magnetic north

by jim haynes

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about

imagine a wooden table standing at the entrance to a tunnel. the tunnel runs into the side of a mountain, and is of indeterminate length. on the table sits a collection of mundane objects: a rusted length of heavy iron pipe, a few pieces of glass, a multi-band radio receiver, an old and chipped coffee mug. there is a single chair in front of the table. you sit down. day fades to dusk fades to evening fades to night, and finally, when the chill of night has begun to bite a little and the stars overhead are beginning to seem unnaturally bright, a shadowy figure emerges from the tunnel, picks up the objects, and begins to play.

musique concrete has been around for over half a century, and any kind of experimental music that old is going to have drifted away from its original conception. it was an obscure enough wing of the avant-garde that if anyone remembers it at all, they remember it as sort of a precursor to industrial music, a grimy, anonymous collage of factory noises and birdsong painstakingly hand-spliced onto tape. to view it in such a way is to lose sight of the "concrete" in the phrase: unlike much of today’s experimental and industrial sample-driven music, the original musique concrete was rooted in a notion of the particularity of sounds, and both the evocation of and estrangement from a particular (that is, concrete) sense of place.

enter jim haynes. in a field crowded with laptop jockeys and people in love with their dsp factories, his music has a refreshingly handmade, approachable feel. in a subgenre (one without a good name) full of field recordings and drones that border on new age saccharine and sound as if they were untouched by a human hand, magnetic north is rough and full of character. he creates lengthy, involved drones using simple tools and some complementary processing, and breaks them up with simple sounds that are at once familiar and strange.

the title evokes images of arctic landscapes, but the music paints a world not so much of unremitting cold and isolation, but more a peaceful place blanketed in deep snow, lit by electromagnetic dance of the aurora borealis playing overhead. the crackle and hiss of the earth’s magnetosphere is never very far away, nor is the presence of a human hand.

despite the trancelike feel of the five sustained drones on magnetic north, there is an unpredictability here that holds your attention. it’s accessible enough that it’s enjoyable on the first listen, but it will only reveal itself over the course of multiple plays, which is finally one of the only reliable barometers of musical quality. -- ozymandias g desiderata

credits

released July 1, 2003

all works are treatments of private performances from 2002-2003, composed at the helen scarsdale agency.

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