Ian Hawgood: Wolfskin

Ian Hawgood: Snow Roads
Dragon's Eye Recordings

Home Normal curator and a prolific artist in his own right, Ian Hawgood appears to have retired his Koen Park guise for the time being, if the fact that recent releases for Hibernate and Dragon's Eye have both been issued under his birth name is at all significant. Hawgood, who also heads up the Nomadic Kids Republic and Tokyo Droning labels and calls both London and Tokyo home, gravitates towards an organic ambiance and becalmed sensibility in his productions.

Wolfskin, the inaugural release on the Hebden Bridge, England-based Hibernate label, presents seven soothing soundscapes Hawgood generated from treated guitar and piano sounds. In a forty-minute collection where the mood is generally restrained and the music understated, ambient drones of varying character predominate (compare the crystalline ambient drone of “I Went to Sleep on a Headless Mattress” to the ghostlier “The Marbled World” and the hyperactive percussive rippling of “Black Teddy Red Flowers”). The title piece processes snippets of electric guitar meld into a shape-shifting, nine-minute mass of softly flickering design that's suggestive of the dying moments of a campfire, a mood revisited at album's end when “Let's Dance Until the Shallows Break” gradually expires in a manner that suggests light fading. While the stuttering, raindrop-like dance of Sam Liu's piano playing in “All These Memories are Blue Type” adds a few gentle moments to the album, “Red Rugs of Infinite Grass” churns aggressively. In short, though it may have been generated using minimal means, Wolfskin nevertheless holds interest due to the stylistic contrasts between its seven tracks and the personalized touch Hawgood brings to the material.

More sonically expansive by comparison, Snow Roads finds Hawgood applying treatments to piano, violin, guitar, vocals, tape machines, and field recordings alongside contributions from a smattering of others (The Remote Viewer on harmonium, El Fog on vibraphone, Celer on tingsha bells, Le Mépris and Katherine Morrice on piano, and field recordings by Ben Jones and Wataru Osako). Not to take anything away from Wolfskin, but Snow Roads feels more strongly connected to an environmental context (something helped along by track titles such as “Oak” and “Wood Carving”) in a way that makes for a richly rewarding listening experience. Bolstered by field recordings, the pieces are so evocative, it becomes easy to picture oneself exploring the desolate wilderness during the winter months; “Gravel Road,” for instance, brings to mind the image of a lone figure trudging down a deserted wintry road with the clink of something rattling against a clothesline or hydro wire the person's sole accompaniment. While a piece such as “Evening” tends towards the epic, “Sulci,” “Southern,” and “Hanamic Cubes” (with the sumptuous wheeze of its harmonium) are infused with a tenderness that's not commonly heard in soundscape recordings. Intercutting tracks of fleeting duration (“Crows” a mere twenty-two seconds) with longer, fully-developed settings, such as the beautiful dirge “One Day Winter” and the shiummering string crystals of “Specks Then Flakes,” Snow Roads makes an impression that lasts long after the recording ends. Dragon's Eye characterizes the album as “a demonstration of poetry through image and images turning to sound,” and the description isn't far off the mark.

October 2009