If you’ve ever stood still in a busy part of any city just to listen to the way it continually constructs itself then you should be familiar with the kind of experiment hBar enacts: the microscopic dissonance at the heart of every ‘totalizing’ glance, the impulse omissions our brains make when faced with the base movement of energy, the strange manners in which we make sense of a world so complex it’s impossible to just explain it into being. Scientist musician Alberto Novello (a.k.a. JesterN) and flutist Paolo Pascolo have reproduced this construction by means of a simple dialectic, the rationalistic anchor of the flute as analogue (the ‘organic’ view, a daydream of constraints and intelligibility) against the hyper-rationality of laptop electronics (the ‘digital’ as an infinite source / source of infinity based on microscopic alteration, an enhanced reality of cyborg-scapes). The resulting synthesis is a very interesting feast for the ears in ways that most ambient artists struggle to achieve, building non-linear step by non-linear step into a multitude of sounds that can be perceived as deeply as you please, depending on how much attention you can spare.
Recorded out of a set of live improvisations, hBar makes its way through sounds at an incredibly fast rate while conserving a loose, rather spaced-out series of rhythms (at least until the last piece, where a more definite, rapid form is created), developing a sense of both predictability and its opposite by treating electronics as a background for destabilization. An atonal flute sequence opens “Continuous Quanta”, and while a certain narrative which we can rely on is set, it is constantly undermined by little blips and glitch-like scratching emerging all over it like virus expanding into a direction-less contagion. In this sense, any listener will become used to all the digital contamination and expect it at every turn, but the form such contamination takes is always unusual, breaking up all sorts of models up to those expected of free jazz, where an organic view eventually settles in and accommodates all deviations into a coherent body of sound and into a deeply communal experience. There is no such thing here – only perpetual alteration, a glimpse into the essentially chaotic production of the sensible, not a formula for cooperation but a take on the interactions the elements of such a thing generate at all times.
The closing piece, “Superconductivity”, is like a summary of all the ideas explored before it, and it sounds a bit like mid 2000’s Autechre, which is to say superficially approachable but keenly avant-garde at its core. The rhythms are mostly clear, but still blurred out in the presence of all the processed bits of flute sounds and noises, pushing its way into revealing the partially illusory (a perceptual sleight of hand) unity of the analogue while the bursts of electronics suddenly congeal into a strange whole, suggesting not so much a separation but a full mirror-image, an eloquent dialogue in which synthesis is all but impossible, favoring instead a form of mutual aid: micro depends on macro and viceversa.
In this way, hBar suggests that experiences such as listening to the city need not be categorized into a set of binary oppositions, but that all these sounds exist at the same time and support each other by filling the nanosecond gaps in the frequencies in which they are produced, emitted not by one thing or many-as-one, but by a multitude, an all-encompassing polyphonic vision set in the stead of senses that tend to overrule the chaos of difference. In the end, it’s as good an experiment as any truly great ambient album, but performed from the perspective of EAI, giving it an edge that hints at quite a lot more interesting things than moods and the description of places. Albums like this are rare, and while probably not everyone’s cup of tea, it certainly makes for a thought-provoking evening of music listening. (David Murrieta)