CM von Hausswolff - 800 000 Seconds in Harar

CD digipak - 40:39 - 4 tracks

Track listing:

Track A: Day and Night 27:14

1. Day
2. Night
3. Alas!

Track B

4. The Sleeper in the Valley 13:32

CM von Hausswolff says: "I was approached by my old friend and Radium 226.05 colleague Ulrich Hillebrand, now director of Angered Theatre in Göteborg. He informed me that there was a new play in the process of being written by author and theorist Michael Azar called "Jag är en annan" (I is another) stemming form the famous letter written by Arthur Rimbaud in his youth. The play uses Rimbaud's life from being a young poet in Charleville ending with him being the trader in Harar, Ethiopia. Hillebrand asked me if I was willing to compose the music to this play. I accepted. I told Hillebrand that I needed to use material that had something to do with Rimbaud's life and as he had connections in Ethiopia and in the small city of Harar he said: why don't you go to Harar for 10 days and see what you can find?

So I went to Addis Ababa where a guy was waiting for me and drove me the 10 hours beautiful ride to Harar. I made recordings and looked for other useful material.

There are 2 tracks. On the first track, which consists of three "parts" I have used material from Harar. The long dronic sounds are taken form an instrument that I, after searching for days, bought in Harar - it's called a "krar" and is a string instruments (it's quite clear that I have used a string instrument- also if you study Ethiopian music you came across the name of Saint Yared and he was the first to construct a notation system for music... much earlier than the Europeans). As I could not really master the actual playing of this instrument, I bought a bow for a violin and some rosin and with this I got one good tone out from this krar. Then the computer helped me to sort the modes and pitches out. On this piece there also two location recordings: the first one you hear is a recording I did outside Harar on a hill where there are next to no car sounds or other machine sounds - just the wind, insects, some kids and that (I wanted this recording to be more or less timeless or at least 19th century and forward... The second location recording was done in the night in my hotel, where I woke up one night and became fascinated by the leaking taps in my bathroom so I decided to records this.

On the second there are only oscillators used ... several of them ... AND using one low pitch oscillator I ran a sound filtered through. This sound is the low "rhythm" you can hear, and it's a low pitched morse code signal... and the text is the famous poem Rimbaud wrote in his youth called Le Dormeur Du Val (The Sleeper in the Valley). This poem is a beautiful text starting off in the nature, where a person is sleeping in the grass. Slowly Rimbaud zooms in and we read that it's a soldier and at the very end we are told he has two red wounds on his chest - the guy is dead!"

Arthur Rimbaud lived in Harar from 1884 until shortly before his death in 1891.

This is Carl Michael von Hausswolff's first album for Touch, but the connection goes back many years, of course. Carl Michael von Hausswolff was born in 1956 in Linköping, Sweden. He lives and works in Stockholm. Since the end of the 1970s, Hausswolff has worked as a composer using the tape recorder as his main instrument and as a conceptual visual artist working with performance art, light and sound installations and photography. You can read a full biog on his website here: http://www.cmvonhausswolff.net/curriculum_vitae.html

Reviews

The Sound Projector (UK):

800 000 Seconds in Harar (TOUCH TO:82) is the new massively-droning work from CM Von Hausswolff, a unique creator whose minimalistic results often belie a complex and labour-intensive working method. This release is no exception; commissioned to write the background music for a play about the life of Arthur Rimbaud, this questing Swede flew off to Ethiopia and stayed there for ten days, taught himself to play a stringed instrument called a krar that he bought there in a shop, made some location recordings in selected areas, and thusly gathered the raw material for ‘Day And Night’, a tripartite piece which takes up a goodly chunk of this release. All this because Rimbaud spent the end of his life in Harar, a small town apparently some ten hours away from Addis Adaba, and the final scenes of the play are set there; von Hausswolff’s thoroughness, and the need to ensure he gathered materials that were totally sympathetic to the commission, apparently knows no bounds. The remainder of the album makes use of his familiar analogue oscillators to produce the sort of intense and powerful drone that he has, over some 30 years, made into his signature; ‘The Sleeper In The Valley’ is strong enough to act as a lodestone for recalcitrant meteorites, and also makes use of an early Rimbaud poem. The playwright in question was Ulrich Hillebrand, Carl-Michael’s old partner when they ran the seminal label Radium 226.05 between 1983 and 1993; and it so happens this is his first release for Touch, although he did make an LP for Ash International in 1997. [Ed Pinsent]

The Liminal (UK):

