Hans Castrup | Heterogeneous Cell Information
Karl Records (LP/DL)
It’s hard to know quite what Hans Castrup was hoping to achieve, such is the multi-faceted and confusing canvas that is ‘Heterogeneous Cell Information’. There are some immediate and obvious reference points – the album flirts with musique concrete, or a contemporary subset there of; it alludes to the timbral intensity of the spectralists; the extended techniques and vocal melodrama of Meredith Monk and her ilk. It is all these things and yet somehow none of them, borrowing liberally from a wide range of sources and almost haphazardly throwing them together like some great and abstract expressionist mess.
Often, this approach is extremely effective. Tracks such as ‘Re-finition of a Formal Construct’, or ‘Elongated Circulum’, succeed for their dedication to one idea or another – the former a performative and playful mix of laughing voices and avant-garde flutes, the latter a textural study reminiscent of John Chowning or Barry Truax. These contrasting elements are rendered with a thick brush, often overlapping and obfuscating one another. Castrup is clearly a talented composer, for each sound, each sonic object is wonderfully conceived and executed, yet his dedication to a form of musical abstract expressionism is such that each voice is given precious little room to breathe. Invoking the same wealth of material as often found in the concrete tradition, Castrup’s dense collages often favour layering one sound over another rather than cutting between them, resulting in a listening experience that is on occasion unnecessarily tiring. Whilst this is no doubt a deliberate and considered aesthetic choice, there are numerous moments where I am left wanting, nursing an unfulfilled desire to spend a little more time with one sound or another without the incessant and overbearing horizon upon which it is inevitably set.
Those moments where such space is provided, offer a pleasing contrast to the album as a whole. The closing track, ‘Secret of Fragmented Control’, is an unusually delicate study of the female voice, framed by, but not lost to, an accompaniment of drones and metallic scrapes. Whilst the density with which the album presents itself is at times oppressive, this is by no means a bad thing, and the sense of disorientation it musters has a pronounced and uncomfortable effect. It strikes me that this is in many ways a perfect soundtrack for the mundanities of modern life – I can imagine that listening to ‘Heterogeneous Cell Information’ on headphones, whilst battling an urban shopping mall or ill-thought-through traffic system, might well be a deeply cathartic experience.
Perhaps tellingly, I have found myself listening to the album a fair few more times than I had anticipated. Every time I become tired of its seemingly slapdash opacity, some new elements rise to the surface, peaking my interest once again. Castrup’s ability to produce such manicured and designed sonic material is reverent, and though the focus on multi-layered sound collage is often testing, ‘Heterogeneous Cell Infomation’ is nonetheless a powerful and intense artistic statement.