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Magnetic North
The Helen Scarsdale Agency, 2003

Press Release:

"Imagine a wooden table standing at the entrance to a tunnel. The tunnel runs into the side of a mountain, and is of indeterminate length. On the table sits a collection of mundane objects: a rusted length of heavy iron pipe, a few pieces of glass, a multi-band radio receiver, an old and chipped coffee mug. There is a single chair in front of the table. You sit down. Day fades to dusk fades to evening fades to night, and finally, when the chill of night has begun to bite a little and the stars overhead are beginning to seem unnaturally bright, a shadowy figure emerges from the tunnel, picks up the objects, and begins to play. Musique concrete has been around for over half a century, and any kind of experimental music that old is going to have drifted away from its original conception. It was an obscure enough wing of the avant-garde that if anyone remembers it at all, they remember it as sort of a precursor to industrial music, a grimy, anonymous collage of factory noises and birdsong painstakingly hand-spliced onto tape. To view it in such a way is to lose sight of the "concrete" in the phrase: unlike much of today’s experimental and industrial sample-driven music, the original musique concrete was rooted in a notion of the particularity of sounds, and both the evocation of and estrangement from a particular (that is, concrete) sense of place. Enter Jim Haynes. In a field crowded with laptop jockeys and people in love with their DSP factories, his music has a refreshingly handmade, approachable feel. In a subgenre (one without a good name) full of field recordings and drones that border on New Age saccharine and sound as if they were untouched by a human hand, Magnetic North is rough and full of character. He creates lengthy, involved drones using simple tools and some complementary processing, and breaks them up with simple sounds that are at once familiar and strange. The title evokes images of Arctic landscapes, but the music paints a world not so much of unremitting cold and isolation, but more a peaceful place blanketed in deep snow, lit by electromagnetic dance of the aurora borealis playing overhead. The crackle and hiss of the Earth’s magnetosphere is never very far away, nor is the presence of a human hand. Despite the trancelike feel of the five sustained drones on Magnetic North, there is an unpredictability here that holds your attention. It’s accessible enough that it’s enjoyable on the first listen, but it will only reveal itself over the course of multiple plays, which is finally one of the only reliable barometers of musical quality." --Ozymandias G Desiderata

Reviews:

"Jim Haynes is a San Francisco-based musician who has made a name for himself through work in the duo Coelacanth and in his travels as a solo sound-artist. The rich SF scene has no doubt provided Haynes with many opportunities to expand his listener-ship, and recently he has ventured eastward with an installation called Magnetic North appearing in Nashville and San Jose. This disc, the first release from The Helen Scarsdale Agency and limited to 300 copies, contains the audio portion of the installation, culled from performances of the last two years. The most striking quality of the music herein can inadequately be described as its organic nature. Haynes has produced four lengthy tracks, each composed entirely of beautiful drones, but drones with a distinctly homespun feel. Contained bell tones and gentle, metallic overtones leak into otherwise hollow, spacious drones that recall the oceanic spaces of Coelacanth's music. At times the listener feels outside, or underground, in a large breathing space, or in the same land that produced Walter Marchetti's cavernous recordings. Haynes has a way, however, of bringing his listener back to reality, back to the tool shed so to speak, as he introduces subtle incidental sounds into the mix. Evocative, even representative of everyday things that clatter, scrape, and squeak, the sound sources remain obscured, the sounds themselves never harsh or even disorienting. Not having seen the Magnetic North installation, I can only guess that it deals with issues of space and the unique transparencies between large and small environments. Haynes' music is accessible in a way that suggests his installation provides a womb-like atmosphere, comfortably merged with wider, harrowing spaces in an examination of the consistencies between the two. His music has neither the stoicism of Marchetti nor the bombast of drone guru Phill Niblock, but feels just right for Haynes' purposes. Though his work with Coelacanth may see him drifting to the outer limits, here Haynes keeps the windswept barrens just outside the door.." -- Andrew Culler / Brainwashed.com

"The enigmatic, evocative nature of Magnetic North begins with the packaging: a paper insert, hand-made, seemingly soaked in a watercolor-like wash of what appears to be rust or spilled coffee or some sort of industrial lubricant. As it turns out, all this provides subtle clues to the nature of the music. Minimal notes state that the disc contains the audio program to an installation with the same name - Magnetic North; and this music does indeed seem to be part of something all-encompassing: visual, sensory, exploratory. There are the sounds of hollow, ferrous, metallic clanging in muffled, muted, sonic space; half-heard short wave radio signals and utterances; scratchings of static and random noise, sudden shifts after long drones, eruptions of occasional silence. These sounds unfold and, despite their apparent affinity with decay and distant industrial clangor, bloom in the auditory vista with a surprisingly gentle and organic beauty. The textural palette and the underlying musical architecture here are sometimes similar to those of other works within the art music, dark ambient, and experimental genres. But Haynes invests his compositions with a refreshing clarity, a hands-on, Musique Concrete, found-sound ethos that adds much to the unique resonance of the work. Repeated listening brings new dimensions to these pieces; an initial sense of stark and foreboding coldness gives way to the sort of intangible but insistent emotionality found in the later, holographic works of composer Morton Feldman, or in the long, slow-moving, abstract visual constructions that appear as mysterious icons in the films of Andrei Tarkovsky. Among the possible scenarios that Magnetic North brings up for me is this one: a person stands alone on an isolated beach, finding on the shoreline stones and driftwood and countless unrecognizable sun-bleached and sea-rusted artifacts that have washed up. He or she arranges these objects at the tide line, carefully, but with no particular conscious reason in mind. The assembly of elements resulting from these gestures of the arranger and organizer may be universal in its simplicity, unknown and unknowable in its intent. But upon another person, walking the beach, finding it later, it may well have an intensely profound and personal effect." -- Kevin Macneil Brown / Dusted