This may be the audiovisual artist Carl Michael von Hausswolff’s first solo album for Touch, but he’s been an integral part of their community for some time: indeed, he recorded with The Hafler Trio (in his Sons Of God collaborative guise) as far back as 1993. My own first encounter with von Hausswolff was in 2006, when he played after Fennesz and Philip Jeck as part of Touch’s 25th birthday celebrations, which shows you just how highly they rate his work. And quite rightly too: his performance that night was the one that I still remember most vividly. Wisps of cigarette smoke and pure sine waves curled into the night air, people lay on the floor with their eyes closed and let this succession of tones wash over their heads, like waves breaking on the shore. It was a vivid demonstration of just how powerful the most minimal of music can be at the hands of a skilled exponent of the form, marrying the scientific (the precise combinations of frequencies) to a blissful emotional resonance. That isn’t to say von Hausswolff has been inactive in the intervening periods, far from it in fact. In recent years he has created audiovisual installations around the world in cemeteries, ruined buildings and train sheds, documented his interest in Electronic Voice Phenomena (recordings which purport to contain messages from ghosts living within buildings or even electricity grids), and ruled over his conceptual Kingdoms of Elgaland-Vargaland, which comprise the border spaces between countries, and between the conscious and unconscious. These themes of travel, place, architecture, communication, death, and liminal space are all worked into the 2,437 seconds of 800 000 Seconds In Harar.

The album was conceived in response to a request from theatre director Ulrich Hillebrand to compose a soundtrack to Michael Azar’s play about the life of Arthur Rimbaud entitled “Jag är en annan” (or “I is another”, the title taken from the famous lettre du voyant sent by the poet). Von Hausswolff sought and found inspiration from the last years of that life, from the 1880s and 1890s, in which the poet’s travels took him to Harar in Ethiopia, where he became a friend of Ras Makkonon, the father of the future emperor Haile Selassie, and where he settled as a trader (a trader of coffee and weapons, no less; a far cry from his middle class roots in Charleville). He spent ten days, which is indeed roughly 800,000 seconds, within the city’s walls, collecting sounds, investigating native instruments, and researching the poet’s time in that place. From these samples, sources and ideas he stitched together a soundtrack which is comprised of two long drone-based pieces, the second of which explicitly references the title of one of Rimbaud’s most famous works, his symbolist poem entitled “Le Dormeur Du Val” or “The Sleeper In the Valley”.

That piece is actually the one which is most reminiscent of the set from the aforementioned Touch show, being constructed entirely from von Hauswolff’s collection of oscillators, and demonstrating a similar kind of sonic architecture. It starts off with a 60Hz electrical hum, before this is joined by a succession of pristine, overlapping sine waves at increasingly high frequencies. This creates a three-dimensional sound space that I can happily spend some time wandering around, exploring the different levels and the intersections, noticing the changes that occur when I move around the room I’m listening to it in (the effect is lost on headphones, naturally). Under all of this appears a quiet, low-pitched buzzing which quickly reveals itself to be morse code, which would have been commonly used at the time Rimbaud was in Harar to carry radio messages. And the message being carried is actually the text of The Sleeper In The Valley itself, though it is of course highly unlikely that you’d pick out its tale of the unravelling of a soldier’s life, from an introduction “foaming with light” and warmth, through to a cold sleep which is finally revealed in the denouement to be a bloody, watery death, all couched in a language of grass, flowers, and herbs, even when the drones fade into silence to leave just the dots and dashes. It seems at first listen to be a particularly futile attempt to communicate, across great expanses of time and distance.

The other piece, “Day And Night” is in three sections, and is constructed quite differently. Instead of his oscillators, Von Hausswolff uses the sound of a krar (an Ethiopian lyre) to produce the drone, bowing at it rather than plucking or strumming, while field recordings from Harar are interspersed throughout. It begins with the warmth of “Day”, a sonorous low note being joined by a bustle of natural activity: the chirp of crickets, the buzz of bees, the voices of Ethiopian children, the sound of plants being caressed by wind. These all vanish to leave just the stillness of the krar, and the piece takes a darker and colder turn when the “Night” section begins with a constant dripping, which is actually the sound of leaking taps in von Hausswolff’s hotel room, an initially puzzling choice of sample. The intensity edges up to dramatic levels during the closing section, which gradually layers on increasingly high bowed notes to create a jarring chord, a horrible shriek of alarm, a musical “Alas!”. Taken as a continuous whole, it seems to be a subtle musical symbolist reading of “The Sleeper In the Valley”, from life, sunshine and optimism through stillness, and the gradual, horrifying realisation of just what that dripping must represent. When this is understood, the following morse code-based track takes on a different tone altogether, as if it’s a transmission from that very particular border area, the afterlife, perhaps even a communication accidentally captured via one of von Hausswolff’s Electronic Voice Phenomena devices, a voice of the dead hidden amongst radio static. Once again, from sources of such seeming simplicity, he has created something remarkably resonant. [Scott McMillan]

Boomkat (UK):

