An archetypal journey on a road from nowhere: The Hafler Trio – Dislocation

by 5:4

Pretty much all of the music that qualifies for the lame but vital epithet “interesting” is found among the fringes and shadows of most people’s perception. Unfortunately, these days a great deal of dross and detritus lurk there too (the kind of feeble fodder served up on blogs such as “Deleted Scenes, Forgotten Dreams”), but that’s usually music that has placed itself at the edges actively, with the intention of disassociating itself from the mainstream. The best (or, rather, the best of the best) is there because it simply cannot be anywhere else; in fact, truth be told, it’s not even here: it resides precisely nowhere, and makes its point with a beautiful intensity of thought and bewildering clarity of utterance. With the literal meaning in mind, such as this may be called ‘Utopian’ music. The output of The Hafler Trio could be said to reside in just such a “no place”.

Various parameters need re-thinking and re-shaping in approaching The Hafler Trio’s works: this isn’t, in any conventional sense, ‘music’—nor, indeed, could it be described as ‘art’; it is something ‘other’ than either of these things. This need is, literally, mirrored in the plethora of paraphernalia that accompany many Hafler Trio releases, where text and image are frequently shown back-to-front; it suggests many things: the need to look at things in a new way, and that what appears backward may well not be; the backward writing also suggests Da Vinci’s practice of secreting his thoughts and concepts. and yet, nonetheless, these works have qualities that can be said to be both artistic and musical, and as such they provide a ‘way in’. It’s certainly a better approach than to question the author, Andrew McKenzie, who chooses to hide himself behind layers of pseudo-arcana and quasi-esoterica; this doesn’t matter, of course (outside of religion, when has it ever been profitable to shift attention from the creation to the creator?), it is the work that must command our interest (not our questions) and, in turn, it is the work’s response (not its answers) that we must face; then and only then, we shall be provoked for the right reasons.

The last five years have seen The Hafler Trio caught in the grip of a fetishistic perfectionism, with many albums being re-released, some for the second time. One can feel a modicum of sympathy for the creative artist wrangling with/against the cold and uncaring, faceless “industry”, but the nature of some of these re-(re-)releases appears superficial and even pretentious; it also unavoidably elevates the status of the creator to something akin to the über-mensch, without whose imprimatur a work is not merely worthless but beneath contempt. Turning attention away from such glaring negativities, there’s much to rejoice about in these works; The Hafler Trio have created some of the most breathtaking electroacoustic and electronic compositions of the twentieth century, worthy of a much wider recognition and hearing than they have previously enjoyed.

The most recent re-re-release (issued on Korm Plastics in March of this year) is Dislocation, originally issued as a cassette in 1986, then a CD in 1990; now, it appears as another CD, with ostensibly the same audio material (the enclosed artwork confesses that “…the original master has been re-processed, treated, portions have been re-recorded or even replaced by totally new material…”; in addition, the gap between the two tracks has been significantly augmented with a 10-second pause), but with much elaborated accoutrements, in the form of a large, fold-out series of postcards, adorned with the same map and text images that accompanied the previous releases in different form; the whole is contained within the now-familiar Hafler Trio wallet. Reassured (if such reassurance is needed, desired or even possible) that we do, at last, have the work as the creator intended, we can begin. The audio is, in fact, not identical; it has clearly been mastered significantly more quietly than the previous CD, resulting in a less oppressive, more vividly realistic sound. Dislocation is composed of two tracks, “Tourist With Pendulum” (subdivided with further titles—”Ultrasonic Setting-Up Procedure”, “Isle of Dogs”, “Gap in the Popes’ Jar”, “Tribal Hourglass Geometry”, “The Quest for Rigel 6” and “Anthopological G.I.G. for St.David”—but playing as a single track) and “Chronos Destroyed” (comprising “Do”, “Experimental Earth Physics” and “Minus the Sea and the Sky”), with a total duration of a little over three quarters of an hour. Dating from the mid-1980s, Dislocation is one of The Hafler Trio’s earliest releases; works from this time (also including “BANG!” – an Open Letter and the superb Three Ways of Saying Four) use a collage-like technique, soundscapes formed from the juxtaposition of anecdotal sounds from field recordings and more nebulous electronic-like gestures. In keeping with the notion of travel, alluded to strongly in the artwork and texts, the sense of being on a journey is a keen one; the aural vista presented here is very broad. The title “Tourist With Pendulum” suggests the journey beginning with an associated regularity, a ‘pulse’ of sorts that is presumably done away with in “Chronos Destroyed”; since this is not (obviously) conveyed in the sound, this could be an allusion to a less tangible, more internal kind of transition. In that sense, this is perhaps the archetypal Hafler Trio release; while not seeking to “say” anything specific, each of their releases is (for the one prepared to engage with it) a journey, one that—ideally—leaves us very different at its conclusion from how we were at the outset. From within the artwork Andrew McKenzie proclaims “Wish You Were Here!”; let’s be off, shall we?

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Hi Jeff – i only had the cassette version too, although i’ve had a copy of the first CD for a while. i agree with you, the clarity’s marvellous! That’s interesting, your speculation about Chris Watson’s contribution; i’ve been a fan of his work for a long time, and you could well be right that a fair amount of the field recordings come from him.

Re. the Autechre/h3o collaboration, the latest info i have is from Jochen Schwartz at Die Stadt; i don’t know if you’re on that mailing list, but his message in late February said this: “In the making is the Third and final (?) part of the AUTECHRE/THE HAFLER TRIO collaboration. This will be a 2DVD this time as both artists have constructed pieces of 2 (!) hours length each. Again it’ll come in a luxurious sleeve like the previous two parts before, and will be a joint Die Stadt / Simply Superior release this time.” i’ve emailed him today for an update.

Jeff Shell

I’d been waiting for this release for a long time. I’ve had the cassette version for over a decade. Never had the other CD version, so this was the first time I heard a completely cleaned-up version; it’s stunning. I was impressed with how the booklet was done too, and how it differs from the other Korm re-releases. It retains the spirit of the old Staaltape inserts.

Anyways, I think that a LOT of Dislocation came from Chris Watson. I hadn’t followed Watson’s “solo” career until very recently and didn’t know that he did so many field recordings. I just bought Weather Report and Watson’s tracks from Touch:25. I always loved the travel / locational aspect of Dislocation (and love it even more, now, with this re-release), and Weather Report is a perfect companion release.

Any word yet on when the third ae/h3o release is supposed to hit the streets?

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