Somnambule - Writing About Music

Mats Gustafsson / Sonic Youth with Friends ~ Hidros 3

Hidros 3 is a composition by Swedish saxophonist Mats Gustafsson for five guitars, electronics, voices, audiobox and contrabass sax. It’s played in this version by most of Sonic Youth, Lorren Mazzacane Connors and quite a few others. Hidros 3 (sounding like a mining planet on which Sean Connery will fight a mining company’s endemic corruption) begins with delightfully off-kilter free guitar work from an unquantifiable number of players who together sound like a crowd of Derek Baileys bumping into each other.

Part 2 is seven times longer than Part 1’s 2:40 duration. It starts out with Kim Gordon coming on like a torchsong singer who’s dropped one too many bennies and wandered out of the wrong kind of bar. If that description doesn’t help, try to picture an unholy hybrid of Tom Waits circa Frank’s Wild Years and Schoenberg sprachgesang circa Pierrot Lunaire. As she stumbles away, in come the guitars which have until now scraped around awkwardly in the background. They undertake some heavy-duty scrabbling, humming and roaring in addition to a good many other sounds which successfully resist the application of suitable epithets. Imagine Part 2 of Hidros 3 as a big, dark forest where light only penetrates a little way through the gnotted and gnarled branches. Ten minutes in, the mood changes to a blasted reflectiveness which soon shifts to wind tunnel, scorched earth mode. Part 3 continues in similar mode before being stopped in its tracks by Gustafsson’s bass sax sounding like an angry, wild boar with a very empty stomach. Parts 4 and 6 see Gordon return to deliver vocals which act as welcome interludes by providing much needed contrast. At one point in Part 5 it seems like the id of a sea monster is about to rise up and devour the whole ensemble. Towards the end of Part 8 there’s some welcome space where various guitars sprout sudden, jagged shapes against a backdrop of wavering feedback.

Hidros 3 was composed for the particular architecture of Ystad’s art museum – Ystad being a small, Swedish town where a 10 day music and art festival was held in 2000. Each guitar/electronics player was seated in a separate room with their sound fed back to Jim O’Rourke at a central mixing desk. Kim Gordon and Lindha Kallerdahl (voices) and Mats Gustafsson played in front of O’Rourke. Hearing this wall of sound in situ would have been a very attractive, if rather daunting, prospect. The ability to conduct one’s own live mix by wandering between rooms might overcome any residual reluctance. Such a setup accounts for the relative disconnectedness of the ensemble’s playing. Despite this, the sheer volume of sound serves as a uniting force and in some ways it seems to suggest a sort of free jazz guitar version of Ornette Coleman harmolodics. Hidros 3 also pleasingly recalls the kind of brave, longform experiments that the 1960s/70s spawned e.g. Ornette Coleman’s Chappaqua Suite, Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica or The Velvet Underground of Black Angel Death Song. Connections can also be traced to the No Wave massed guitar work of Glenn Branca and Rhys Chatham. Equal parts demanding, exhausting and rewarding, Hidros 3 is music that insists upon concerted attention.
Colin Buttimer
August 2004
Published by Milkfactory