It’s hard to believe that it has taken this long for Swedish experimental composer Carl Michael Von Hausswolff to compose a solo album for Touch. In my mind he’s always been a part of the label’s wider roster, and listening to ‘800,000 Seconds In Harar’ it seems perfectly aligned with the British label’s wide-reaching sound. The record was produced as a soundtrack of sorts to a play focused on the life of poet Arthur Rimbaud, and since he ended up in the Ethiopian city of Harar, the theatre director saw fit to send Von Hausswolff out into Africa to explore this mysterious city. How the trip unfolds is what makes ‘800,000 Seconds In Harar’ such an arresting experience; it is clear from the first track that Von Hausswolff is somewhere ‘exotic’ as flies buzz erratically and crickets squeal rhythmically. Children can be heard playing in the distance, their words barely heard, and Von Hausswolff uses all of these sounds as an accompaniment to his drones, procured from an unusual local string instrument known as the krar. The track is split into three parts, and as the chattering field recordings fizzle out, we are greeted with further dense drones creating an otherworldly harmonic push. The music is both familiar (especially to those already passionate about the Touch catalogue) and deeply alien. Von Hausswolf translates the inherent African qualities with subtlety and intelligence, and by the time we reach the album’s closing piece ‘The Sleeper in the Valley’, its thick, electronic morse rhythms are more than welcome to upset the mood a little. This is the perfect close to a record full of mystery and awe, and one which will no doubt stand up as another jewel in the Touch crown. Recommended.

VITAL (Netherlands):

Hard to believe, but this is the first CD of CM von Hauswolff on Touch. I could have sworn there were more. At the basis of the music here was an invitation to do something for a play in Goteborg, based on a famous letter written by Arthur Rimbaud in his youth. The play is about Rimbaud's life, which ended in 1891 in Harar in Ethopia, and obviously Hauswolff asked if its was possible to go to Harar (Rimbaud spend seven years there), and so he went there to do field recordings and soak up the atmosphere. There are three parts to the first track and then one part that is the fourth track. In the first three pieces we encounter field recordings, wind, insects, children and in the second a leaking tap in his hotel room, along with sounds derived from a krar, which is an Ethiopian string instrument, but played with a bow. In 'Night' this slowly builds up to a solitary drone and in 'Alas', the single pitched drone evolves into what seems to be almost like a church organ. Compared to much his previous work, which was more conceptually based, this is actually much more musical. Quite powerful as well as peaceful, I'd say. In 'The Sleeper In The Valley', the drones continue, but then generated through various oscillators and a very faint low rhythm, which apparently is a morse code transcription of the poem by Rimbaud of the same name. Here we return to the more conceptual work of Hauswolff he is better known for these days. This is another piece though perhaps a bit long. [FdW]

foxydigitalis (USA):

Made up of field recordings created during his time in the Ethiopian capital of Harar, Carl Michael Von Hausswolff’s new record provides the soundtrack to Jag är en annan, a play based on the life of the “infant Shakespeare” Arthur Rimbaud, who himself spent time in Harar as a coffee and weapons dealer in the late 1800′s. Rimbaud was successful in Harar but also bored. Despite turning his back on poetry he still required intellectual stimulation and this was in short shrift in Harar, a place only made accessible to Europeans 25 years before he arrived. He took up photography and produced a number of self-portraits that show a man looking much older than his 29 years. Life wasn’t treating him well; despite his accumulated riches he had little to do but sit and brood, and when his old friend and fellow poet Paul Verlaine received no reply to his letters he was moved to dedicate Illuminations to “The Late Arthur Rimbaud.” On top of this, Rimbaud’s leg was causing him pain and had to be amputated after a gruelling 15-day trek to the coast to catch a ship back to Marseilles. “My life is over,” he opined. “I’m nothing but an immobile lump.” I may be taking things too literally here, but for me 800,000 Seconds in Harar evokes these miserable final months in particular. Despite beginning cheerily with the sound of children playing and singing, the focus of Day soon shifts into the undergrowth. Flies buzz and crickets chirp. A deep and unchanging drone hangs portentously over the scene like a circle of vultures. The children’s voices fade into the background and we withdraw to take up the position of outsider, happier in the bushes with the insects than we are ‘out there’ in an increasingly foreign country. We’re privy here to the silent stagnation – both physically and mentally – of a once-great man. Night, the album’s second piece, continues with the exact same headache drone but instead of flies buzzing around dirt we hear taps dripping into water. One imagines the scene: Rimbaud sat alone in his slum, staring at his own haggard reflection and wondering what became of the trailblazing young genius he once was. These are his final sad moments, one leg down and ready to go – the “immobile lump.” Occasionally there’s what sounds like a sigh or a deep inhalation. A man worn out. Alas! brings much-needed relief as the drone finally lifts and aims towards the sky. This is Rimbaud’s escape; his death as imagined in his poem O Castles! O Seasons! (Alas! the hour of its release/will be the hour of my decease). Slowly it fades to nothing and the gruelling first side comes to an end. The second side is made up of one extended piece entitled The Sleeper In The Valley after Rimbaud’s magnificent poem of the same name. In the poem Rimbaud describes a sleeping man surrounded by nature’s beauty and it is only in the very last line that we realise the man is in fact dead, a casualty of war. Nevertheless, he is “at peace,” comfortable and even smiling. CM von Hausswolff evokes the scene using elongated, funereal organ sounds and applies it to the poet himself. At last, it seems, Rimbaud is free. [Steve Dewhurst]



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CM von Hausswolff - 800 000 Seconds in Harar


MP3 sample

Track 3:  Alas! [Extract]






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