Anybody else immediately think of Douglas Adams’s A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy when they here the phrase “The Petrified Heart of an Air Whale”? Or am I the only one? “Another thing that got forgotten was the fact that against all probability a sperm whale had suddenly been called into existence several miles above the surface of an alien planet. And since this is not a naturally tenable position for a whale, this poor innocent creature had very little time to come to terms with its identity as a whale before it then had to come to terms with not being a whale any more.” The whale used to be one of two missiles. The other missile became a bowl of petunias.
What that has to do with the musical project of Toronto’s Sam Hatzaras, the aforementioned The Petrified Heart of an Air Whale (hereafter TPHOAAW), is debatable. In fact, the connection is tenuous, based solely upon the idea of a whale in freefall (or flight) through the atmosphere. So it’s odd then, perhaps, that Red Orkan’s Club, Hatzaras’s debut on the excellent Paris label Hylé Tapes and follow-up to his split with Underwater Escape from the Black Hole on Adhesive Sounds (which I reviewed), trends toward the heavier side, moodwise, than you might expect. By that I don’t mean a heaviness of the music, at all, but a darker, broodier vein of electronic/IDM/ambient, sort of in the Acid Fountain mold with a bit of Raime thrown in. Lots of minor keys. Lots of doomy synth atmosphere. Even the song names evoke concepts befitting that ominous red-and-black cover up there: “The World Within”; “Red Orkan’s Club”; “Even Evil Deserves a Place to Rest”; “You Killed My Hostage” (which wins song title of the day, in my opinion). There are no words, so the music does the heavy lifting. And lift heavily it does.
TPHOAAW splits the difference between dropping beats and laying off them, first with the minimal IDM of “The World Within” and then the slightly less minimal IDM of “Red Orkan’s Club,” two excellent tracks that begin side A of the tape. “The World Within” opens with ethereal synth for a quarter of its two-minute runtime before the beat comes in, which TPHOAAW rides to its abrupt conclusion. The suddenness is fine – it contrasts nicely with “Red Orkan’s Club,” which is a bit more ominous but still exists within a similar rhythmic quadrant. These two tracks contrast nicely with the ambient pieces Hatzaras includes, such as “Even Evil Deserves a Place to Rest” and “Leopard Queen,” both of which work as dream-sequence soundtracks to unnerving and borderline psychologically disturbing visuals. I won’t tell you what I’m thinking about – you’ll just have to let the music take you where it does. Besides, if I do tell you, you’ll likely go mad.
None of this even begins to describe the monumental kling klang of “Trees (feat. Strucel” and “You Killed My Hostage,” both of which cram industrial-strength noise into mixes that somehow manage to find rhythms easy enough on the ear that even the most nascent experimental/electronic listener will be able to grab hold and hang on for the ride. These standout tracks pave the way for side B (yeah, I’ve only been talking about side A so far!), where not only do other artists give a few of these tracks the remix treatment, but Hatzaras himself remixes a couple of his favorite tunes: “Rebirth” by Kate Dilemma and “Doomed” by YlangYlang. By giving other artists space here, Hatzaras furthers his narrative by including his contemporaries, showcasing a sense of camaraderie by turning the spotlight on others while still managing to stay true to his own narrative. Of course, the remixes of TPHOAAW songs deserve just as much attention – standouts include Acid Fountain’s tribal reimagining of the title track and Takahiro Mukai’s wobbly synth take on “Trees.”
So to get back to my initial Douglas Adams reaction – where was I going with that, anyway? A device, that’s all it is. The point here is that TPHOAAW’s Red Orkan’s Club is an excellent study of electronic production, and it hits all the sweet spots that a tape like this should. It has the perfect home on Hylé Tapes, whose likeminded artists, including the aforementioned Acid Fountain, all mine similar niches but with wildly different results. It’s an experimentalist’s dream to sift through music like this. And you don’t even have to worry about crashing to your planet’s surface while listening – you’re safe, I promise you!
RIYL: Acid Fountain, Raime, John Carpenter, YlangYlang