John Wall – Hylic

Self-released, 2003
  1. Part I
  2. Part II
  3. Part III

CD in printed card wallet with embossed letterpress titling.

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Gustave Flaubert is said to have been such a fastidious writer that he’d agonise for a week over the placement of a comma. This almost fanatical attention to detail is characteristic of the London-based composer John Wall. Hylic, Wall’s sixth release, has been nearly two years in the making. It’s a tripartite suite, of twenty minutes’ duration, and in material and form it’s both a consolidation of, and a departure from, his earlier work. Hylic is derived from the word hylo – of or relating to matter. At one time, much of Wall’s often microscopic matter/material had been sampled judiciously from other people’s recordings. Indeed, on his second CD, Alterstill, some of the samples were presented nakedly in their new environment, and only the integrity of his recontextualisations made them work on his behalf. But although he was, and to some extent remains, a sampling artist, the compound irony and political confrontationalism of plunderphonicists such as John Oswald and Negativland play almost no part in his work. To Wall, samples are just source material: things to work on rather than with. Over the years, his reliance on samples has steadily decreased, and those used in Hylic have been modified to such a degree they’re all but unrecognisable.

Like Bernard Parmegiani, Wall constructs transformative electroacoustic soundscapes of remarkable individuality. His is a muscular, energetic music that seems to contradict itself by being perpetually on the verge of doubt and disintegration. Structural integrity is of paramount importance to him, but he makes no great play of it; nor of anything else, though there are many things in his music worth savouring. Even the most minimal of these soundscapes has, for example, an astonishing degree of inbuilt complexity, although it may consist of little more than the endlessly varied colouration, weight and placement of bumps and clicks, as in the opening minutes of Hylic Part I. This music is absolutely of its time, but Wall has few equals, and I’d be very surprised indeed if his work were to fall by the wayside.

— Brian Marley