Charbel Haber - "Two Germans At The End Of The Earth" (It Ended Up Being A Great Day, Mr. Allende)
Recently I spoke to Rob Mazurek, a musician who has lived in Chicago and Brazil and has played all over the world. He mentioned that when he goes to musicians’ homes, you see the same records no matter what continent you’re on. Case in point — guitarist Charbel Haber. He lives in a gentrifying immigrant’s neighborhood in Beirut, and the books, records, posters, and flammables on display could well turn up in an abode in Sao Paulo, Chicago, Tokyo or Berlin. His biographical arc and aspirations — he started playing guitar to meet girls, and now he wants to play with Thurston Moore — are also pretty standard.
So what about his music? Haber’s recorded for years with a rock band called Scrambled Eggs, but he isn’t a newcomer to improvisation and more experimental sounds; he is, alongside Mazen Kerbaj and Sharif Sehnahoui, an organizer of Lebanon’s sole improv festival Irtijal, and half a dozen years ago he was already waxing abstract on Michael Zerang’s Cedarhead. But it has taken him until now to get a solo record out. Once you get past the Arabic script on the cover, that’s not much that situates this record in the Middle East. The titles of each track are drawn from Nazi Literature In The Americas, a novel by Chilean Roberto Bolaño, and the sounds Haber draws upon will be quite familiar to you if you’ve listened much to the solo recordings of Oren Ambarchi, Jim O’Rourke, Robert Fripp, Lee Ranaldo and (of course) Thurston Moore. Like them, Haber uses a chain of effects to separate his instrument from its early history. Feedback, harmonics, and thick, elongated tones predominate, and although everything here is performed solo, loops keep the music from sounding thin.
Nothing here has the shock of the new, but if your ears are tuned to the imaginary station that plays the aforementioned guitarists, there’s plenty that will please. Haber’s appropriation of titles from a self-questioning, politically pugnacious book may point to where he’s coming from as a person, but not what his music sounds like. The movable masses of sound on “Itinerant Heroes or the Fragility of Mirrors” and the isolated sonorities that pop out of “Wandering Women of Letters’” quietly sizzling backdrop neither beckon or repel, but seem self-sufficient in a way that may be the true heritage of Beirut-based experimental musician.
If you don’t have much of an audience, let alone a cultural milieu of support or even indifferent tolerance, you have to please yourself. This music displays a level of craft and engagement that makes me think Haber has been working towards this for a long time, and it unfolds with a sense of confidence that makes me think he believes someone should be listening, yet it betrays no worry about whether anyone actually is. But is that the relative isolation of living in a city periodically turned upside down by war and preoccupied with more compelling matters than alternative culture, or is it just what happens when a dude spends nights alone with his pedals and the contents of his ashtray? Either way, it comes down to the sounds, and Haber has sound instincts about what to do with his.