It’s always a treat to discover that musicians whose skill and craft you trust are working on a new project. The promise of witnessing proven bright minds flex new creative muscles, illuminate previously unlit corners of their labyrinthine artistic potential. I got this rush of anticipation when I received a link to a new record by a new duo called HzHzHz – a duo consisting of Perth experimental music stalwarts Cat Hope and Tristan Parr. As far as I can tell, the band name is ‘HzHzHz’ and the record is ‘HzHzHzHz,’ though I’ll happily stand corrected on how many Hz’s should go where (it seems to change depending on where you look, which is kind of nice really). What’s more, I can scarcely understand a single track title, since the record’s out on Italian netlabel Brusio, and titles follow suit in the label’s native tongue.
But even translating these titles won’t give much away, bringing to light scattered words like ‘Chasm’ and ‘New Mouth’ alongside various Italian place names. The only constant seems to be a conscious referral to space – these tags are not what the corresponding sounds allude to, but rather, perhaps, indications of the spaces in which these sounds seem to exist. Meanwhile, the cover art is an abstract painting by Matthew Hunt: sure, here’s a visual, but it’s not about to give you any clues as to what real-world objects or experiences might align with the sounds you’re hearing. This is sonic fare, neat – hell, even the band name is just a linguistic equivalent of a few single sound waves back-to-back.
So – if everything about this record is tailored to focus your attention on its sonic properties – what does it actually sound like? Given Hope and Parr’s long-standing collaboration in new music ensemble Decibel, I certainly had my preconceptions. I expected that, like Decibel, HzHzHz would be heavily rooted in conceptual approaches, sonic interpretations of theories and narratives (musical and otherwise), electroacoustic processes captured on record, plenty of dissonance and extended techniques. True enough, many of these descriptors could be applied to HzHzHz without anyone writing a letter of complaint, but here’s what I didn’t count on – that HzHzHz, first and foremost, sounds like rock and roll.
I mean, no, you won’t ever get Mick Jagger strutting on his little catwalk to tunes that sounds like these. They are almost entirely beatless, lacking even in discernable pulse, generally layering electronic and distorted organic sounds with fluctuating intensity to create peaks and troughs in the cacophonous landscape. But rather than recalling the avant-garde, academia-steeped composers and styles commonly associated with the more formalized Decibel, these tracks feel like long-lost fragments of a feedback-laden Sonic Youth jam, or a German industrial warehouse party in the ‘70s or something. There is a doom-drone metal vibe at times too, or desert sludge flashbacks. Another review mentions Crazy Horse, Swans and Metal Machine Music – all good reference points. I could drum up some more but reference points can go on for miles and never really explain what you’re going to hear – the point, I think, is that this is noise in its most free and rebellious mode, primal, reckless, intuitive, almost certainly wholly improvised, almost certainly played very loud.
Hope takes care of bass guitar and analogue electronics; Tristan fields the cello, and digital electronics. With this handsomely pared-back palette, the two explore a wild and winding array of noise textures. Disembodied melodic ideas flicker into view, but are quickly swallowed up by hiss, fuzz, clang and boom – rhythm and tonality are essentially alien forces. The sounds of excess, damage and distraction – elements like distortion, feedback, overblown reverb, incidental rattlings and shrieks – these things shift into crisp focus in the center of the frame. It doesn’t matter that the typically inoffensive bass guitar and the quintessentially dulcet cello are the tools responsible. In fact, the juxtaposition heightens your awareness of what you’re left with: this is “noise music,” in the fullest sense of both those words, if ever there was such a thing.
Without a doubt, this is one of the more cohesive and enjoyable “pure noise” records I’ve heard in a long time – and a definitive refutation to anyone who says noise can’t be nuanced, heavy, beautiful, nasty, enjoyable and musical all at once. Heck, it’s a quarter to five in the morning, I’ve already listened to the album twice, and now I’m back for another helping. Hope and Parr – a force to be reckoned with, bringing us perhaps the most sly injection of rock and roll we’re likely to encounter all year.