Robert Hampson: Vectors

[12 October 2009]

By Timothy Gabriele

Robert Hampson began his career loud, repetitive, and filthy. The rusted snarls and feedback of his depraved guitar in Loop inverted the blissed-out sound of My Blood Valentine into pure repulsion, swampy yet netted into rhythmic cycles, a mantra from hell. When Hampson moved on to Main, his work grew even murkier, but his dub propulsions were soon scaled back as his guitar began to sound more and more abstract. By the time he unearthed Hz, he had gone so minimalist many stopped noticing he was even there, despite the fact that these hypnagogic dronescapes were some of the best of his career.

Vectors is the first we’ve heard from Hampson in a few years, and its sounds indicate that the title is appropriate. The flesh has been consistently gutted from Hampson’s work since his early Main days. What’s left are directionals, rudimentary shapes and spaces that function as couriers of disparate sound. There’s a moment 18 minutes and 11 seconds into “Dans le Lointain” where it sounds like a tiny chunk of the piece is carved off. Is this just the CD skipping, or is it an intentional glitch? Is it an unintentional one left in to bewilder listeners? The thing about works of indeterminacy like this one is that each set of ears will hear strategically contradistinctive combinations of sound differently.

Whether Vectors alternately bores or captivates depends on what listeners can pick up on, what context listeners hear them in, and whether listeners can position themselves along the vector. Though it can likely be said of most albums, these three commissioned pieces probably do work best on headphones. Astronomically themed as all of them are, only do headphones (and here’s guessing the original polyphonic contexts) correctly showcase the negative space emphasized in these pieces and the mobility of many of Hampson’s sounds throughout this hypothetical physical blank zone.

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