampson and Scott Dawson reached the highest peak in their quest to take the sound of the electric guitar as far as it could go.  Evenly split between astronomical ambient abstraction and a nascent take on post rock, this set was the final one where the duo’s history as Loop was still shining through.  The result is two hours of the best experimental rock and ambient drone in my own personal collection.


Beggars Banquet


First, a bit of history.  My first exposure to Main was an impulse purchase of the Motion Pool album at a mall record store on my 16th birthday.  Looking back now, the idea of music like that being found at a mall (and at a mall in the crappiest reaches of Central Florida, no less), is hard to fathom, but it did happen.  I bought it because I knew of Hampson’s connection to Godflesh (who I was a big fan of at that time), and I was also beginning my journey into that post-industrial metal scene of Scorn and God, along with the short lived Isolationist movement.  Buying it, I didn’t know what to expect, but I did like what I heard.  That album (arguably the most traditional "record" the band ever made) followed a similar blueprint as Hz:  approximately half of the tracks featured booming dub bass, heavily treated circular guitar riffs, and Hampson’s voice echoing from far off in the distance.  The other half were spacious tonal drones that splintered the sounds of the electric guitar as finely as possible, only to rebuild them into organic, breathing pieces of music that were as alien as they were tangible.

A friend of mine at the time was over while I was spinning that disc, and somewhat angrily remarked how "boring" it was, but I was undeterred.  Within a few months I’d tracked down their backcatalog to that point:  the much more "rock" oriented Hydra-Calm and Dry Stone Feed EP (both of which featured drum machines, which were dropped afterward to focus even more on the guitars), and the first two installments of the Firmament quadrillogy.  The former two were my favorites, because I always loved that alien rock sound that was pioneered there.  Finally, once the Hz box set arrived, I eagerly ripped open the shrinkwrap and threw in the first disc.

In its original six disc configuration, each disc is a distinct piece, broken into separate parts for convenience, but clocking in at around 20 minutes and standing on its own.  Like their body of work up to this point, the discs are divided thematically:  "Corona," "Maser," and "Neper" are the extremely abstract takes on "rock" music, mostly just in the form of hidden vocals and dubby bass, while "Terminus," "Haloform," and "Kaon" opt for total astral abstraction.  Each stands on their own quite well, but in the context of all six pieces, feel more unified.

The two track "Corona" begins with shimmering sustained processed guitar before heading into a repetitive bass/riff motif.  The riff may be heavily processed saxophone, or that might be used elsewhere.  Nearly 15 years after the fact, I’m still not entirely sure.  Hampson’s heavily effected voice echoes in the distance, constituting more of another instrument than actual vocals.  The more pronounced elements retreat about half way through the first part, leaving percussive rattles and wide open ambience.  The second part brings on even more unidentifiable sweeps of sound and rumbles, never resembling the electric guitar they were sourced from, before launching back into post-rock territory.

"Maser" also follows this blueprint, mixing Hampson’s distant vocals with layer upon layer of multifaceted guitar noise and the requisite bass loop.  There isn’t as much resembling "riffs" on this one, compared to "Corona" and the tracks on Motion Pool, but it is still extremely dynamic, with percussive elements deep within, heavy ambience and squeaky loops towards the end.  "Neper" is the final piece of the "rock" Main, both in this set and in their career.  Opening with scattered guitar notes and what sounds like fragments of radar sweeps, eventually the bass and vocals appear, alongside metallic space and what sounds like a treated, unamplified electric guitar, before falling apart like the last sounds of a spaceship that’s gone too far to be recovered.

The other three pieces are more focused on the ambient and minimalist side of Main.  "Terminus" begins with surging waves of sound, almost like comets trailing across the sky, leaving vague notions of guitar in their trails of stardust.  Over hollow metallic drones, layers of rhythmic static and maybe bass guitar can be heard far in the distance, crafting a track that is as unconventionally rhythmic as possible.  "Haloform" continues this with crunchy percussive elements, and what is likely guitar playing right at the bridge, building to a collage of sound that somehow manages to retain its organic guitar sound while being torn apart.  The latter part stretches out into swelling waves of ambience, with sustained and layered passages creating more of a pretty, rather than isolating sound.

Perhaps the most revealing of this set is the five track "Kaon."  Recorded live to two track, it is unsurprisingly the barest sounding recording here, but it never feels TOO sparse.  Instead the duo uses the simpler mix to create sparse and expansive space, punctuating it with anemic buzzes and distant echoes and the occasional melodic element.  The latter moments open to near silence, with only the most subtle pings and pulses there to be heard.

During his time in Loop, Hampson made no bones about his love and appreciation for the films of Stanley Kubrick, which really manifested itself in the work of Main.  Through the use of samples or track titles, Hampson and Dawson created sonic landscapes that were alien and isolating, a la 2001 or The Shining, yet left small amounts of humanity to lurk around, such as vocals or traditional instrumentation.  The result is harrowing, but fascinating.  After this release, Hampson and Dawson parted ways and Main continued in the ambient/abstract direction, with the more "rock" elements never to reappear.  Recently Hampson has abandoned the instrument as a raison d’être:  his recent Vectors album on Touch is sourced from other material, yet his penchant for architectural sound is still prominent.  Main did many other great works after this, and the Vectors album is evidence that he is still pushing sound into the farthest reaches of cosmic space, but Hz is one of those works I still keep coming back to.


Last Updated on Tuesday, 30 March 2010 07:44  


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