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Jim Haynes - Magnetic North

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Artist: Jim Haynes

Album: Magnetic North

Label: Helen Scarsdale

Review date: Oct. 13, 2003

The enigmatic, evocative nature of Magnetic North begins with the packaging: a paper insert, hand-made, seemingly soaked in a watercolor-like wash of what appears to be rust or spilled coffee or some sort of industrial lubricant. As it turns out, all this provides subtle clues to the nature of the music.

Minimal notes state that the disc contains the audio program to an installation with the same name - Magnetic North; and this music does indeed seem to be part of something all-encompassing: visual, sensory, exploratory. There are the sounds of hollow, ferrous, metallic clanging in muffled, muted, sonic space; half-heard short wave radio signals and utterances; scratchings of static and random noise, sudden shifts after long drones, eruptions of occasional silence. These sounds unfold and, despite their apparent affinity with decay and distant industrial clangor, bloom in the auditory vista with a surprisingly gentle and organic beauty.

The textural palette and the underlying musical architecture here are sometimes similar to those of other works within the art music, dark ambient, and experimental genres. But Haynes invests his compositions with a refreshing clarity, a hands-on, Musique Concrete, found-sound ethos that adds much to the unique resonance of the work.

Repeated listening brings new dimensions to these pieces; an initial sense of stark and foreboding coldness gives way to the sort of intangible but insistent emotionality found in the later, holographic works of composer Morton Feldman, or in the long, slow-moving, abstract visual constructions that appear as mysterious icons in the films of Andrei Tarkovsky.

Among the possible scenarios that Magnetic North brings up for me is this one: a person stands alone on an isolated beach, finding on the shoreline stones and driftwood and countless unrecognizable sun-bleached and sea-rusted artifacts that have washed up. He or she arranges these objects at the tide line, carefully, but with no particular conscious reason in mind.

The assembly of elements resulting from these gestures of the arranger and organizer may be universal in its simplicity, unknown and unknowable in its intent. But upon another person, walking the beach, finding it later, it may well have an intensely profound and personal effect.

By Kevin Macneil Brown

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