Back to the Garden

One of two new cassettes from Rinus van Alebeek and his Staaltape labelHannya White Who Put The Flowers in The Garden is a superb and innovative set of low-key electronic sounds, tunes, and songs, delivered in a slightly cold and affected but very affecting manner. I’m unable to find out anything about this talented Hannya person, and there’s not really much information on the label website, although it seems that White did submit her works for scrutiny on the Berlin Radio On show, which happens to be curated by Rinus. Evidently, he liked what he heard well enough to this limited 40-copy release.

I’ve been spinning this a few times over now and find I can’t quite get a handle on the tunes / songs, even though on a surface level this release is a lot more accessible than some of the more understated and mysterious items we’ve heard from this label over the years. It might be this very elusive quality that appeals to Rinus…Hannya’s songs don’t explain themselves immediately, the words are few, and not always sung in English, sometimes spoken…the general effect is more like eavesdropping, or tuning in to someone’s private brainwaves, rather than hearing a composed, thought-through song. What we could add to that observation is the slightly fractured nature of each performance, the halting forward movements, where tunes are half-finished and inconclusive, often emerging as broken keyboard runs, very concise; yet somehow we still get a form of coalescence, a semi-finished work emerging. We can’t always expect melody, either, since Hannya White interleaves her keyboard work with eruptions and episodes of noise, crackle, fizz and distortion.

So far we’re getting a pretty rich mix of elements, bound to tick boxes for a lot of musical tastes (new wave to synth-pop to table noise), although her noise is not aggressive or unpleasant, rather it feels like just one more component in her paintbox of delight. I might also reach for the “plasticine” metaphor, since we’re in the home-craft zone now, since a lot of these tunes have the spontaneous, rough-hewn feel of a sculptor modelling in clay, trying out what fits. I hope I’m conveying something of the spontaneity and ingenious invention I’m digging on hearing this tape. There are a lot of ideas here and I’m having fun trying to piece everything together, hoping for a vista or a window on White’s world view. Speaking of which…the print run for this edition has been hand-crafted and hand-lettered (using a combination of stencils, stamped letters, and handwriting) by Rinus in such a way that the entire title, and name of artist, only displays if you line all the copies up in a row. To put it another way, I only have a few disconnected letters on my copy – N N P U T. So all the owners of the tape are perhaps participating, unwillingly, in a little Lettrist experiment or a game of concrete poetry.

I mention this as there might be a “jigsaw puzzle” metaphor we can also put forward as another means of understanding Hannya White’s coded music. Though in the end, I expect that it’s very personal to her, a very intuitive form of creation and something which shouldn’t be scrutinised too hard, or it will just fly away from us. Very good indeed; I hope the label can release more work by this unique talent. From 15 June 2020.

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