Paul Harrison (p, electr), Stuart Brown (d, electr). Rec 2016.
On 22 June, Scottish improvising avantronic duo, Herschel 36, release their debut album, ASTROPHYSIK (Astrophysics), a mostly improvised live soundtrack for the proto-documentary silent film, Wunder Der Schopfung, (The Wonders of Creation), a ground-breaking 1925 German film which sets out to illustrate all that was known at that time about the cosmos.
Commissioned in 2016 by the Hippodrome Festival of Silent Cinema, the album consists of recordings from four live performances. The release date coincides with a further live performance at the Planetarium of the Glasgow Science Centre, as part of this year’s Glasgow Jazz Festival.
First up is ‘Uncharted’, a blippy, initially mostly electronics piece with a deep groove. Following this, ‘Hobgoblins’ musique concrete opening gives way to a beautiful, hoarse electronic oboe-type soundscape, Harrison’s keys rippling against Brown’s breakbeats.
‘Firmament’ is a delicate snippet of simple keys figures and filigree percussion, preceding the stately ‘Star Of The Day’ with its mutating, minimalist acoustic percussion.
Centrally placed in the album is the substantial ‘Moon Vessel’. Atop another lovely groove, an ascending keys figure repeats. Accelerating, spacey figures eventually come to a full-stop, before resuming with avengeance with racing drums and inventive piano, finally de-escalating to a bubbly, rumbling coda. Wonderful stuff.
‘Almost Weightless’ offers a bouncy, swirling electronics amuse bouche, preceding the meaty ‘Meridian’ which happily includes some winning theremin-like weirdness.
‘Primordial’s musique concrete opening evolves into insect-like scrabbling, this mildly entomophobic listener finding the relentless, echoey skittering quite unsettling. Finally, the apparent chaos of the fun ‘Shall Be Shaken’ ends peacefully, as does the lovely last track, ‘Furthest Stars’.
Unlike some psychedelia, ASTROPHYSIK in no way lacks in depth, and whilst the performance in Glasgow later this month will doubtless be a great success, this is an album that most definitely can stand alone on its own strengths.