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Monads – Porya Hatami

Here is the mystery of Monads. It is, by design, not an album of tunes, or even of nice, appealing drones. It is a collection of experiments in sound design, playing with frequencies and the odd bulges, strange eruptions, and frayed edges that emerge when sound itself is subjected to expert duress. It appears on the LINE label, which specializes in rarified noises that would puzzle many of my friends. It is an album that, save for one track, might be a shock to the system of anyone who comes to it from the melodic, pastoral beauty of a previous Hatami album such as Shallow. It is the kind of album where the review ought to be about all the special equipment and arcane techniques employed to wrestle the novel sounds out of the ether.

And yet….and yet it remains strangely musical, an album to which I find myself returning more than I thought I might. It evokes an enduring fascination. And that gets me wondering again what it is about recordings that most of my relatives would not concede to be music that nevertheless draws me in.

It helps that the sounds, odd, abstract, and alienated as they are, are never grating. The tonalities generated are varied, organic, and interesting and often in their own way winsome and tuneful, like an alien orchestra making music that escapes our cultural horizons. The soundscape is strange, but not creepy – only 7 (Verblendungszusammenhang) sounds anxious. (At least to my ear; I have learned that the threshold of other family members can differ from mine.) 8 (Kurdish Folk Song) is rather beautiful in texture and indeed somewhat song-like, provided the song is sung by space whales in the subterranean oceans of a moon orbiting Jupiter. It leaves me with a sense of wonder. The first key, then, is just to listen with attentive and open ears to the sounds themselves as they prance and swoop and loom, and to enjoy the specific pleasure of their textures, even as they sound like nothing at all but themselves.

And then, along with the textures, there is the ongoing sense of churning, wandering movement. There are, no beats or regular rhythms, yet nothing is still and the nature of the movement keeps shifting not only between, but within tracks. Take 3A, a track that burbles forcefully with barely audible deep frequencies and bubbles insistently with a kind of turbulent air pressure. There is indeed no narrative, but there is a sense of life, of urgency, of something stirring in the depths. The next track, 3B, keeps a murmur of the deep but shifts the focus into the buzzing air, stuttering firefly-like over a calming hum as odd whistles swoop in obscure squiggles. The background of hiss of 4 (Phonetic) reminds me of a river heard in the middle distance, but in the foreground percussive gusts swirl; after a while a rather train-like rhythm appears, and deforms, and vanishes again, too brief and abstracted to seem referential, yet nevertheless a moment where something familiar-seeming rises from the mist. The opening turbulence of 6A might sit somewhere between the howling of winds and of creatures, yet the closing section feels more like a lap steel guitar played by zephyrs.

I do not mean to suggest that the album is programmatic, or to impose my own mind’s groping for this-worldly points of reference onto the material. I do not at all have the impression that the sounds are actually meant to paint objects in the world. And yet in their laying bare of primal sonic layers they at times feel like archetypes, evocations of a kind of basic energy trying to take form, evocations that speak of the ways that such energy swirls or buffets, howls or hums, looms or stutters in the fabric of reality. And in this sense the various sounds do feel to me rooted in the world. I am left thinking that if the album is about anything it is about the glories to be found in sound itself, in the myriad ways that energy can move through molecules and make beauty, ways hardly exhausted by all the more conventional tunes ever written.

Released back in April, Monads is not the most accessible Porya Hatami recording, but it may be one of his best. Check it out on LINE and stream it at Bandcamp.


David Smith currently lives in the Midwestern United States, where he teaches, writes, and enjoys a very wide range of music, with regard to which he claims no expertise whatsoever beyond that of a dedicated and appreciative listener.
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