As the title suggests, this is the third installment in the Hexadic series, with the artwork elegantly depicting aspects of Ben Chasny‘s compositional system while simultaneously evoking a certain cryptic esotericism. And for many the compositional theory behind these seven pieces by different artists will remain obscure. Not least any readers of the press release, which repeats the known facts about the construction of the system (Chasny of Six Organs of Admittance worked on a card and chance-based way of constructing music), but gives few hints about the mechanics of such a procedure beyond the intimation that it’s ‘a malleable template to interface with the wide array of choices one makes when composing.’ In fact, the record ‘shouldn’t be listened to as a key to understanding how the system works’, though on the other hand, ‘it is possible to easily misunderstand those mechanics and their intention’. Occult instructions indeed! In any case, as I tend to do, I listened three or four times before reading any of this, and then a bunch more afterwards. So with the freedom of knowing that this could be happy misunderstanding, my impressions of the collection as a whole are as follows.
The first two collections (which I’ve heard a little of) were Chasny’s work, while this brings together a great collection of musicians who each dip their toes into the experimental waters of THE SYSTEM as it’s portentously rendered. It’s a great conceit for a compilation, diverse sonic explorers brought together to investigate a particular compositional process, but otherwise presumably left to their own devices in how those constructions take shape. Moon Duo begin proceedings with a pleasingly ponderous jangling track, “Square of the Sun”, which has a great feel of infinite circularity to it’s languidly repeated structures. The overhead rotating mobile of sound is overlaid with twinkling guitar and synths, but what really makes the track hum along is the low fat analogue buzz that is a constant moving underlay to whatever is orbiting above. It’s a great entry point as its perhaps the least Evidently Serious piece on the record.
Next up is Jenks Miller of Horseback fame joins in, presenting a strong curling guitar line over some insect-wing fluttering in the back. The effects-laden vocals create a pastoral haze, reminding me of solar flare photos of clearings and pollen fireflies (who then magickally turn up in the lyrics too. After a slower intro, a quickly revolving sweep gets going and takes us away into a fade-out. The following track, by Meg Baird and Charlie Saufley continues the sense of hazy reverie, though this time more intimate and sombre. Echoey piano and glinting cobwebs of guitar provides the backdrop to heady stereo vocals like the ghosts of a dusty untouched room slowly explored by strong sunlight. Tashi Dorji‘s is a slight, solo acoustic guitar offering, which gives the sense of a careful elaboration of an esoteric system in a manner that feels like rather a concentrated exercise.
“Abandoned Problems” by Richard Youngs is an interesting experiment, supplementing the repetitive throb that pulses through the whole collection, with the track title phrase repeated at the end of every line. This gives a real feel of endless return to the track, with the expected vocal hook always delivered while the other lines interweave and develop, with special notice for the sizzling electrick guitar line that crackles like a welding torch threat. Stephen O’Malley, Tim Wyskida and Marc Urselli is a much more extended treatment, slow chords hammered in close time with ink cymbal washes and reverb billowing out from each hit, oaky gloom dispatched in measured parcels. Then finally, Phil Legard‘s organ comes in for the finale, gentle tones laid down before a crystalline peeping and piping, the piece moving at different speeds and hopping across the extensive register like a ranging survey of a complex fractal structure. The organ inescapably hints at church surroundings, but here its not cold domes and imposing spires, instead perhaps a tumble-down chapel in the woods, forgotten by all but beetles and tree roots and open to the sky, mist rising, echoes of secret practices whispered behind the morning sun.
Overall it seems like what joins the tracks together (in addition to a pleasing sense of open-minded exploration) is a kind of pulsing insistence, a sense of cycles and sonar signals which is reinforced by the blips and sweeps hinted at in the artwork. This might be the twirling spirals of Moon Duo’s track, or the studied tolling of SoMA & company’s chords, or Baird & Saufley’s soft plinking or Richard Youngs’ compulsive lyrical repetition. Whether this is coincidence or emerges from the hexadic system I don’t know, though more can be learnt from Phil Legard’s illuminations on the subject, and from study of Chasny’s book itself. But whatever one’s depth of knowledge about the mechanisms behind the music, here we have an intriguing collection of sonic constructions.