“Hidden Name” reviewed by Cracked

I prefer to listen to this CD with the windows wide open, fresh air streaming in and the noises of the outside world mixing with the soundscapes and noises on the CD. Somehow “Hidden Name” invites the wide open space of life and living nature or cities into its soundworld to fuse into a invisible collage of the real and the synthetical, the random and the prepared. Maybe green pastures or rural villages would be more fitting to the setting and the production surrounding of this gem (Schaefer and Mathieu recorded the basic sounds in an old house in the countryside of Southern England, a house owned by an old classical composer and using all the instruments, records and field recordings they could get ahold of there) but for instance when a truck was backing up outside, the rhythmical peeping of its warning signal mixed perfectly with the warm streaming minimalism of the title track. Sometimes the noise of a streetcar is drowning out the sounds from the speakers but that is okay. I can relisten to “Hidden Name” over and over again.

Mathieu and Schaefer are no unknown figures and they have worked together before as well. They have a history of diving deep into sound and of forming impressive sound sculptures from thin air. “Hidden Name” is a more subtle and sensitive approach, with the fine atmosphere of the place they recorded in still audible and with the overall structure of the tracks more fragile and thin. Like early morning fog or a light breeze rustling the leaves in the trees. Movements and dynamics are slow, there are no harsh surprises or startling effects. The stylistic range goes from minimal soundscapes that flow in a steady tone with a multitude of overtones to field recordings documenting special moments. Well, more like moments that stand out by their simplicity and emotional singularity rather than their objective global importance, like a walk in the woods with the birds singing and the dead leaves rustling under the boots (as at the end of “Cosmos” – the title and the sounds giving the track enhanced meaning). Such small and simple moments are what make life reach and pleasant and should be enjoyed, because they are a bonding moment with nature and life itself. Very much unlike the big time, made it to the top moments with thousand people applauding, which are artificial and loaded with importance by society or publicity and thereby, by definition, false.

Well, some of the sounds by itself aren’t that pleasant or soothing as the simple life in a small village can be. The crackling and rustling of turntablism by itself is not a pleasant sound (especially for someone caring for his vinyl records and treating them like little babies) as are certain woodsaw-like or machinery sounds (for instance appearing interestingly on a track called “Quartet for Flute, Piano and Cello), but for one, the same is true for street noise like traffic, wind, construction work, etc, to which I like to listen when they are mixed and the sun is shining. And for second, it is the setting and usage of sounds that defines their aesthetical value not vice versa – even if the two are regularly switched by most regular people. Moreover these sounds are mixed into the whole of the album in the same subtle and fragile manner, so that they don’t stand out in any way. The flow of the album is not broken down, quite the other way round you will suddenly find yourself listening to strange or unpleasant sounds and enjoying them just as much as the gentle and soothing waves of tones before.

The scope of these two artists is fascinating. Right in the middle of “Hidden Names” the listener is surprised with vocal sounds of the “Maori Love Song”, seemingly taken from an old record and re-mixed, but not so much as would be directly audible. A vocal piece contrasting the traditional wild and weird Maori Chants in an almost modern harmonic fashion. It is just a short intrusion, but a pleasing one. (Very much like the kids voices suddenly appearing outside. But that is a different story.) I said, there were no harsh sounds or effects surprising the listener, I didn’t say there were no suprises at all. In fact, there is so much on this record you might want to listen to it again and again in different kinds of settings and in different areas just to make sure you are hearing them right. Just wait for the final track “The Planets”, which will make you play the album again (or switch to Greg Headly’s “operation of the heavens” by way of similar subject.)

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