A live encounter with Russell Haswell can be a daunting experience for anyone wishing to 'make waves' in the arts world: his casual conversations are not only peppered with technical vocabulary beyond the ken of most journeyman artists, but also liberally seasoned with references to famous friends from nearly every field of modern artistic production. Within ten minutes of listening to the man talk over drinks and Thai food, you feel as if you've stumbled upon the nerve center of the 21st century's trans-national avant-garde. Where others would delight in having such a status, though, Haswell exudes a singular indifference to accolades and one-upmanship. This is especially evident during a mini-concert of his at Stockholm's Berwaldhallen ampitheatre, where he plays the final act of an educational "music and mathematics"-themed evening, following up an excellent solo cellist's performance of Iannis Xenakis's Nomos Alpha with a demonstration of waveshape folding techniques. As the evening's soloists collect to take their final bows, Haswell's unadorned brown t-shirt and weathered baseball cap form a comical contrast with the evening gowns and dapper suits expected at such a ritual (the effect is heightened even more when the soloists receive their bouquets.)
It's the same sense of deviousness that fuels Haswell's recent collaboration with Tokyo underground mainstay Pain Jerk a.k.a. Kouhei Gomi. I have no desire to type out the record title in full here (just refer to the image above), although it should definitely be noted how well this graphomaniac title both describes and mirrors the content of the enclosed album. In short, it's a monstrous assemblage of sonic vignettes that seems to compress all of the synthesis techniques, 'fx' innovations, and psycho-acoustic sleight of hand tricks from the past 70 years into one compellingly strange Rube Goldberg contraption of an album. Like Haswell's appearance at Berwaldhallen, it's an undertaking that can be comical in the disorienting effects it produces, but is carried out nonetheless with a laser-guided precision separating it from the realm of silly novelty. As hinted at in my thumbnail sketch of Haswell above, it is the product of personalities who may be "hooligan"-ish in many areas of daily life, yet reserve a deep respect for sonically shaping new realities.
This two-disc offering (one disc apiece being given over to a "mega edit" from Pain Jerk and Haswell) will probably be anathema to those who prefer trance-inducing rituals of long tones, or who are more used to audio pieces based on the building and resolving of tension. Yet it doesn't fully cleave towards an aesthetic of randomness either: though you may have to train your ears for it (or at the very least, give the album multiple listens), there's a clear ordering logic to the sounds. Though the vignettes tend to end abruptly rather than to crossfade into one another, they each run their course with a 'bullet train' sense of timing, arriving and departing without fanfare and generally without overstaying their welcome. It's also interesting that, given the "file exchange" nature of this project, little multi-tracking seems to be taking place throughout the entire two hours of listening: everything from unmodified sine waves to junk-metal spasms to insistent synth module phrases present themselves to the listener in a "solo" format.
Yet this, too, comes with the caveat that it is not what you'd expect from such an approach - there is simply too much of a conversational quality on display to dismiss this as a "sound sampler" album; it could more comfortably be listened to alongside recordings that have little to do with electronic sound design (something I noticed when spinning AACM-related records in the same nightly listening session that also included this album.) Both of the mega-edits here, like good free-form conversations, aim at avoiding repetition or reliance on any kind of motif, and it is striking just how far each track gets before any of the individual sonic miniatures seem to crop up a second time - sometimes they will, in fact, not crop up a second time, yet you will be under the impressions that they have. As such, this work is a very accurate gauge of memory's (un)reliability in those realms - whether predominantly virtual or actual - where incoming stimuli arrive at a speed that defies the ability to process them.
Buried in that head-spinning album title is another clue as to what differentiates this from its peers in the world of "noise." Haswell is wise to insist upon an alternate spelling for the word, because the intent and execution of his "n0!se" are perceptibly different from the clone artists that routinely clog that genre. The "noise" field, for all the ink I've already spent on defending its potential for self-inquiry, has been plagued for decades by stupid and irrelevant recordings from people who seem to come to the camp from a position of frustration with the creative process rather than one of confidence in their being. It can't be denied how much the form has become a designated safe place for fly-by-night transgressives, or yet another outlet for the terminally insecure to play at being disaffected nihilists (an affectation of disaffectedness, as it were.) This situation is going to get far worse before it gets better, and thus the work that Haswell and his collaborators do is begging to be separated from it - at the very least, with the alternate nomenclature that Russell suggests. The fatal mistake of most would-be noise transgressors is their inability to let the sound stand on its own, without the aid of pandering imagery, theatrical gimmicks, or regurgitations of lessons learned long ago about the darkness in the hearts of men. As such, it is fitting that the album contains a dedication to Zbigniew Karkowski, a man whose death nearly a year ago still stands as a tremendous loss for psycho-acoustic music, and whose unforgiving attitude towards poorly considered art masked a genuine concern that others were not living their lives to the fullest.
(the album is out now on Editions Mego.)