Hannah Selin 2024
Photo: Nicki Adams / Gold Bolus Recordings

Hannah Selin Composes a Work of Mesmerizing, Transcendent Beauty

Hannah Selin has created a profoundly engaging set of compositions on her debut LP. They are a sonic equivalent to deep sleep and vivid, complex dream states.

Dream Journal & The Apocalypse
Hannah Selin
Gold Bolus Recordings
12 April 2024

A list of Hannah Selin‘s artistic accomplishments is far too long to chronicle in an album review comprehensively, but just a partial glimpse of what she’s done over the years includes co-founding the band GADADU, playing viola as a founding member of Violalia Duo and SELBA, performing with orchestras and chamber ensembles throughout the New York metropolitan area, session musician work, commissioning works for ensembles and soloists including Brooklyn Chamber Orchestra, Voices of Ascension, Ave Sol Chamber Choir, and much more. That is why it seems odd that Dream Journal & The Apocalypse, released earlier this month, marks her debut album as a composer.

The six tracks on this astonishing new record combine instruments, voices, and custom electronics developed in close collaboration with the musicians. Selin worked with Dorothy Chan and Lucy Yao (collectively known as Chromic Duo), Stephanie Lamprea, Benjamin Katz, Ford Fourqurean, Anna Elder, and Sarah Steranka (known as SydeBoob Duo). Selin herself built Dream Journal & The Apocalypse‘s custom electronics using the music programming languages Max/MSP and Supercollider, with signals emanating from cellphones and laptops and live electronics with randomized parameters that make for unique performances.

This combination of electronics with voice and more traditional instruments is certainly nothing new. Still, Hannah Selin has made the experience striking and typically anachronistic, moving it into areas of heightened mystery and dreamy ambience. The result isn’t merely ethereal or science-fiction-like; it transcends typical experimental sound design and moves into the hallucinatory. Suffice it to say that it’s an intense, deeply moving experience. The record’s press notes point out that the electronics “act sometimes as an expansion of the instruments, sometimes as a reflecting pool where time slows down and accumulates, and sometimes as their own independent musical entity.”

Each piece on Dream Journal & The Apocalypse tells a unique story, merging materials from disparate periods and sources. “Dream Journal”, which opens the album, features Chromic Duo executing a (fittingly) dreamlike atmosphere of keyboards and narration, composed in Winter 2021 and inspired by the strange, deep dreams of lockdown. The many different instrumental elements weave in and out as the unusual narrative (“I dreamt that I was in a CPU system / And all I see in front of me were boxes of computer commands / And these commands are somehow related to boxes in our lives”) puts the listener deep into this subconscious atmosphere.

Lamprea and Selin have collaborated previously – Lamprea’s 2022 album Quaking Aspen includes a Selin composition, “Mid-Day” – and here the track reappears in a remastered form. Additionally, they join forces on “Meditation on 82”, as Lamprea’s impressive vocal gymnastics are paired up with Selin’s droning bed of keyboards while percussive twitches swirl around the soundscape. As in “Dream Journal”, this track takes advantage of the lengthy run time, letting the atmosphere take shape and burrow itself in our collective headspace.

“The Apocalypse (Doesn’t Have to Be) Now” is described as a “warped” version of the Protestant hymn known as “Old 100th” or “The Doxology”, which was a fixture at family gatherings in Selin’s childhood and with the assistance of harpsichordist Benjamin Katz, the performance is reconfigured and distorted through the use of electronics, giving a modern, somewhat disturbing (but fascinating) take on a piece of early music. The odd combination of a harpsichord and electronically manipulated sound is almost as unusual as hearing this instrument on an album that prominently features electronics.

In “Inverse Portraits (From Canarsie)”, bass clarinetist Ford Fourqurean’s instrument is manipulated and overdubbed, much like Katz’s harpsichord. The electronics act as a more subtle accompanist but with a fuller sound to create something like an alien clarinet orchestra. With a generous helping of sustained notes (including some mesmerizing drone sections) combined with fluttering faster notes, there is much to explore in this track, which will likely result in repeated listening.

Dream Journal & The Apocalypse closes with the epic “Evil Trees”. The track, whose title refers to cell towers poorly disguised as pine trees across US highways, explores the struggle between humans and technology and uses a variety of different sources, including a 16th-century cantata, Bach’s “Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme” (Sleepers Wake), lyrics from a Ouija sequence, and transduced electrical buzzes and clicks to create an 11-minute soundscape. The track is stunning in its combination of sounds, and SydeBoob Duo, comprised of Anna Elder (soprano) and Sarah Steranka (alto flute) form a wonderfully cogent center to this complex, all-encompassing piece of music.

Hannah Selin has created a breathtaking, profoundly engaging set of compositions that speaks to her collaborative efforts – every single performer on this album does amazing work here – as well as beautifully and hauntingly creating a sonic equivalent to deep sleep and vivid, complex dream states. It’s unlikely you’ll ever hear another album quite like this.

RATING 9 / 10