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Russell Haswell - Second Live Salvage

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Artist: Russell Haswell

Album: Second Live Salvage

Label: Editions Mego

Review date: Sep. 18, 2008

The second installment of Russell Haswell’s Live Salvage project refuses to be a lot of things. Musically, it refuses to settle easily into one approach. It disintegrates the limits between styles with impunity, tearing down what was left of the walls between classic studio computer music and modern-day noise. In fact, Haswell comes close to refusing anything even remotely musical, mostly rejecting even the extreme, pain-pushing high frequencies and volume spikes of his pervious work, as well as the occasional symmetries and stark order of much computer music. Battered references to savage metal and bleak drone surface, but don’t hold. Repetition, timbre, rhythm – all these get shredded and replaced by texture, masses, architecture. These aren’t compositions; they’re mammoth, roaring, organic automatons who have lost their code, subterranean in habitat, relentless by nature and harrowing in character.

As a recording, it refuses fidelity and settles for a rawer, more honest approach. But not necessarily honest in the sense of let all the warts show – honest in that Haswell acknowledges these pieces as past, exposing them to the degradation and mutation inherent in memory and history. The six live performances here are also entirely improvised, but Haswell himself hasn’t let the past be, making their audio verité surface an illusion.

Any nod to meaning outside of the physical nature of the sounds is also denied. Each piece is identified only with overly specific running times, the year of recording, venue name and city (“16:02.84, 2002, Schirn Künsthalle, Frankfurt”). To highlight the visceral nature of this music, Haswell has taken music produced digitally and released it in analogue form only – the official album is vinyl only, while the promo copy is a cassette.

But refusal is not the heart of the project. Second Live Salvage refuses so much that the question of what it’s for becomes inevitable, and forces a transformation on the music that is as palpable as it is powerful: from live recording to a priori composition; from digitally generated performance to analogue object; from unmarked sonic sculpture to a flood of liquid metaphor.

Attention to the album’s seeming indifference to fidelity and any usual notion of sound quality reveals its most provocative layer. Music is ugly, it says, And technology lies. Upon realizing this, all the issues mentioned previously fall away, and the record becomes a conflagration of metaphors: of the evolution of computer technology from an esoteric science to a populist tool, of the loss of communication when information becomes a glut, of society in collapse.

Even the crowd noise takes on new meaning. This is, remember, a salvage of times past, not a document of what happened. In Kita Kyushu, the meager applause at the end is laughable, and turns acidly ironic. In Brighton, the audience chatter competes with Haswell’s roar, another stream of information to try and assimilate. We hear one man yell: “My ears are bleeding. I love it!” For him the experience was physical, for us it’s something other. If not intellectual, then at least cerebral, something that, even as it denies reality, forces us to let the real world in, with its vast imperfection and messiness. Ultimately, Second Live Salvage becomes art that contains what composer Iannis Xenakis said all good art does: “truth immediate, rare, enormous, and perfect.”

By Matthew Wuethrich

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