The Five Books of Moses

Received from James Hamilton in Montreal a five-disc set of Hammond organ drones…this mysterious fellow first landed in our quarters with his Xenolith release in 2017, a powerful and single-minded work that did much to suggest a lengthy voyage through subterranean tunnels. Hamilton has gone even further with today’s item APEIROZOAN (THE KERAUNOGRAPH ORGANISATION), apparently resulting from about five or six years of effort, and created with the Hammond B-5 organ (plus a Leslie cabinet) along with amplification, added filters, reverb units and resonators…and a “vocal mass” (a choir formed by overdubbing, perhaps?) which appears on the last disc.

The music itself is extremely “minimal” without really conforming to most of our standard definitions or interpretations of this loaded term…there’s no genuine connection to La Monte Young, Terry Riley, or Tony Conrad, nor to the Wandelweiser composers, nor to reduced-playing minimal improvisers that have been quietly intruding on the world for 22 years. I get the impression that James (or JH, as he now styles himself) is intent on slowly reinventing minimalism on his own terms, and applying himself to the task with the determination of an outsider scientist pursuing a theory that the rest of the world considers to be discredited. More on the music shortly, but the first thing to note here is the impressive presentation. It’s not just the black box with its spot-varnish letters, nor the black sleeves with the individual segments of the work spelled out in full capitals with more spot-varnish, but the suggestion here of some deep structure. JH has composed and assembled his work in chapters, given them important-sounding and ominous titles such as ‘Contrafactum: Approacher’, and ‘Expanse’, and provided further clues in the way that certain letters are picked out in red on the inside sleeves. Even the arrangement of these letters is done with care, forming a pyramid and an inverted pyramid joined in the middle, as if aping John Dee’s sacred cryptographic art. Just to open the box – heck, even just picking it up – is like taking the first steps into another world, as you expect the box to behave like the “Lament Configuration” puzzle box in Hellraiser. I hope that JH has something more benign planned for the human race; at least two chapter titles, ‘Gravitywell’ and ‘Scourgefield’ faintly suggest a science-fiction dimension, as does the closing section ‘The Thousand Pointed Star’.

However, let’s be clear; the creator wishes us to perceive his work entirely on its own terms, and he won’t accept any compromise. “No visual distractions”, he warns us, along with the injunction to “play at high volume”. He even wants us to do all this in a “quiet place”, so I personally booked my local parish church for a week. Back to the music…I see it’s been processed and mixed at EMS in Stockholm, home to many famed reverbed drones in recent years, and of course the main Swedish HQ for electro-acoustic composers, and it’s possible JH would count himself as such a composer. The main takeaways for me have been to do with the very long duration of the set – each disc lasts for over an hour, and often features just one or sometimes two very lengthy tracks. This durational aspect might be one part of the equation where his music does overlap with the New York minimalists, but only just…it’s not just the duration, but the very gradual and imperceptible changes that are wrought in the music. On today’s spin, I was feeling this especially with ‘Gravitywell’ where we see how he’s capable of crunching down his basic sound to a tiny, sub-atomic level, such that the intervals and events are no more than electrons bouncing around…and then gradually opening everything up into a VistaVision widescreen presentation that’s about 250 feet across, opening up the music into a vast and porous drone. He does this incredibly slowly; an event that may take five seconds to describe is enacted over the course of 40 minutes. Throughout, any trace of human intervention, colour, space, dimensions, texture, or any other associative elements of music have all been carefully leeched out of the canvas, leaving the listener face to face with a void. If the 2017 Xenolith made you think of the monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey, then here are five or possibly seven monoliths, all equally serene, unknowable, and indifferent to the fate of mankind as they spin throughout the universe.

All of the above screed may suggest we’re dealing with a statement of monumental emptiness, musically very cold and inhuman, and devoid of any meaning. Not so; while its surface may appear unscalable, I think APEIROZOAN will prove to be a slow-release work, whose purpose will become clear after a long period of time. To leave the final words to its creator, we pose his final paradox: “Die, and never stop dying, until you are no longer dead”. Only available as a physical release; there is a Bandcamp page, but no streaming version. From 7th February 2022.