Jim Haynes: Scarlet
Sigtryggur Berg Sigmarsson: So Long
Two new releases, the first an immersive CD collection by Icelandic artist and Stilluppsteypa member Sigtryggur Berg Sigmarsson and the second a blistering set by label overseer Jim Haynes, uphold The Helen Scarsdale Agency's reputation for challenging, boundary-pushing work.
The title of Sigmarsson's So Long release makes it sound as if he's bidding adieu to recording activity, which would be something of a shame if the evidence at hand is representative of his solo work. Though the sixty-seven-minute recording features three long dronescapes, the pieces themselves play like patchworks whose components have been assiduously stitched together. And yet while such parts might have been created years apart from one another (the liner notes indicate that the recording's content was produced between 1998 and 2013) and in entirely different locales, they do form coherent wholes. Whatever juxtapositions there are in these travelogues aren't jarring; instead, transitions occur so fluidly within them, the listener is drawn into the material's hauntological soundworlds before conscious awareness of the absorption sets in. Hallucinatory, hypnotic, and flecked with ambient-industrial detail, Sigmarsson's carefully sutured material inhales and exhales like a slumbering body, and tension surreptitiously builds throughout the twenty-eight-minute opener “Eight Hour Delay” when one rumbling episode follows another. Inflamed by synthesizer textures and Ania Courtis's guitar manipulations, the aptly named “The Trip” presents, by comparison, a more turbulent phantasmagoria where lacerating winds blow across barren stretches of frozen terrain and organ tones warm the survivors' bones. At disc's end, “Late Night Arrival” dials the intensity down for fourteen nocturnal minutes of sludge-like hiss and blur. Interestingly, So Long almost never saw the light of day. Though it originally was scheduled to appear on Intransitive Recordings, the plan was scuttled when the label ceased operations, prompting The Helen Scarsdale Agency to step in and midwife these dronescaping creations into the world.
In contrast to the CD (and download) format of the Sigmarsson release, the one from Haynes is on cassette, and purposely so as he wanted Scarlet to appear in a format renowned for, in his own words, “all of the imperfections, warts, and scars of that medium.” Conceived as variations on the theme of “repetition through trauma,” the fifty-minute release's eight mutations crackle with scabrous purpose. A noisier affair than So Long, Scarlet plays like an extended psychotic episode packed with enough electro-magnetic disturbances to make the skin crawl. The roar of industrial equipment forms an ongoing backdrop to Haynes's schizoid breakdowns, which don't so much spiral out of control as agitate obsessively in place. Representative of the cassette's material, “Racine to Vermillion” contorts itself into flickering convulsions for the full measure of its thirteen minutes, while “Mordant Red 15” does much the same during its B-side run. At other moments, Scarlet works up a metallic wail that'll have you either strapping yourself in or checking your heart monitor. It's heartening to learn that Haynes isn't without a sense of humour, as intimated by a sleeve note that reports that “all recordings of strobe lights, shortwave radio, and psychic disturbance were captured within The Helen Scarsdale Agency's shipping container during the summer of 2014.” Presumably he wouldn't be offended by someone laughing in response to the recording's wilder goings-on as opposed to responding to it more soberly.