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Jim Haynes The Decline Effect

by Ed Pinsent

The Sound Projector, October 2012

No less unreal on account of its intensely abstracted field recording approach is The Decline Effect (THE HELEN SCARSDALE AGENCY HMS021). I think this double LP is the first piece of vinyl I’ve encountered from Jim Haynes, whose understated and near-mystical sound art I’ve enjoyed in CD form for many years. This format seems to suit his work quite well and serves up four examples of his craft as discrete side-long tracks, and the whole package with its photographs resembles a miniature art exhibit with four uniformly-sized canvases of minimal art. There are also some brief but useful sleeve notes. As far as I can recall Haynes has generally declined to explain in much detail how his work is made 1, but here we have not only hints of the original source materials in two cases, but also some indicators of his methodology. In the case of the latter, the salient points seem to be (a) identifying and exploiting mistakes and faults which arise from the recording process, faulty microphones, or the decay of magnetic tape; and (b) an erratic programme of work, where the artist eschews normal continuity and executes each piece “in starts and fits”, a strategy which presumably allows the sound to build and accrete its layers naturally. It also seems to mean that a piece is never really finished, and can remanifest itself in other situations, such as ‘Ashes’ here which is evolving as the soundtrack to two avant-garde films. Further, Haynes allows the work to be derailed by “factors beyond his control”, a fate which befell ‘Cold’ on side D where what we hear is simply a rescued portion of another project which had to be abandoned. All of this says to me that Haynes and his art are as much a force of nature as the same forces of nature he is examining and attempting to render. Of course as forces go, they are not as powerful as a cataract or a hurricane or a forest fire. In fact they are rather hard to perceive – small-scale, fleeting, modest, and not even especially loud. Some of the source materials he’ll admit to on this collection are thermal vents, geysers, radio waves, and wires. To enjoy or even to half-understand this brand of minimal sound-art, you may have to relax and listen quite hard, and accept that each listen is as much a discovery for you as it was for Jim Haynes. Judging by the title there is also a degree of entropy and decay involved, as though elements of the natural and man-made world were in slow decline, and it’s now becoming a process which we can observe as it happens.