(Personal Archives, 2016)
With Psithurism – literally the rustling of trees or leaves – Belgium-based sound artist Mahler Haze (or Malegys, the name from which the phonetic “Mahler Haze” derives) achieves the improbable marriage of rural isolation and environmental placement within the context of his mission statement: the discovery of cosmic connections and occult insights through explorations via sound with a basis in the 1970s German synthesizer and prog movements (read: Ash Ra Temple, Cluster, Deuter, Neu!, Harmonia, etc.). To simplify that a little bit, it’s sort of a pagan kosmische, decidedly Earthbound in philosophy and execution – the synthesizers never really get off the ground to attain a liftoff into “hopeful” territory. The results are somewhat a series of happy accidents achieved through experimentation. Not to say that Mahler Haze doesn’t run a tight ship – there’s certainly no room to misinterpret Psithurism as anything other than a defined whole. The tracks bleed together and highlight those parts of nature that aren’t necessarily pastoral – the album channels wild spirits through a dense filter of almost ritual disposition, a séance where music is invoked to mark their passing.
Nothing disrupts the psychic balance of a location like war, and “The Aachen March” is a strange beginning to an album that promises in its title nothing but wind in the leaves by its end. If Mahler Haze wanted to explore how he could shake things up in the netherworld, just to see what would happen, he chose the right starting point. Indeed, what events have imprinted themselves so direly on the European landscape than World Wars I and II? Aachen was the first German-held city taken by the Allies along the Siegfried Line in WWII, a symbolic victory marking the beginning of the end of the Third Reich in Europe. But it, like all battles and all wars, was bloody and difficult, and the track’s tense synthesizer drones over a martial pulsing rhythm convey the quiet anxiety of preparation leading up to the moments of violence. Its effectiveness lies in its monotonous dread, a kraut-inspired bit of repetition where boots tromp through forests and the cold sweat on everyone’s brow is matched by that of the listener’s.
From here the ghosts arise, disturbed and outraged, but palpable only in the discontent they infuse into the situation. Mahler Haze lets his compositions – indeed, excursions – stretch to lengths where inhabiting them is the only recourse, and even though they’re built in the realm of kosmische, there’s no real way to get comfortable within them. The actual upheaval of tracks like “Rock Skimmer” and “SS Montgomery” (another World War II reference, there) in a physical sense eliminates any sort of idea that comfort will be attainable – this isn’t nebula-gazing philosophical music. It’s dangerous, gripping, edge-of-your-seat suspense, music that causes tremors in your body and soul.
Even when the tones smooth themselves out a little, as they do on the 11-minute “Fractual Perimeters” and closer “Shoulder Park,” there’s a true inclination that it’s only because human interference has left the narrative and nature has returned to some sort of balance in the wake of the disturbance, or it’s at least attempting to restore that balance. The séance culminates in spiritual restoration of the landscape – the reclamation of pastoral mystery completes that part of its cycle, the human ears that perceive it do so only through the symbolic sonics produced through faraway speakers. The symbol, the artifact, Psithurism, is not the same as the action, and the true wonder of environmental healing is lost to the modern person. The wind rustles the leaves and the branches, but we’re too far removed to understand.