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CD Feature/ CM von Hausswolff: "Operations of Spirit Communication"

img  Tobias

Art occasionally has the strange characteristic of making you feel uncomfortable and elated at the same time. Such is the case with “Operations”, a small-scale reprinting on German label “Die Stadt” of the original album from the year 2000. It already starts when opening the frankly amazing Gateway cover of this Vinyl-only release, which shows a photograph of a brightly illuminated room, filled with nothing but a small metallic table and an adjacent chair, shimmering redly and yellowish in the rays of the setting sun. It is a picture of quietude, of calmness and of tranquility. But at the same time, this soothing ambiance feels unnatural, deceitful and dangerous. It is a perfect atmospheric introduction into a record, which deals with the ominous topic of Electronic Voice Phenomena – or, to put it less academically, with how to talk to the dead.

Carl Michael von Hausswolff must seem like an odd duck to most outsiders. In his music, he has regularly undertaken the effort of making space visible on CDs with titles of bizarre length (take “Three Overpopulated Cities Built By Short Sighted Planners. An Unbalanced And Quite Dangerous Airport And An Abandoned Church”, for example), his sound sources have included oscilloscopes, motion detectors, surveillance cameras and radar devices and together with his Swedish compatriot Leif Elggren, he heads the (not officially recognised) Digital Territory of KonungaRikena Elgaland-Vargaland. But he is certainly no fool. Which is maybe why he has partly dedicated this album to Friedrich Jürgsenson (the remaining half goes to the Hafler Trio’s Andrew McKenzie), the man who first introduced the possibility of the deceased contacting the living through radio waves to the world – and a misunderstood personality for most of his life. While recording bird songs in his garden in the summer of 1959, his microphone picked up the voice of a man talking, while there was definitely noone around. Jürgenson was no stranger to the concept of radio interference, but he thought it a mysterious coincidence that the voice should actually be speaking about... birds. In his ensuing research activities, which would take up an ever-increasing amount of his time and life, he became convinced that these EVP were actually messages from another sphere. For obvious reasons, Hausswolff quickly became interested in the man – after all, his tools of composing were strikingly similar to the ones used by Jürgenson for his experiments. “Operations of Spirit Communication” can however not be a 1:1 conversion of the ghosts in the static, nor does it endeavour to merely approximate its characteristics. Instead, it reaches out into the same space, searching for possibilities and depicting the structures behind the visible. This obviously implies that the music will have to be of a less tangible kind and indeed, for most of the time, it consists of a disembodied hum, which acts as a medium for granular sound manipulations. Like transparencies, episodical noises turn up and disappear again, while the underlying drone subtely shifts in shape. On Side B, big ships appear to be gliding by silently, creating the illusion of physicality, but at the end lurks a bodyless fade, free from substance and intention, slowly rolling away into the void.

At first, all of this certainly seems a little noncommittal, but it sure takes hold of you after a while. The music has so much room to breathe, that it becomes one with its environment and fills the air around you. If EVP should indeed emanate from an energetic field, then “Operations” succeeds admirably in making it palpable. With every spin, it takes on a more concrete feeling, like a haunted house you’re slowly learning to love. Still it remains absolutely clear that you’ll never really get to the bottom of it. Which has all of the typical characteristics of the ambiguity of art: You fear it, yet you want to get to know all about it.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Die Stadt Records

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