Jack Dangers: Bathyscaphe Trieste
Robert Haigh: Darkling Streams
Forbidden Planet Explored (Important Records, 2004), Music for Planetarium (Brainwashed Handmade, 2008), Test Signals (Tummy Touch, 2012)—a scan of some of the titles Jack Dangers (Meat Beat Manifesto, Tino Corp, Perennial Divide) has released over a near-three decade span gives some indication of the kind of explorative sensibility at work in Bathyscaphe Trieste. In his solo work, Dangers explores analogue synthesis and tape manipulation on labels such as Important Records and Bella Union as well as his own Tapelab and Flexidisc imprints. A bit of background is needed to appreciate the concept behind the latest release, background that powerfully enhances the listener's experience of the thirty-five-minute recording: in 1960, a two-person bathyscaphe (“deep boat”) named Trieste undertook a five-hour descent (followed by a three-hour ascent) to reach a record maximum depth in the deepest known part of the Earth's oceans, the Challenger Deep, in the Mariana Trench near Guam.
Dangers renders this journey in sonic form and captures the ocean's ice-cold and barren depths using a number of techniques, including super slowed-down tape manipulations of analog synthesizers. In fact, the rendering is so convincing, chances are the blindfolded listener automatically would interpret the burbling sounds as being representative of a water-related event of some kind. During “Blast Off,” we imagine the bathyscaphe dropping below the water's surface and hear sounds grow progressively blurrier as the distance from the surface increases and the vessel enters an increasingly alien and hermetic world. By the fourth track, “Bathypelagic Zone,” the sense of isolation is intensely felt as sounds contract in volume and the implied setting becomes ever more ghostly. By the time “Abyssopelagic Zone” is reached, water sounds have all but disappeared, leaving in their place the eerie moans of drifting spirits. Details are stripped away until little more than a queasy throb remains (“Hadalpelagic Zone”) before the seventh track, “Resurface,” returns us above ground. It's an extremely convincing evocation of the journey, and the release also includes thirty-five minutes of CD-ROM content featuring video footage paired to music by Dangers.
At first blush, Robert Haigh's Darkling Streams also seems like somewhat of a departure, given Haigh's status as a veteran of the UK underground music scene and a recording history that includes work with Nurse With Wound during the ‘80s and releases under the names Sema and Omni Trio. However, Haigh's Primary Numbers piano-based outing follows on the heels of three piano albums released on Siren Records between 2009 and 2011 (Notes and Crossings, Anonymous Lights, Strange and Secret Things) and so is less a departure than the next part of an ongoing series. The album features sixteen elegant and accessible miniatures that share certain qualities: they're consistently melodious, harmonious, and minimalistic, and as such Satie often comes to mind as one listens to the forty-six-minute collection (one easily could imagine “Cage of Shadows” being credited to the French composer). A seemingly reverb-soaked setting such as “Mysterious Lights,” on the other hand, likely will remind those familiar with his work of Harold Budd.
But on a small number of tracks, Haigh augments his playing with subtle wisps of electronic textures and other instrument sounds, a move that lessens Darkling Streams status as a pure piano album but makes for a more interesting listening experience. During “Of Eros and Dust” and the dramatic closer “Rain for Avalon,” Haigh embellishes the piano's lilting arpeggios with strings and synth shadings, resulting in fuller and more robust arrangements. Introspection and intimacy are the prevailing moods in Haigh's delicate and oft-pensive pieces (see “Remains of a River” and “Twice Solitaire”), and, while a shadow creeps across “Circle of Deranged Fifths” during a rare moment of darkness, most of the album's pieces (e.g., “Crepuscule” and “Crepuscule 2”) are as lovely as they are pretty.