Music Reviews

Artist: Bart Hawkins (@)
Title: 21 Pulse Eclipse
Format: CD + Download
Label: Spotted Peccary Music (@)
Rated: *****

'21 Pulse Eclipse' is the debut album from Oregon-based electronic music composer/modular synthesist Bart Hawkins, and a bit of a departure from the what I've heard on the Spotted Peccary label. Most everything realized on the album was created on a modular synthesis system using no keyboards. Melodicism does not really play a part in this work, but drones certainly do. The album opens up nicely with a lengthy, elegant, droney track titled "Dream Meditation" that is calm and lush, yet with an unsettling undercurrent of semi-random sounds that evoke some kind of activity that has nothing to do with meditation. A few bird chirps frame the piece in a natural setting just in case you needed a reference. The title track which follows seems to be predominantly buzzy drone (heavy on the sawtooth wave) which can be quite disquieting. In contrast, other smoother drones are intermixed adding character, flavor and color. Around the midpoint a repetitive sequencer begins and now we're headed into early Tangerine Dream territory. It took me more than a couple of listenings to get into this track because of the buzziness which tends to dominate, but over time it does become more listener-friendly. If the last track seemed buzzy, it only intensifies on "Your Breath is Electric". This steers the album away from the meditative and much more into experimental terrain. Random sample & hold begins "Energy Currents" but then a lot of other things occur as well further on down the line such as manipulated noise sweeps and abstract random synth leads. The similarly named "Torus Energy Currents" sounds like a woodpecker in a disenchanted forest with a militant gnomish band marching through below. "Bell Curve Blips" does have some bellish aspects to it but the jittery drone throughout might make you think somebody laced your hallucinogenic cocktail with something else far stranger. There is also some gentle acoustic guitar playing and voices in the background at the end, which I suppose would qualify as a field recording. "Crazy 8 Frobogs Trooping Through the Forest" sort of vindicates my description of "Torus Energy Currents". This is an hallucinatory forest of quite a different branch, where electronic squeaks and squelches force themselves into a natural ambient environment. The somber tone of the heavy drone pad which opens the finale, "Dream Meditation Part 2" gradually gives way to a host of real and imagined sounds- things you may not even be certain are actually occurring in the music, submerged just at the line between the conscious and the subconscious, playing almost like distant memories of past experiences in the brain. All too soon it fades out of earshot, out of mind.

To be perfectly honest, I didn't much care for '21 Pulse Eclipse' when I first heard it and put it on the back burner to return to later. I initially found the buzziness of a couple of tracks so off-putting I wasn't really able to get into this. Subsequent listenings however proved this to be a work rich in possibilities and astute in execution. Bart Hawkins' dedication to inner sonic exploration began in the early 1980s when his practice of zen meditation and love of the Berlin school of electronic music launched him into a world of musical landscapes, sonic textures and silence sparking a spiritual awakening into the power of sound. In light of that, the fusion of the electrically electronic and the spiritually meditative makes perfect sense. I don't hear a lot of people attempting this kind of experimental music these days, and those that do seem to lean toward the more raucous, noise-oriented side of the spectrum. I don’t know how much of this album was improvised and came about through happy accidents, and how much was actually plotted out, but in the end it doesn't much matter. The results are still intriguing and sublime.

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