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Russell Haswell

Wild Tracks

(Editions Mego; US: 13 Oct 2009; UK: 19 Oct 2009)

Wild Tracks compiles items from Russell Haswell’s huge library of “hi-definition recordings for surround sound or multi-media productions”: bird-scaring bangs, gunshots, obnoxious jet engines, insects eating and going about their business and being killed, snow falling, water booming, and wind whining. Occasionally, he gets two at the same time, as on “Ant Colony (Featuring Eurofighter Typhoon F2 Flyby)”.
 
Haswell doesn’t splice and sequence “raw” material into music as, say, Matmos did with A Chance to Cut Is a Chance to Cure, their album of scalpels going through flesh, fat squeezing through a liposuction tube, buzzing eye surgery lasers, acupuncture point detectors, hearing aid test tones, goat spines, and rat cage bars. Context is important for art and for comedy. And there is nothing funnier than art: In the early 1960s, James Coyle and Mal Sharpe dressed in business suits and roamed the streets of San Francisco recording their talks with people, goading and guiding them through surreal comic mazes involving apples with feet, secret languages, interest-bearing piggy banks in heads, and lots more. We know from the background notes that Coyle and Sharpe were joking, but the interviewees were led to believe they were serious. One of their street interviews led a woman who was opposed to live animals being used as musical instruments to utter the immortal words: “I would tour the world, playing on a weasel”. Such projects illustrate how background information is needed to enjoy some art and the poster/booklet for Wild Tracks has enough detail on capturing sounds and rigorously defining their context to more than satisfy. 


None of the pieces on this album attempt the ear-scorching experimentation of Haswell’s real-time computer-generated improvisations Live Salvage 1997-2000 and Second Live Salvage, which are brutally ideal for putting the boom cars firmly in their place or invading the compounds of millenarian zealots. Yet Haswell is admirable, for while most recording artists are regurgitating themes (boy meets girl, boy bores the crap out of girl, boy writes song about it), he’s sculpting noise, reimagining Popul Vuh, sound-curating exhibitions, recording water by hanging from cliffs, fiddling with magnetic field fluctuation detectors, riding in helicopters, or shoving his miniature omnidirectional microphone into anthills, dead birds, or wherever his fancy takes him.


Of the outlandish sounds on Wild Tracks, the wheezing, explosive “Jamaican Blowhole” resembles Frank Booth’s asthmatic ghost dreaming of his variation of lust. More arresting is “A Horde of Flies Feast on a Rotting Pheasant Carcass”,(although, given the flashy time-lapses in his film A Zed and Two Noughts, I’d prefer “A Horde of Flies Feast On The Rotting Carcass of Peter Greenaway”). Even better is “Falling Snow #4, +20dB (Extract)”, which suggests emotion, flow, romance, and time. By contrast, the fly-zapping of “Electroswat (Playlist Re-edit)” is merely repulsive.


Russell Haswell is prolific in music, sculpture, photography, and more, but Wild Tracks is perhaps one of his drier efforts. And the early video game style packaging is definitely annoying.

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