(Elevator Bath, 2016)
Not since the Cold War has Russia been such a freaky, unknowable entity. Californian Jim Haynes found that out the hard way during a residency in Estonia, a country formerly part of the Soviet Union and located just south of Finland and north of Latvia, on the Baltic Sea and Gulf of Finland. And by “the hard way,” I only really mean that Haynes was freaked out a little bit while he was there recording at the sites of considerable electromagnetic disruption. There are a lot of old abandoned buildings and structures in Estonia, its history fraught, like most of the former Soviet states, with blood and hardship. As such, Haynes had to use shortwave to attain what he was looking for, because, unsurprisingly, the lights weren’t really on where he hoped to set up his gear.
The result of this residency is Flammable Materials from Foreign Lands, a collection of utterly haunting field-recorded experiments from utterly haunted places, the kind of captured events that would have you ringing the FBI and asking for X-Files agents, begging for them to listen to what you’re listening to and make sense of it. But before considering a dispatch of Doggett or Reyes (or, fine, Mulder and Scully) to your location, you should probably understand that these recordings, while steeped in the atmosphere of their location, are also distinct products of their moments in time, and as such they aren’t really clues to unravel toward a deeper comprehension of a greater conspiracy. What, you think Jim Haynes is an Infowars guy? He’s way too intelligent for that.
“Of Blast and Bleach” fully suggests the obvious result of what Haynes is doing, as static and frequency meld in a mesmerizing and frightening blast (hence the title) of sonic charge, getting on your nerves (as in “nervous”) and burrowing into your subconscious. There’s the paranoia! And “Nyet,” too – what is causing this cataclysmic whorl of sound? Dark, black corners of wooden and cement structures propel psychic distress in search of a receptor, and there Jim Haynes is to secure the audible outcome. What happened in these places? What ghosts still inhabit them? What can we learn from their passing? Will the terrible times reoccur?
Speaking of ghosts, “Electric Speech: Nadiya” fills side B with what seems like the Russian equivalent of a numbers station, but with effects applied that make Nadiya, presumably, sound like she has an odd backward-speaking cadence like the spirits from Twin Peaks’s Black and White Lodges (to tie in another sci-fi television show with a healthy mythology). Frequencies, seemingly deliberate, fill the spaces between the vocal punctuations. It’s twenty minutes of fascinating study, an alien (seemingly unearthly, even, not just strange) transmission picked up by primitive electronics and repurposed for artistic consumption. What is Nadiya saying? Who is she saying it to? What does it all mean?
Haynes does not answer any of these questions, and it’s not his job to do so. He has presented these sound exhibits with the intent that we interpret them for ourselves. Like the Estonian environment Haynes occupied to complete Flammable Materials, the album is cold, distant, alarming, and surprisingly real, an upsetting document made more so by the repetition of history so close to the location where he worked. It’s as true a reflection of time hovering there as you’ll get.