“Hidden Name” reviewed by The Wire

Hidden Name, a collaboration with the percussionist, composer and graphic designer Stephan Mathieu, was conceived in even more surprising surroundings than In the Last Hour. It’s the product of a midsummer week that Schaefer and Mathieu spent at composer’s John Tavener’s home in a small village in rural Dorset. During their time there, the two younger composers made free with Tavener’s collection of classical and exotic music instruments, delved into a box of vinyl that they found in his attic, and made a series of environmental recordings in and around the house. Armed with this treasure trove of raw material, they headed to the York Music Research Centre, where a process of editing, combining and arranging produced the finished record.

Hidden Name shares with In The Last Hour a playing time of exactly one hour, but it divides that span into 11 (for the most part) much shorted individual pieces. Some are very brief – “Cosmos”, for example, could be an excerpt from a Chris Watson field recording, consisting as it does of a couple of minutes of unadorned birdsong (wood pigeons, jackdaws) with the occasional sound of footsteps brushing through grass. It’s an astringent contrast to the gaseous ambience of the title track which immediately precedes it.

Some pieces combine environmental and studio-processed material, like the radiant opener “White Wings / Child Okeford”, where shimmering drones are suddenly supplanted by the evocative appearance of church bells; others wryly acknowledge Tavener’s profession by making a gentle joke about formal compositional models. “Quartet for Flute, Piano and Cello”, for example, strays far from the conventional structure that its title suggests — in fact, it’s perhaps the most radically manipulated piece on the record, a swirling confection of backmasked chimes, distorted harps seemingly recovered from some ancient wax cylinder, and buzzingly insistent, almost abrasive guitar drones. The final piece on the disc is another nod to the English musical tradition; entitled “The Planets”, it takes over where the Holst piece left off, with the haunting, evanescent choir of “Neptune” transfigured into a slow, starlit spangle, which hovers majestically for a full 20 minutes.

Schaefer suggests that In The Last Hour is his favourite among all the discs that he has released, but Hidden Name can’t be far behind in his affections. Both projects manage to achieve that most magical of effects: conjuring from close compositional attention, meticulous placement and ruthless editing the glorious illusion of rapturous, serendipitous drift.

Leave a comment