Jordan Hall: How To Listen To Machines: Songs for Violin & Noise
Jordan Hall

Jordan Hall brings a rather remarkable CV to this eighteen-minute EP: as a thirteen-year-old violin soloist, he had his concert debut playing Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto in E Minor with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. He's also performed by invitation for a former US President and First Lady and at the Kennedy Center for the opening of a James Wyeth exhibition. Currently a a PhD Candidate at NYU, Hall's classical horizons expanded when a 2006 move to New York City brought with it a corresponding introduction to the incredible kaleidoscope of industrial reverberations that's so much a part of the city. Whereas for some its ‘noise pollution' might be cause for dismay, for Hall it represented a tantalizing world of possibilities, which ten years later he literally integrated into his creative practice when he began recording the city's sounds on his iPhone to merge them with his violin playing.

In the wrong hands, such a project could end up being little more than a gimmick, an interesting experiment but nothing more. Hall, on the other hand, smartly realized early on that musical material of substance would be needed for the project to turn into something of value, and consequently, though all four settings on this free-to-download EP feature nothing more than violin and recordings of machinery, each one holds up perfectly well as a vibrant, imaginative composition. So while “Stand Clear of the Closing Doors in A Major” does, for example, begin with the sounds of an MTA Brooklyn-bound L Train—a two-note alert signaling the doors' closing and their subsequent latching—Hall wisely used them as springboards for his musical inventions when the notes (C# and A) and latching morph into the violin's rapturous melody and the track's lilting rhythmic thrust.

The rumbling resonance of a drugstore fan inspired “Refrigeration Fan in E Flat Major” when Hall transformed the object's sixteenth-note rhythm into an uptempo flurry of multi-layered violins, the agitated ones underneath forming a cushion to the keening lines above. As the material works itself into a hoedown-styled lather, the fan returns, its punctuations reshaped to suggest the rising swell of orchestral timpani. Hall recorded the power generator in “Film Set Generator in D Minor” when he happened upon a film shoot near Manhattan's Flatiron building and couldn't resist threading the machine's aggressive growl into a melodically rich construction. Illustrative of his approach, “Jay Street-MetroTech Station in E Major” might have drawn for inspiration from humming noises recorded at the Brooklyn metro station Jay Street-MetroTech, but the track is ultimately more about the plaintive theme at its center and the insistent rhythmic design the violinist builds up around it. It's not insignificant that though the real-world elements are fundamental to the piece's physical and conceptual design, they constitute a much smaller overall portion than the violin playing, and much the same could be said of all four settings on this strong EP showing.

April 2017