Jim Haynes: Flammable Materials From Foreign Lands
Elevator Bath

Flammable Materials From Foreign Lands sees California-based sound artist Jim Haynes—he of the infamous declaration “I rust things”—issuing his latest collection of corroded provocations on the Austin-based Elevator Bath imprint rather than his own label, The Helen Scarsdale Agency. Perfectly tailored for its twelve-inch presentation (in an edition of 300 vinyl copies) and “composed, collected, and distressed at MoKS, Estonia and at the Helen Scarsdale shipping container, 2015,” the thirty-seven-minute release pairs three shorter pieces on the first side with a long-form exploration on the second.

The album grew out of a residency Haynes enjoyed at MoKS for a program called Active Crossover designed to bring together artists whose work involves ties to environmental recordings. Asked by one of the hosts about the kinds of spaces that might appeal, Haynes naturally expressed interest in Estonian sites characterized by “electro-magnetic disruption” and “psychic distress,” interests that pointed him in the direction of decaying, abandoned buildings to collect recordings rife with crackle, static, and noise. One pictures Haynes, treading slowly through the crumbling structures' rooms, gathering field recordings and raw sound material from concrete floors, chemical stains, and electrical wires and anticipating with excitement the electro-acoustic pieces he might generate from such a gold mine.

The opening salvo, “Of Blast and Bleach,” effectively sets the tone with brittle, grime-encrusted convulsions that pulse and sputter unrelentingly; the later “E. Kohver” follows a piercing drill screech with a cloud of dust so impenetrably thick one could choke on it. As often happens with a Haynes production, identifying the sources becomes something of a fool's game when the elements are abstracted so heavily by manipulations; the loud rippling noises in “Nyet,” for example, might conceivably have originated from recordings of factory machinery, weather systems, and amplified electrical current, or some equivalent combination thereof.

As engaging as side one's tracks are, it's the twenty-minute “Electric Speech: Nadiya” that most gives the recording its individuating character. Working from an Estonian radio broadcast, Haynes cryptically reduces the female host's voice to mangled snippets and coarse scrapes. Prolonged pauses separate the clipped voice punctuations, which allows room for distressed drone treatments, machine noise, and minimal electronic textures to appear between those utterances. Though certain barely decipherable words suggest that the topic in play has to do with globalization, the collage-styled setting primarily centers on an abstract sound presentation rich in sweeping flourishes and voice effects. Strange it is, but it might also be the most fascinating thing Haynes has produced to date and does much to make the release stand out from the others in his discography.

March 2017