As the cassette underground has continued to flourish, the notion of balance remains at the forefront of mind. The cassette tape, like the vinyl record, is a medium bound by its physical properties. Arguably, at its most reduced a tape is little more than two blank canvases of equal proportion. No matter how extravagant a cassette may be, it cannot escape this simple frame to which it is bound. The best tapes not only seem perfectly suited for the medium, but translate an artistic intent not conflated beyond the format’s limitations. Nick Hoffman’s latest is a product of this way of thinking. The release finds a buoyancy via a hard divide of methodology. Side A’s pieces are derived from the use of customized generative computer software, while Side B is restricted to the use of tactile instruments such as electric fan motors and metallic objects. What ties everything together is Hoffman’s role, described as “creator and then observer,” meaning the artist has made efforts to set-up autonomous sound systems that require little intervention once they get going.
One of the main challenges to generative music is setting up a system that allows for variation, something that Hoffman achieves without resorting to the approach of setting up the same loop more than once at varying speeds and/or lengths (see Music for Airports). On the physical side it’s difficult to figure out how Hoffman has set-up his systems, while on the digital it’s an absolute shot in the dark (especially for someone with as little computer capability as I). Nonetheless, this music becomes more alluring given its context, and if you are at all like me than a bit of mystery, too, becomes part of that allure. Side B wins my attention easier, particularly tracks like “Aura 2 (hypersomnia),” and the beginning of “Regeneration,” that blend gossamer drones with the clang and rattle of motorized movement.
The press release from Notice points to these tracks as possessing an organic nature, despite their abrasiveness and precision. It’s an apt observation that can be taken a step further, in that the music’s organic nature is surprising because of the reasons listed, but also because of Hoffman’s highly systematic approach. However, if one stops to consider Hoffman solely as a creator (god?) who has given life to these pieces, and, by extension, freedom in which they may evolve, suddenly the organic qualifier makes a lot more sense. Easily one of the more innovative and interesting albums I’ll be coming across this year.
Visit Notice Recordings on Bandcamp.