issue 3 :: 1995

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A Comprehensive Guide to the Hafler Trio

(as comprehensive as I’m going to make it)
The Hafler Trio made some of the first noise records I ever liked, and my interest in them as hardly waned over time. They have many records and this guide is meant to help those who might be at a lost when decideding to which one to listen. I have listed the following releases in order of what I liked. Thanks to Dan N D and Seth Tiuse for loaning me some of their records and thanks to Vils DiSantol, who wrote many additions this guide, but because of space considerations, I was only able to inclue a few of them which are denoted by a VMD at the end.
A Thirsty Fish CD — Considered by some to be their most cohesive work. I agree. Not all of the 1987 double-LP is on this rerelease, but I have heard the original and this abridged version is not lacking in scope or power. A Thirsty Fish is a tour-de-force of tape collage, changing, sometime abruptly, from one small section to another, each using a variety of sound sources and processing techniques. To map out the first two minutes, indicating the time index of changes: recording of 40's film music + intermittent cut-up speech; 0'28: chorus of ah's; 0'31: confusing mass of overdubbed speech with stereo effects; 0'45: tape-processed piano tones; 0'51: jumpy mass of unidentified tones, each with distinct timbre and stereo placement; 0'55: kinetic harsh techno groove; 1'21: various looped abstract sounds; 1'25: more techno with disected speech; 2'00: overdubbed newscasters. It is that intense, each change encapsulating a mood or texture just long enough to get a picture of what the section is. Some sections do not change so quickly, which I certainly enjoy, but it is not the fast pace that makes this an impressive work, it is the cohesive unity of surreal soundscapes. Like a Max Ernst collage novel, everything is motivated by an absurd sense of implied horror. This is the masterpiece (so far).
SNUFF CD — This is becoming my favorite H3O record, although it is mostly the strange, improvised narratives of one-time Fluxus artist Willem De Ridder (and will probably be found under his name). H3O contribute just one musical interlude between two long stories, which contains no surprises, just drones and textures. The primary characteristics of De Ridder's presentation are his thick yet understandable foreign accent and more importantly his powerful use of digressions, which can confuse a listener if not paying close attention at all times. I actually enjoy this confusion, as my mind will scramble to figure out how the local portion of what I am hearing fits in with the whole. The first story is about the ultimate snuff film, and the second, longer story I am still trying to figure out, but it involes shoes and a bus ride with foreigners. De Ridder has a way with words and inflection that captivates my attention, and his use of emotion, which ranges from comical to chilling, in his voice is masterful, and more amazingly, sounds genuine. There is also a track by these two on something called the Spiral tapes, which I have been unable to track down, and a track on the Aerial #5 compilation which gives no indication to the brilliance on this record.
Seven Hours Sleep CD — which reprints the 2LP of the same, seems to be somewhat a sequel to A Thirsty Fish. The focus here seems to be vocal samples. There are a number of crowd noises, the German perception speech, samples of songs, looped phonemes, and the old trick of continusly rerecording a spoken recording playback so that only the resonant frequecies of the room are heard in the recording.
The Hafler Trio Play The Hafler Trio CD — Due to the name of this, and the fact that at least 7 of the eleven titles listed on back are either titles of previous pieces or clever rearrangements of (“Blanket” Level Approach vs. “Sheet” Level Approach; The Location of Detatached Sounds vs. The Detatachment of Locational Sounds), I suspect that this single 63 minute track was composed by using tapes of these older pieces. I actually haven't been insane enough (at least not yet) to check this piece by piece (although I think I did this for just one of the references on back, and was convinced that the basic sounds had been used previously). Without exception, all of the samples are good ones, and re-aranged nicely. There is even a bit from Willian DeRidder 40 minutes into the piece, and although I don't think he has convinvced me that Germans really know how to suffer, I gladly welcome his presence. With the material used, the only improvement I could imagine on this would be if the one 63-minute track were broken down into 63 1-minute tracks so that I could use the random functionality on my CD player to much amusement. The accompaning booklet seems to be a continuation of the adventures in the InOutOf booklet.
Four Ways of Saying Five CD — A rerelease of the Netherland Lectures with 15 minutes of new material. This was reviewed in MMPP#1. To summarize: a 45-minute obtuse lecture on matters on contextality. I don't even try to understand, but dig it anyway. The new material is a sound collage of stories, old records, noises and much else.
