Haarvöl + Xoán-Xil López’s “Unwritten Rules for a Ceaseless Journey” reviewed by Fluid Sonic Fluctuations

Welcome to the 17th review in the Fluid Label Focus series on the Crónica label. Today I have for you another recent release on the label that I finally got to this month. This is the new collaborative album by Portuguese experimental group Haarvöl and field recordist and sound artist Xóan-Xil López, titled Unwritten Rules of a Ceaseless Journey. This album features three long pieces for dance that were created for the play Revoluções (Revolutions) by choreographer Né Barros. As always, Miguel Carvalhais from Crónica kindly sent me an advance review copy, in this case of the digital version of the album. The Bandcamp download I got here features the 3 album tracks in high resolution 24-bit/48kHz audio, as well as a high resolution version of the album cover (in a wider 3259x2965p resolution as also used on the packaging of the physical CD version) and a PDF file. The PDF file (in my review copy it’s the promo version) features the album cover as well as additional artwork by Rui Manuel Vieira of Haarvöl, design of this release is by José Carneiro. Besides the artwork, as with many Crónica release you will find a lot of details on the release including the tracklist, credits and a description of the album and the various pieces. I read the full PDF file before listening and the texts per track are admittedly quite complex and oftentimes abstract, so they do require some background knowledge and reading to fully comprehend but even if (like me) your strength isn’t in the academic part of arts and music and concepts within them there’s quite a few recognisable reference points in the texts and names and literature mentioned to reference. As is also mentioned in the description of the album, the three pieces all depict three layers of time, past, present and future which also an interesting aspect of the concept behind the music, though for me personally these time layers were clearer as a difference in textural build up and sonic patterns between the three pieces and the “human sounds” within the music gave hints to passing time. It is definitely interesting to re-listen the pieces and reference details within them to the text in the PDF file but a great quality of the music is also that on its own the inherent effect it has on the imagination and subconcious are very strong, so let’s have a look at the music itself in the next section.

As mentioned before, Unwritten Rules of a Ceaseless Journey consists of three long pieces, each of which is around 15 minutes long and while each of the three pieces can work as an independent work if listened on their own, there’s also a great consistency in the music even though the three pieces definitely differ from each other in quite major ways (referencing the various phases of time). In terms of overall sonic signature, I’d say that Something’s Missing (Utopian) is a shifting at times quite noisy haze of textures, glitches and often metallic manipulated field recordings, The Pulsating Waves (Reality) goes for a more Industrial Drone sound, though it’s not as noisy as the first piece and Don’t Look Back, Run (Trauma) is the most minimalist in terms of composition, being mostly centred around a repeating Drone motif and filtered resonances. The album begins with Something’s Missing (Utopian). This piece moves through various phases, mixing field recordings, drones and glitches together to create a deep immersive and ever evolving soundscape that freely moves from fluctuating resonances to more tonal focussed moments in time. High frequency shimmering pulsations throughout the piece add a great metallic shine to the music and the glitches add some vibrant rhythmic elements to the mixture which are also very well blended into the sonic image. The piece has a very dense kind of layering within it in which field recordings, the drones and glitches are blended in such a way that there’s these audible edges between the sounds and the sonic layers seem to both intertwine and all be clearly audible as separate parts of the mix of the piece. The evolution of the music in the piece throughout is also very focussed on both textural contrasts and balance and the sounds used are also often not easily discernible in which sources they come from with the metallics in the field recordings and some of the resonances in the drones adding a layer of “artificial” sonic energy in the piece but this also makes it feel quite magical and wholly original and new. I love how the music’s combination of concrete sounds and textures also at times creates new wonderful organic sounds from material that is often coming from very human sources and the combination of both tonal pulsations and scattering glitch elements is quite unique and offers a great new take on Drone music that I haven’t heard before. The buzzing climax near the middle of the piece and the distorted organ like drones in the second half are highlights in the piece too. Indeed there’s a lot of things going on in these pieces but even with this many layers and changes throughout the music always stays consistent and not hard to grasp and most importantly never gets to a point of staying idle and “looping it out” which is a risk of Drone music if an artist would get too minimal with his / her approach. The very good mix and master on the piece also makes me feel this music could work great in multi-channel surround installation form as there’s a great depth and spatiality to this pieces, very good. In the next piece The Pulsating Waves (Reality), the music moves into a more “Industrial” like direction, so to speak, with quite a lot more focus on field recordings of machinery and metal clangs, as well as buzzing electricity like whirring sounds though the drones remain too, albeit in more subdued filtered form. With fuzzy human sounds of distant voices and crowds as well as some great vocal samples pitched in various hissy resonant tones the music moves into a contemplative introspective ambience. The buzzing electrical sound reminds me of the Mosaique album Shattering Silence (also on Crónica) that I reviewed last year but in this case there are mysterious resonances and distant sounds from the field recordings which again lead to a bit of a climax near the middle of the piece but also get quite intense in the finale of the piece in which an array of machinery sounds and heavily resonant flanged metallic sounds are combined with even more noisy mechanical sounds to create an ending that’s both intense but also quite hypnotic with its ever shifting overtones and resonances. The Pulsating Waves (Reality) definitely has more of a general Industrial ambience to it than the first piece but the gradual but also very varied composition of sonic elements also does give it a bit of a minimal Glitch kind of feeling in the middle of the piece with the droning tones accompanying the whirring sounds in subtly stuttering way. Again, definitely an awesome piece of music this one and while it’s quite Industrial, the piece has a very intriguing sense of introspection and tranquil peace to it too though the calm drones and fluctuating resonances throughout, feels quite like an atmospheric aural version of a panoramic time-lapse of a factory, intense mechanical sounds but also a sense of rest in your mind. Final track Don’t Look Back, Run (Trauma) is the most minimalist composition on the album, with a strings like droning tone forming a repeating pattern throughout almost the entire piece. The field recordings are much less recognisable as well, with many of the elements in the piece being very resonant, metallic or high frequency. Glimmering delayed elements, additional filtered drones as well as filtered distant noise change and evolve within the piece overtime, always moving in a new direction while the main droning tone keeps moving in an irregular rhythm. Indeed it’s an especially great quality of all three pieces on this album and of course of Haarvöl and Xoán-Xil Lopéz themselves that even in the most minimalist piece on the album, there’s such a rich variety of both organic, metallic and other sculpted sonic elements as well as constant evolution of the composition that the music always stays intriguing throughout and never stops moving forward in the extended length of the pieces. A great closer to an awesome album of music.

Unwritten Rules of a Ceaseless Journey by Haarvöl and Xoán-Xil López is definitely an awesome strongly recommended album, that is one of the best releases on Crónica and also of experimental music in general so far this year. The richness of textures and completely original sound that these artists create together on this album breaks the borders of soundscape and Drone music in a great new way that makes the music so well suited to many re-listens as well as these pieces will always sound new and different, even with every new repeated listen. There’s just so many layers and details of evolution in sound in the pieces to be discovered that it’s amazing how well balanced the pieces are all are considering how densely packed with layers most of the pieces are. I would especially recommend this album to fans of soundscapes, field recordings and Drone (Ambient) music but also if you’re into Industrial and even Glitch you’ll find plenty to enjoy in this music, it’s very rich music. So go check out this album for sure, you won’t regret it. Orlando Laman

via Fluid Sonic Fluctuations

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