Somnambule - Writing About Music

B.J. Nilsen ~ Hazard 05-12-03

You find yourself quickly insinuated into a sombre sonic scene whose elements are delineated with an ominous delicacy. The tonal range initially doesn’t rise above low rumbles and reverberations which sound as if they are emanating from within large iron containers. Then sheets of metallic sound suddenly thunder across the stereo spectrum, suffused at their edges with a slush-like white noise. This might be a field recording of a steel factory in Antarctica – the impression is simultaneously of a freezing cold and an uncomfortable warmth as if one side of you is too close to an outside door and the other is too close to a furnace door. This soundscape is pleasing in its richness and it’s tempting to create (or decipher) a scenario for the composition as it unfolds. Later it occurs to this listener that it might be possible to create a map out of the movement implied in the sounds of the piece. There’s a strong sense of the visual conjured by the smallest of elements such as a momentary birdcry (synthetic or real, who knows) heard against the backdrop of ominous hums. Deployment of such contrasts are also a very efficient way of achieving a sense of great dynamic space.

After a few minutes these hums give way to a welcome sense of spaciousness. At approximately 5’30” some kind of foraging appears to take place. At the 20’ mark there’s something like the glittering of bells and at 25’30” deep vibrations fade to reveal what appear to be piano notes elided of their attack and decay. For the last seven minutes or so a massed organ chord swells continuously and could, most appropriately, soundtrack the approach to the House of Usher in Edgar Allan Poe’s story.

Hazard is a live recording made at a concert curated by Christian Fennesz. It’s sound to submerge yourself in: take a deep breath, screw your eyes tight shut and let yourself sink into its depths. Hazard might be the sound you hear inside a flotation tank if that tank were (safely) underneath very slow-moving lorries, the mass of their movement steadily vibrating the walls of your enclosure. It’s a little reminiscent of The Orb’s ambient ventures, but unintruded upon by musical structures, its presence consequently more like a sparkling penumbra. If you don’t have the desire or patience to concentrate then this piece of ominous, detailed soundscaping is probably not for you. If you do, you’re likely to reap ample rewards. Use of headphones highly recommended.
Colin Buttimer
March 2004
Published by the BBC