His wife thinks it sounds like angry bees and his mum thinks it sounds like a hoover, but Peter Hamlin’s looped drones are music to us. We do, however, realize that we are unusual people. The benefit in being unusual people is that often we see and hear things others do not. We find beauty in broken things, corrupted sounds worth salvaging, pieces of plastic that can be reclaimed as art. In the physical world, this is called recycling, or at the very least, reassessing the discarded – a trait of thrift shoppe owners and hardware mechanics. Sound reclamation may be less common, but it’s a valid parallel. And while we have not yet come across a hoover album that we can recommend (not counting trance music’s “hoover” sound), we heartily recommend Marcus Davidson and Chris Watson’s Bee Symphony for insect aficionados.
While “tape” is in the title, The Messel Pit Tapes and eis are actually CD-Rs made out of tapes; early purchasers receive a piece of spliced tape from the recording sessions, from which they can create their own loops. These would make excellent tapes, because one would eventually be unable to separate the distortion and flux of the recording from that of the medium. For now, the warble and warp are preserved in zeroes and ones, a strange irony that is certainly not lost on the artist. The strange allure of these loops is that they involve the repetition of passages that are not what they initially set out to be: the celebration of mistakes until they are no longer mistakes. One will likely be unable to identify the original sources, nor would one want to, because once one has grown used to hearing them in this way, the “right” way would sound wrong. These mashed recordings play with expectations, subverting them until up is down and broken is whole.
The Messel Pit Tapes is the fuller of the two releases, presenting a greater variety of sounds across its hour-long playing time. The inspiration is a German fossil site; the long-buried, closely examined relics of the site are akin to the smudged, dusty sounds of the album. Pedals, guitar and reverb flesh out the fragments like computer images of flesh attached to unearthed bone. If society ended and these snippets were brought once again to life, future generations might wonder at our ability to create compelling melodies out of mangled sources; or they might try to glue them back together.
eis is compelling in a different way. This companion album includes the sound of cassettes that have been frozen, thawed, and otherwise manipulated. “Glacial epochs and palaeoclimatology” are the starting points for an album that is cold in both genesis and execution. Themes repeat throughout, looping back upon themselves: a macro version of the prior release. There’s even a reprise. Not that Hamlin has suddenly become accessible; the “angry bees and hoovers” have simply been replaced by coelacanths and crampons. While half the length of The Messel Pit Tapes, eis benefits from concision. The focus is clearly on cold, and the listener feels the frigid air, as if emanating from the speakers. Key track “Antarctica” inspires a sense of isolation by reducing the foreground and enhancing the drone. The pure, unaltered bells of “Pre-Boreal” are a jolt, but the contrast is a welcome surprise.
We are going to guess that Hamlin’s wife and mum love him dearly, but don’t always understand his hobby. We understand his hobby, although we’ve never met him and thus don’t know him enough to love him dearly. Somehow we hope this combination presents the artist with a sense of completion. These sounds are too good to remain buried. (Richard Allen)