, September 22nd, 2016 10:44
Anna Meredith’s Varmints, Tyondai Braxton’s Hive1, James Hoff’s Blaster – the number of creatures spawned by electronic composers in the 2010s could fill dozens of rock pools. Diving next into this teeming primordial soup is Dan Hayhurst, the ‘musical half’ of audio-visual experimenters Sculpture. So saturated with independent life and mischief is this debut that its author repeatedly recedes into a curatorial role. Though Hoff allowed computer viruses to corrupt and distort his 808 beats, the process was quarantined, clinical, and the results – while disturbing – were confined to the petri dish. Critter Party finds Hayhurst lost and deep, a marine biologist in a Mariana trench busy with bubbling voices.
On ‘Vying’, those voices pipe up, interrupt one another, and fade out before reasserting themselves; like a string orchestra tuning up, the members ‘vie’ not for control but for clarity and individuality of tone amidst a potentially homogenising ensemble. Evoking Nick Zammuto, Hayhurst introduces a set of acoustic guitar sounds which he will warp, loop, reverse, and re-purpose over and over. After two minutes, myriad angry bleeps and bloops burst through the hubbub, cajoling – conducting, even – the voices into a loose but mesmerising groove, a bastardised raga.
Raucous intro aside, ‘Great Day Atonal Soda’ hypnotises with a two-note riff which repeats for nearly eight minutes, like Sun Araw sped up. Similarly ‘Proliferating Ulm’ is based around a motif which mutates and multiplies itself, ‘proliferating’ like a cell both in an organism and in a minimalist composition. It could almost soundtrack Snake on a noughties mobile, or Spore on a noughties PC. Witnessing these critters – whether tiny and explorative or blaring and mid-tantrum – feels strangely like a privilege. Hayhurst’s partner in Sculpture, Reuben Sutherland, frequently employs zoetropes in their live performances and this album achieves a similar effect sonically. Hayhurst is the hand spinning the wheel so that the never-ending motion of these miniscule lives is visible, Critter Party the tiny rectangular slot through which you can view it.
While the wackiness of these disparate sounds is novel to the ear, the fact that they combine to make compelling music is genuinely thrilling. Hayhurst and Sutherland claim to use ‘percussion moiré’ - that is to say, polyrhythms which organically produce new patterns when layered, just as sets of lines and dots do in mathematics. A bit academic, you might think. Not so. Even the aggressive noodling on ‘Polyphase’ – a termite mound of activity which sounds like all of Dave Longstreth and Amber Coffman’s guitar lines superimposed – somehow resolves itself into a kind of twisted desert blues jam. Just as infinite monkeys on typewriters will eventually produce the complete works of Shakespeare, and a 90s gamer mashing buttons inevitably hits upon a spell in Ocarina of Time, countless chirping creatures must at some point make danceable musique concrète. Critter Party is that accidental invention, curated into an album.
Lastly, ‘Fern Gang’ sees Hayhurst pan away – for the first time – from the claustrophobia of the benthic zone, the rich sedimentary layer in which we’ve been embedded for what feels like eons. It opens with a bubbling trajectory, as if he is swimming to the surface. Broad swathes of sea swoosh past, accompanied by acoustic guitar flourishes which ought to soundtrack a wildlife documentary. The perspective is a welcome relief. Closer ‘Unravelling’, though, nips any calm contemplation in the bud. Hayhurst emerges on land, now able to see critters in every shrub and under every rock. For better or for worse, so are we.