SWITZERLAND Hallow Ground HG1804 LP (2018)
New work from the UK-based composer Daniel Alexander Hignell. There is a previous collaborative album, Bambi with Hákarl under his own name on dsic’s LF Records from 2012, where the drones and distant, distressed vocals were underscored with reverberation and ghostly drum machines; Hignell’s machinations more understated, existing as an environment for Hákarl’s violin to manoeuvre within. As good as Bambi is, a lot of time separates these two releases, and Lines should be seen for what it is perhaps intended to represent; a starting point of Hignell’s art practice proper. It takes the form of two pieces of music, each around 17 minutes in duration. The press release suggests the influence of La Monte Young, Morton Feldman, Eleh, and Mauricio Kagel in Hignell’s work. It goes on to describe the work thus: “Inspired by a 130 page text-score, and performed upon a modular synthesizer, the work explores participatory approaches to performance, utilising text that leads its performer to undertake emergent and evolutionary changes in timbre and rhythm over extended time periods.” There is also reference to other aspects of Hignell’s activities; performance/participatory works in particular; in a nutshell – regarding this work specifically - I’d say where side A is about the drone, side B concerns itself with analysis and deconstruction of noise musics.
Side A is A Pure Drone. Like a cloud of a thousand passenger jets flying overhead simultaneously. Hignell employs a dense overlaying of sounds to form the drone; quite unlike Eleh’s more recent, singular investigations into the sonic possibilities of electrical currents. The opening and closing of potentiometers and the fine adjustment of rotary controls becoming more and less raucous over time. Heavy. Ideal for kicking off your mid-week psychological excursions.
Side B is named Lines Made By Walking. Drone plus abrasion? Subsonic and multi-layered. A more “composerly” dynamic. But lighter than A Pure Drone, somehow. More of a “composition” in the layman’s eyes, perhaps. The greater variance of sounds; a wider palette, although not that much wider – we’re still barely out of monochrome and considering a trip to L. Cornellissen. Pitch elements emerge from the fog, reminiscent (to me) of Kaleidophon:’s late 90’s White Dwarf. There’s immense power here. The breakdown into ambient hum halfway creates the perfect environment for the loud, bell-like shards of crystal that announce the maelstrom of the second half of the piece. Even here, buried just behind each façade are unexpected references; techno/rave at 10:20, albeit very briefly; the tone generators of Wendy Carlos a minute later…
Sometimes, it seems to me that we are running back towards obsolescence as fast as we can with our arms open wide ready to desperately embrace aging machinery and formats; analogue synths, reel-to-reel and cassette tape, for example. But we are optimistically wanting to wring the last, untapped crumbs of beauty out of them before it’s all over for good. For me, Lines is an exemplary example of this. Recommended.