Review of Hum [12k1035]

Cracked (AT)

Working colleague of mine invades my space in the office: “Wow, this just wavers. It really is far out. You know, the most far out thing I ever bought was Sigur Ros. Do you know them? This reminds me of them.” And like all neutraly yet deeply ignorant statements, this one here is of course wrong but also on spot for some reason. There is a striking difference between the “harmless” kind of ignorance this statement diffuses and the evil one that is born from a refusal to learn. Fight the evil one, but embrace the first kind, because there is an openness and innocence about not knowing that you will never ever regain. You just cannot undo experiences you have had. There is never a chance for a second first time. For instance, the influence and audience Sigur Ros created for a line of harmonic dynamics that should rightly be called melodic ambient, cannot be underestimated. And if you reduce ambient to longwinding, stretched out and introverted soundscapes you might find the analogy justified. But this kind of reduction is ignorant (duh!) and moreover Hum has a lot more than just wavering sounds to offer.

Also Hum is a completely misleading record title (that is, if it comes from the English verb “to hum”, which shouldn’t be assumed, but is also an instance of the kind of cultural imperialism the English and American zones of the globe hold over us). The field recordings and processings used for the sounds keep them mostly in the higher frequencies, at times reducing them to a deeply moving heatwave analogy (e.g at the end of “Rush”) and not a lot more. Bass frequencies and obvious rhythms or pulses are almost completely missing, which adds to the wavering and clandestine atmosphere of Hum.

Various invading instruments, played by a slew of contributing artists among them Taylor Deupree and 12k’s Kenneth Kirschner, add a sense of melancholy, world weariness and deep sensitivity. And amidst these layers ghostly beautiful voices arise, some of them real and some of them seem to be born from the intermixing of these frequencies, like those ephemeral words you can hear when drowsily napping underneath a cherry tree in the late spring. Or like the title of one of the songs on this album suggest, nothing more than an “incense of voice”.

Sawako, as a student of sound and media design, and leading a lifestyle of drifting between two prototypical urban metropolises (New York and Tokio), of course knows exactly what she is doing. But her tracks still regain an almost childlike favour for sounds and a gentleness in working with them, that makes even otherwise unpleasant frequencies pleasing and soothing. Those otherwise unpleasant sounds range from brainpiercing high frequencies (palatably mixed into the back here, yet still eyewateringly remarkable) to a monotonously plucked key on the piano, the latter one displaying a fascinating range of tonality by either being set into this surrounding or some secret production trickery.

From the finely spun sounds of “Patchworked Blanket”, whose parts include street noise and the wauling of a cat, to the epic, thirteen-minute piece “Cloud No Crowd”, Sawako weaves textures so soft and light, that they seem to hang in the air all by themselves. The dream metaphors arise all by themselves as well, and they are fitting, though you probably should prepare for a short and light dozing instead of deep sleep. The best non-sleep you will have had since, well, since Glim’s Aerial View Of Model to be honest, but still really good.

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