I’ve been intensely fond of Robert Hampson’s recordings since about 1998, when -after about a year of off-and-on listening- I finally grasped what was going on with the two disc set Hz under his project name of MAIN.
I was a huge fan of My Bloody Valentine at the time, and had been searching for any other recording artists or bands that were said to be similar.
Main was listed often as being similar, so after seeing this beguiling two disc set on the shelf (conveniently among a few other MAIN releases, which I later bought up…) several times at the Best Buy (who used to have some oddities in their selection…sadly now that selection of oddities is nearly absent…Frank Zappa is about the oddest you’ll probably find. = don’t even bother looking. Nothing against Frank Zappa.) I bought it.
My first listen was one of the most surprising listens I had ever had up to that time. Unpleasantly surprising. My 16 year old mind was virgin to the idea that a piece of music could have such a slow and subtle build, and such eerie, unearthly-yet-hyper-earthly vibrations about it. I was into experimental rock music, and hadn’t yet done more than scratch the surface of anything outside of that realm. I didn’t get it, and didn’t know how to think or feel about it. I did at least feel as if there was something yet to be gained from listening to it, and held onto it, periodically listening to different parts that had caught me on previous listens. After some months of continued incomprehension, I lent it to my best friend, who lived just across the street. He took quite a shining to it. On a late night during the time the album was in his possession, we were listening to it and it finally caught me, absorbed me, and I began the process of absorbing it, which -thanks to the substantial complexity of the work- continues to this day.
I started listening to it frequently. The guitar work was fascinating, angular, strange, deep. The meditative quality of the ambient / electro-acoustic / industrial compositions was singularly direct for me. There seemed to be no pretension whatsoever; all of the intended ideas and emotion piped directly from the creator to my being with no slowage. Mysterious tonal phrases repeated at variable intervals, reminding me of the sounds of insects, animals, and air movements in nature. Guitars were processed and edited in ways I had never imagined, and evoked new thoughts and ideas in me. Time was used as a compositional element, with various swells – sometimes sudden and almost frightening – arriving after carefully weighed spans – to segue into the next eternal / finite plateau of mesmerizing atmosphere. Recordings of various natural acoustic sounds, wood / metal / porcelain knocking or scraping are placed carefully, enhancing the palette of sounds, making the compositions resonate on more psychic levels for the listener. (Though this tactic is electro-acoustic music 101, it was then utterly revelatory for me.) The minimalistic yet overwhelming and reality-bending songs were really where I was sucked in, namely “Corona I”, “Maser I”, and my favorite – “Neper II”. These are all pieces based on simple repetitious loops with some distant echoed or otherwise obfuscated singing, which was a general approach used often on any of the MAIN albums with “songs”, such as Motion Pool or Dry Stone Feed. The punctuating of these two brimming discs with song-like items makes it a bit sugary in comparison to Hampson’s newer work under his own name. This (songs / song-like pieces) is just a general trait of about 40% of his work as MAIN, as is the inclusion of guitars as a sound source to the tune of about 70% guitars included. These aspects have been removed (though he has mentioned that he will likely begin using guitars again), but the same emotional climate of deep contemplation and wonder applies across the board to all of his recordings, including even a portion of Loop’s recorded output (See “Shot With a Diamond” from A Gilded Eternity). I strenuously recommend any and all recordings under the name MAIN or Robert Hampson as being some of the most intuitive, connected, beautiful, and thoughtfully composed experimental music in existence. At the very least, his is a standout voice well worth listening to among the current prominent experimental / electro-acoustic creators. I will now digress from the lengthy, indulgent preface and move on to discuss one of his most recent items.
Robert Hampson – Repercussions CD + 5.1 DVD (Editions Mego)
It’s great. Especially the 5.1 disc, which has the same 3 pieces in 5.1 that the audio disc holds in regular 2 channel stereo (It would have been really great if there was an exclusive piece or two on one or both of the discs…but I do not look in gift horsies’ mouths.) I had read somewhere a few years ago that he had been doing work with 7.1 or 5.1, and was of course piqued to hear any of it, and now am pleased to have had the experience. There’s an innate 3-dimensional quality to Hampson’s recordings which is of course furthered by adding more listening channels. The mixing is done with attention to the purpose of the music, with no over-indulgence or distastefully opulent use of 5.1. Sounds move patiently through the listening field, and the chosen paths of motion work appropriately to illuminate their meanings. Electronically generated sounds are mingled with various acoustic sounds, percussive, textural, earthy, sometimes tonal in nature. Field recordings of atmospheres and tactile frictions come and go against droning backgrounds and incidental flourishes of manipulated audio. In a lot of ways this is exactly what anyone familiar would expect from any Robert Hampson recording, but such that it’s not likely that one would be left wanting. There is a wealth of variety in the sound sources, with an impressive selection of fascinating field recordings emphasizing -of course- texture. The manipulation of various sounds is specialized and truly transforms the audio in unique ways, rather than adding an easily identified layer on top of an easily identified sound. There is tension and release at mixed paces, including what I would note as being a Robert Hampson staple; the crescendo and sudden drop-off of a wave of sound highlighted -especially towards the peak- with high-frequency tones. He includes some new instruments; piano, accordian?, drum, bells. He is trying new things and his work is maturing, becoming wiser.
Of Repercussions I say that it’s not to be missed in either its 2 or 5.1 channel forms, but as evidenced by my big fat gush of a preface I’m kind of biased. I wonder if anybody else who purchased their own copy had the same experience as I did with the cover art being difficult to get the discs out of, and / or coming completely unglued after about one month of ownership in dry and cool conditions? I will glue it back together, and getting the discs out isn’t impossible, just a little annoying. I do appreciate the minimal use of plastic, but the packaging gets a C- and a grumble. Mr. Hampson does not cease to inspire and impress me. His creativity comes from a true connection and earnestness, otherwise the music would not -could not- affect me at cell-level as it does.