The timbres of Ben Chatwin may sound intimidating, but their back story reveals their benign nature. The Hum amplifies sounds that may normally go unheard, the “hidden frequencies” detected by dogs and birds: power grids, radio waves, erased signals from blank tapes. By amplifying such frequencies, the composer makes them audible to the human ear.
The album has an inverse relationship to Garret Harkawik’s Doom Vibrations, reviewed earlier this year. That short film score, also originally called The Hum, treated such sounds as intrusive. As Harkawik highlights, some people can hear these sounds: a far-off generator, a power plant ~ and it may drive them crazy. When amplification failed, only Chatwin could hear voices, so he called in a singer to trace over the sounds. He then buried her in the mix, making The Hum a treasure hunt. Might one be able to pluck Kirsten Norrie, or “the drone of the home,” from the chaos around them?
The “Transistor” video amplifies the theme, as Morgan Beringer presents a convincing depiction of the earth’s origin: the tumult of raging seas and thunderstorms. One thinks of Genesis in the few moments of relative calm, as the light begins to break through ~ but then it too is drowned in the visual tumult. The track (found in “regular” and “video edit” forms on the album) wastes no time diving into what seems like a digital abyss, the irony being that the album is entirely analogue.
The driving beats are met by the grandeur of the strings. Together they create an impression of huge events occurring before our eyes and ears. This only makes the listener strain more to hear what lies beneath, and there it is: a voice on “Snow Crash!” The implication is that there is always more going on than what we hear. The world is filled with text and subtext, sound and sub-sound. Cats and dogs share our homes, but hear more than we do. Dolphins and bats use echolocation. A moth has the best hearing in the world. But we have something they don’t, shown by Chatwin: the ability to amplify what is unheard until we can appreciate it as well. (Richard Allen)