Free internet music: Andrew Leslie Hooker

by 5:4

As has been the custom on 5:4 in recent years, i’m starting 2021 with the financial aftermath of the holiday season in mind, exploring some of the more interesting music freely available online. It’s important to stress that, just because it’s available free, doesn’t mean you can’t choose to pay an amount of your choosing if you so wish – which, during the current global crisis, might be an especially good idea at the moment.

i’m going to start by picking up with an artist featured in my Best Albums of 2020, Andrew Leslie Hooker. Having been wowed by Black Earth / Red Earth, Hooker’s collaboration with trumpeter Nick Janczak, i was intrigued to hear more. Happily, a great deal more of Hooker’s work is available via his Bandcamp site, and i’ve recently begun to explore some of what’s there. Two releases in particular i’ve returned to multiple times; both captured my imagination due to the way they bring together contrasting ideas.

Trinity is an 11-minute EP that continues Hooker’s collaboration with Janczak. In a similar way to Black Earth / Red Earth, the composition process was convoluted, involving a back-and-forth creation-response-recreation approach between Janczak’s trumpet and Hooker’s no-input mixing board. Consequently, the three parts of Trinity are similarly immersed in a somewhat generalised behavioural environment in which polarised elements continually comingle. What i like so much about this comingling is the fact that, while the use of discrete materials – Hooker’s and Janczak’s – remains apparent throughout, there’s absolutely no sense in which they’re separate from each other: in other words, though polarised, they’re not poles apart.

In opening track ‘Father’ the combination of the two, after a squelchy 30-second intro, results in the trumpet setting up a melodic train of thought inhabiting the core of a busy, chattering noisescape. That’s basically it, and yet the three minutes of this are mesmerising, establishing a balance that results in a longer-term sense of behavioural suspension. It’s a little more complex in middle movement ‘Son’, abstracted into more generalised notions of pitch and noise, although from time to time the trumpet emerges through the skittering jumblefuck of disjecta electronica, forming a faint but tenuous connection to burbling low notes that form a convulsive kind of bassline. ‘Ghost’ concludes the triptych with a torrent-like stream of aquatic granules in which Janczak’s trumpet is a slower-moving, almost majestic, sound source, its omnipresent reverb seemingly causing its line to splinter off-shoots on either side. Hooker’s electronics are soft-edged here, lending the combined effect a surprisingly lyrical quality. It’s a beautifully gentle way to end.

Florida is a 23-minute record of a performance given by Hooker at the EMIT festival in 2019. Though sonically pretty different from Trinity, the piece nonetheless shares a predilection for the consequences of bringing together highly contrasting ideas. The most prominent is a polarisation between free-wheeling and rhythmically regular movement which, though it comes to dominate the piece as a whole, takes a while to establish itself. The first few minutes, featuring squalling electronic tones meandering forcefully over restrained burbling noise, only hint at regularity, and even then maintain a strong unpredictability. The volatility of the material almost seems to be actively preventing it from taking a hold, but from around the 6-minute mark, in the wake of loud buzzing notes, the whole soundworld starts to judder and shake with considerable force. Part of the way this plays out involves an evolutionary toing-and-froing between materials inclined towards or away from a pulse, but also the two often occur simultaneously, leading to some violent and mutually disruptive episodes. A particularly exciting one – the first big climax in Florida – takes place nine minutes in, when a big surge is followed by rapid pulsations that give the impression of a pitched idea being massively distorted due to overwhelming vibration.

The contrast of pitch and noise is also present in Florida, though here they feel less like discrete elements than poles on a continuum which the music veers wildly between due to the nature and extent of its internal wrangling. This is perhaps what i find most attractive about the piece overall; there’s something extremely tactile about the way Hooker’s sounds are pulled around and keep changing shape. They feel physical, plastic, as if Hooker were literally wielding pieces of sound in his bare hands, pulling them to shreds, pushing and shmushing them back together in new forms, passing electric currents through them, setting them on fire, placing them beneath different coloured lights, or just blowing them up. Electronic music so often sounds like an obvious product of hardware and software, which isn’t of itself a problem of course, though it can rob the music of evocational heft, giving it the same kind of uncanny lightness that plagues so much CGI in movies. Florida doesn’t do that at all: throughout, it sounds and feels like an intense physical struggle taking place, a grappling that keeps falling in and out of metric alignment, always volatile, often violent, all of it seemingly constructed from imaginary fragments of three-dimensional sonic matter. If music could be 3D-printed, i imagine it would sound just like this. To do the piece justice i strongly recommend following Hooker’s listening advice: “Please consider playing as loudly as possible, through speakers not headphones.”

Trinity and Florida – in addition to lots more – are both digital-only releases available free from Andrew Leslie Hooker’s Bandcamp site.




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