Terrapin ~ Killing HF Harlow


Vivisection would have been too good a fate for HF Harlow, whose isolationist experiments with Rhesus monkeys may have singlehandedly inspired the animal rights movement.  If Planet of the Apes were to become real, he’d be the first to go.  Harlow’s experiments are the starting point for this collaboration between like-minded artists Giovanni Lami and Shaun McAlpine, whose separate work each inspired the other and brought them together as Terrapin.  The project’s unique aspect is that its combination of analog and digital is first played live, then edited without overdubs.  The resulting sounds are immediate and immersive, rather than removed.  Immediacy is needed to dive into this tension, this affront to nature.  The field recordings heard may well be the sounds of tortured monkeys: high-pitched, panicked wails met by copious clicks and clankings, like those of surgical instruments tossed carelessly on a metal tray.  The drones may just as likely be the hums of refrigerator units or generators.  The not-knowing makes the fear seem real; one yearns to come to the rescue, but realizes that all this has happened long ago, and that we have all arrived far too late.

The music comes across as incredibly effective, a mixture of drone, electronics and other mysterious sources that may include gong, alarm and metal sheet.  Static is a frequent visitor, as is warble; these are not melodic tunes, but impressionistic.  Killing HF Harlow sounds like a factory and a laboratory all at once, offering chronic noise and constant danger.  The inner workings of the monkeys’ minds are difficult to fathom, but the ear’s inability to find familiarity seems a reasonable echo.  Whenever the bass begins to repeat, the sense of impending menace grows like the shadow of a corrupt surgeon falling across a patient’s window.  These tones may offer remembrance, but are purposely devoid of warmth.  A soft sympathy develops only in the final track, as the duo demonstrates what the doctor did not: a touch of mercy, an understanding that the mind can only take so much and should not be pushed.  As performers, Lami and McAlpine may have discussed the ending and decided that some non-florescent light needed to be added in order to move the project from dirge to devotional; in this they have succeeded.  We are sickened all over again, but at the same time, our faith is renewed; the disgraced doctor, cast out by the world, experienced a different brand of isolationism before his death, and one might posit that an inevitable karma came into play.  (Richard Allen)

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2 comments

  1. Philip Larkin’s poem Laboratory Monkeys was also inspired (if that is the right word) by HF Harlow. Details here. http://ripe-tomato.org/2013/11/23/larkins-animal-poems-6/

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