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Ghédalia Tazartès: Repas Froid & James Hoff: How Wheeling Feels When the Ground Walks Away

img  Tobias Fischer

Not to put too fine a point upon it, but the advent of the press release marked the end of mystery in music. Today, the spiritual qualities of a work are easily explained away by pr concepts, crude categorisations and complex psychological analyses, by the favoritism of amassing „knowledge“ over refining one's intuition. Instead of encouraging a personal path through a piece of art, it is, contrarily, obstructed by easy, predigested interpretations and the accumulated weight of established opinion: When Geir Johanssen recently released a new full-length under the Biosphere-moniker, for example, not a single reviewer left out at least a sideways reference to the supposed underlying topic of nuclear powerplants in Japan – as outlined by Johanssen in a short release note - regardless of the fact that it could never be gleaned through the act of listening. And yet, this pathological fear of confusion and an almost obsessive demand for unambiguousness render the work of those  composers who consider asking questions more important than providing answers indispensable. Which is why, now into Ghédalia Tazartès fourth decade as a sound artist, his oeuvre seems more contemporary than ever and why James Hoff's debut How Wheeling Feels When the Ground Walks Away is issued as a luxurious, carefully mastered vinyl set rather than making a quickly forgotten one-off appearance at a festival: Hoff and Tazartès may still be operating at the fringes, but their time has come.

In a way, Repas Froid and How Wheeling Feels When the Ground Walks Away therefore make for excellent companion releases. Neither Tazartès nor Hoff  seems to foster any intentions of establishing a „movement“ or „school“ anytime soon, and yet they have retained an outsider status which allows them to take audiences one step deeper, far beyond the borders of the mundane. Both, too, are undeniably working with modules and elements of established styles and traditions. In the case of Paris-born, self-declared musical nomad Tazartès, these allusions and references foremost include musique concrète, radio play and collage, while also taking in world music and exploring the friction surfaces between folk heritage and electronic processing. On Repais Froid, a fresh reworking of a piece previously issued on the tanzprocesz-imprint, these ingredients are combined, randomly juxtaposed and precisely shaped into two expansive compositions made up of all-but-forgotten tape fragments and passages where the composer's own passionate, polylayered singing meets the choo-chooing sequences of vintage 80s drum machines. The exact origin of the sources remains open to debate, however, while the principle of conflation is taken to its outer extremes, as „found sound“, field recordings and samples are intricately intertwined with „original“ material.

If the „real“ and the „imaginary“ are but different sides of the same coin to  Tazartès, they are part of a shared texture to Hoff. On How Wheeling Feels When the Ground Walks Away, the New-York-based curator and editor creates a nineteen-minute long continuum of screaming, screeching and hollering, of shards of speeches, rants and announcements as well as the odd, distant electronic bubbling and guitar solo. Even without making recourse to the sparse information provided about the work, one is all but instantly led to conclude that the entire material presented here is „factual“ and „historical“, woven and held together by an underlying idea. And yet, not only is Hoff never spelling out the exact meaning of this idea in full, he seems to be consciously making it hard for his audience to uncover it: Dealing with vast assemblies and chaotic crowds, what most would take for the actual content is secretively tucked away underneath a continuous cacophony of voices, the individual rendered incomprehensible by the sheer force of the masses. Originally written for an installation at Performa 09, the immersive character of the work has perfectly translated to the stereo image and, especially when listened to at high volume or on headphones, the impression is one of physically participating at these riots. The fact that there is neither a palpable beginning nor a tangible conclusion only enhances the sensation of fascinating disorientation and it is only upon close inspection that one discovers tiny snippets of familiar passages, including, for example, German actor Klaus Kinski's infamous Jesus-performances, briefly washed up to the top of the sonic crest for a few seconds, before being pulled under again by the ferocious torrent of development.

These recognisable extracts may seem like carefully placed markers at first and without any doubt, an important part of the appeal of How Wheeling Feels When the Ground Walks Away consists in diving into the current and recovering them. And yet, just how much treasure there is to be found depends far less on Hoff's placement of hints and allusions as it does on one's personal background. Even Kinski's animalistic outbursts and insults will only be audible for those who, like this author, happen to know the particular passages almost inside-out. The other recordings, meanwhile, will forever remain nothing but white noise. There may be a political agenda to the work as well, but foremost, it serves as powerful demonstration of the workings of the human brain and its incessant search for structure. Which may make Hoff's work, which is sure to grow and expand in one's imagination on repeat listens, all the more intriguing. At the same time, it  makes one ponder the solitude of all experience in a world of confusion and utmost complexity – enveloped by anonymous masses and restricted by our senses and personal horizon, we are all strangers.

In direct contrast, Repas Froid feels more like an ode to fantasy and a friendly musical fairytale. Again, there is next to no information available as to the motivation for choosing these particular materials. Again, there is no minute description as to how they were processed and arranged. Again, it works to the advantage of the music: Recurring themes provide for a rough framework and a system of references, abstract noises bracket chunks of sound into chapters, extended movements involving song and speech in a wild variety of different languages – a little boy repeating the same phone call several times in a row, a taped fragment of what sounds like a marital quarrel – imply a narrative. And yet, as with Hoff, Tazartès is never actually making any absolute statements. Left to his own devices, the listener can not help but create these links himself, similar to visual impressions rising up from the subconscious while reading a novel. The composer is not a creator here, nor is he a guide. Rather, he is the fox smilingly leading the listener's inner hunter deeper and deeper into the forest of associations.

Ask ten different people about the concept behind these albums and you'll get ten different results. One should be thankful for this multiplicity. Beyond the border of the explicable, the mystery of music still has a home.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: James Hoff / Primary Information
Homepage: Pan Recordings

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