“Kuklos” CS — Recorded as an accompaniment to an art exhibit by graphic designer extraordinaire Neville Brody. Side one gives us a slowly-shifting tonal manipulation, semi-choral in nature, the sound of bells *after* they have been rung, 'live' ambience, and it carries itself quite steadily to its end. The other side is an audience recording of the art exhibit. We hear voices, but very rarely can we make out what is being said. -VMD
All That Rises Must Converge CD — Collects The Sea Org, Brain Song (which in itself collects the Hafler Trio side of Ben, Rauch, Ab, Shaloshethem Yechad Thaubodo: I am not making this up), two of three pieces from Anonymo Sound And Vision and unreleased material. As can be expected from the catchall of the Solielmoon series, there is a diverse amount of stuff on here, including a lot of at least similar sounding material from other records. There's some stuff I swear is lifted straight from one of my Asmus Tiechens records, but I guess I am mistaken. Space electronics, fragmented sounds, environmental samples, drones, voices, drones...
Kill the King CD — A mostly drone record, but samples of splashing water were heard more than once. The record opens with a lofi recording of a voice commenting upon itself. A throbbing Moog piece follows a somewhat tedious section involving sythn pan-flutes (one of the most devistating weapons in the New Age arsenal). Later pieces use high-pitches, processed vocals, electronic thumping, and electronic drill sounds. This one is a scandal wrapped in several shrouds of enigma.
Negentropy LP — Surprising in its concrete-ness, this collection uses piano samples from Clock DVA minimalistically, but avoiding any sort of lushness/etherialality. A repition of one sampled note against a repition of a three note sample produces rhythmic and not necessarily harmonic phasing, thus giving the record a detached sense of musical meaning. The use of unprocessed piano fragments as samples frees the mood on this records from the implied political emotionality that vocal samples or environmental recordings present (not that there aren't certain political implications in a piano!). There are a few brief synth/rhythm episodes here, but this is perhaps the most unusual Hafler Trio record.
A Bag of Cats CD — a short record including the German perception lecture, a quiet windy interlude, a mess of electronic train-like sounds, what seems like a recording of a camp fire, and a distorted voice taken from a movie?
Walk Gently Through The Streets of Joy CD — collects a lot of unreleased material and an early 12” which includes the familar German lecture on perception. The other 12” track is a long quiet drone using organ-like tones. More drone material follows, some sounding like lawnmowers. Other pieces include spoken text obscured by processing, tone manipulations, short techno sprees, and a collage of various vocal samples.
One Dozen Ecomomical Stories By Peter Greenway CD — Somewhat surprisingly, I was not the only one fooled by this title, which I guess is refering to how mistakes in transmission can seem acceptable until too late. The stories contained in a booklet similar to InOutOF are all macabre parabels with post-mod typography and are illustrated with knots from a marintime guide. The knots seem to have as much to do with the stories as the stories to the 12 tracks on here, which all vary tremendously in their approaches; a drum machine piece, a tremeloed organ piece, a piece dominated by electronic bleeps, a piece based on what sounds like a Soft Machine LP, an annoying piece involving a guy leaving singing messages on an answering machine, which sounds like an outtake from a Negitivland record.

Ash 1.3 H30 CD — This is the most techno Hafler Trio I have heard. I can only shudder when I think that there might be more that I haven't heard. Saying that, the two longish pieces on here are fairly interesting. Drum machines and presumably sequencing abound, but the fairly abstract use of vocal samples, breathy deep tones and such, is notable. I can certainly think of worse techno.

Designer Time (with Reptilicus) CD — The Trio teams up with Johann E and G.I. Markusson for 50 minutes of music that always seems to be two-thirds interesting. I do not know who the offending culprit is. There are some interesting textures here, but on a whole there is a lack of development and some drum machines and overly synthy synthesizers, and you probably know how I feel about those. The overly syccophantic liner notes, like a press release from Hell, do not help matters any.
 
One of the characteristic approaches of the Hafler Trio, in addition to whatever gets mentioned in these reviews, is the frequent use of unexpected increases of volume after long stretches of sound at a constant level. These abrupt changes, these sound-mines, last for only a few moments, but are usually effective in jarring my attention to my now too-loud stereo. These diliberate, and there is no denying their DELIBERATE nature, lyddations make me wonder if their purpose is to listen to the majority of the records at a lower volume or learn to appreciate the intermittent disturbances...
“Reviews” written “by” Josh Ronsen.
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