Of Human Bondage; salvation through restriction. An intriguing premise, where all the artists in the series were given not just the limitation of time per se but the ultra-specific requirement of actual track times (0:06, 0:23, 1:11, 2:37, 3:03, 3:14, 4:20 and 6:06) to conform to. It doesn’t matter if the actual mathematics is wrong, that it’s 60 seconds over. The extra minute seems necessary.While Ashley Paul and Hacker Farm don’t appear aligned, this isn’t the first time they’ve appeared together; I saw them both at Salvage: A Hacker Farm Field Trip and there’s textural similarities if you listen closely enough. True, Ashley Paul’s music is more unfolded and sparse than Hacker Farm but they are both brittle commodities, prone to falling apart if you stop paying attention. Paul’s music falls apart slowly, of course, and her gently frayed plucking and blowing on this release often seems like it’s in the process of becoming, whilst Hacker Farm (especially live) often flies apart, with particles hurtling in different directions, heading for different headspaces. And I don’t think this is simply a gender reduction; Hacker Farm are three boys tugging at each other’s electronic gadgets and Ashley is a lone girl, finding her way around her instruments, playing with herself but… these releases don’t seem to be about that at all. Hacker Farm’s “The Disappeared” is as weightless as anything they’ve done and, though it seems like there’s a lot going on, that there’s a lot of propulsion here, it’s a great deal more subtle than that; the soft rise and fall of the woodwind pipes are at least as important as the bubbles and squeaks and clacks that surround them and it’s these softer sounds that often win in latter-period Hacker Farm (a contrast to the harder-edges of UHF).
Equally, there’s often an edge to the frailty of Ashley Paul’s music that can occasionally rise up and take her gentle melodies over. Her voice is big on this release, multi-tracked, echoed. On “Take” it is recorded very loud, forcibly competing (and winning) against the clang and hum of her guitar work and, importantly, against the silence that enfolds all of her songs. She’s not afraid of silence and some of this would work acts as an alternative to Mica Levi’s Under The Skin soundtrack. You could slip into black water and disappear forever.But to return to the beginning, the reason why these two artists work so well in this format is that their music is meticulously open-ended and amorphous (not simply open-ended and amorphous). The impositions simply serve to force their slippery patterns into recognisable shapes, as bondage facilitates sexual freedom through a lack of choice, as physical constraints ease psychic ones. This is all kinky stuff and with an air of mischievousness that makes you think it’s intended to be.