Welcome return of Chester Hawkins with his new cassette Metabolism Quartet / Nocturne for Poppy (INTANGIBLE ARTS IA022 / ZEROMOON zero188). Apparently he hasn’t released an album on cassette since 1998, a fact which may tell us something about trends in music (hint: the trends all point downwards). We last heard him on Natural Causes, an indie movie soundtrack he released on LP, and before that on Apostasy Suite. In the cover designs to these, there seems to be a continuity of uniform design in the typesetting, which I like, and also a leaning towards monochromatic photographs printed in high contrast, an index to the serious and slightly grim caste of the music he’s releasing these days.
Metabolism Quartet certainly conforms with all this – 29 minutes of unsettling mixed-chord modernism and layered recordings, produced by contemporary synthetic means. It’s dedicated to Witold Lutos?awski, the 20th-century Polish avant-garde composer whose music reflects something of the turbulent times through which he struggled. Chester Hawkins has here performed a sophisticated cut-up / sampled version of Lutos?awski’s String Quartet, doing it by means I don’t pretend to understand – three “granular synth engines” were involved, as well as something Hawkins calls a “modular tape-edit emulator”. Whatever the methods, they have enabled him to perform a species of real-time synthesised musique concrète from these sources, and because live performance was involved, he’s doing it in a very reactive and sensitive manner, rather than simply generating random noises for the sake of it. In fact, two separate live performances recorded on different dates in different locations have been stitched together for the finished work, and there are additional field recordings and a guitar too. The field recordings were fetched from locations that mean something to Hawkins personally, an index to the personal depth of feeling attached to this work. It’s a heck of a beast, passing through many moods and phases; the documentary recordings (which contain personal memories of earlier, happier times for the creator) give way to the dark music, which is at first angst-ridden and disturbing, gradually turning towards more reflective passages. The mood never lightens though, and though we’re some way from the noisy and kosmische-styled exploits of earlier Hawkins works, the bleak and black atmosphere remains hard to dispel. There’s a rather terrifying clarity to it all, as Hawkins gazes into his telescope of truth, surveys the modern world, and doesn’t find anything very good to report.
Flip cassette over to get a bonus cut only available when you buy the cassette. Nocturne For Poppy was done in 2018 when he visited London. In his notes he mentions the bare facts of his journey and sojourn along with a shopping list of sound sources for field recordings, mostly from airports and trains. This doesn’t quite prepare you for the piece, which is a pleasing mix of process art, glitchy noise, and minimal melodies played on a keyboard that is bravely trying to weather a storm or hold its head high in the face of indifference. Hawkins regards his time at the airport as “a period of captivity”, a sensation which any experienced traveller can relate to, but he’s found a means to sublimate his pain and boredom into musical form. The piece extends into the mode of lengthy and single-minded intensity that he has made all his own. From 13th December 2018.