Robert Hampson Vectors

[Touch; 2009]

Styles: electro-acoustic improvisation, sound installation
Others: Keith Rowe, Will Guthrie, Stephen Vitiello, Ryoji Ikeda

Robert Hampson’s impressive resume includes work with Jim O’Rourke and Organum in addition to some time as a member of Godflesh, but Vectors is compelling evidence of his skill as an independent solo experimenter. Nestled perfectly within the Touch aesthetic, the three recordings on this disc document installations Hampson created in Paris and Poitiers between 2006 and 2008.

The first piece, “Umbra,” is an exploration of shadows and eclipses in which Hampson gradually allows granular, occulted sounds to emerge and capture the full range of the stereo spectrum. Waves of insectile energy blend into one another amid roomier, bell-like tones, as if the listener were caught beneath swarms of mosquitoes commingling in the shadow of a cathedral. The juxtaposition of timbres is stark: the matte, tinny clattering sounds sickeningly cheap as it is gradually cloaked in luxuriant reverb of unknown origin.

Despite its 17-minute running time and constrained sonic palette, "Umbra" is restless and unpredictable, abruptly leaping from theme to theme. Hampson’s tools could easily be used to fashion a drone or ambient piece, but he seems more keen on focusing the listener’s attention on a whirling core of sounds by approaching it from multiple angles, like a movie director who edits together footage of the same scene from several different cameras.

“Ahead - Only the Stars” is a tribute to the astronauts from the NASA Mercury Missions, beginning with the sound of a jet slicing across the channels. The rest of the work consists of manipulated radio transmissions that buzz, blister, and flow, evoking murky tropical nightscapes as much as outer space. Hampson is a canny producer who can take stubbornly neutral sonic material and tease associations -- a space shuttle door opening; breathing within an astronaut’s helmet; the titration of outer-space elixirs -- from it.

Hampson continues to tangle the tinny ligaments of this music in the final piece “Dans le lointain,” in which he threads together his shortwave radio recordings dating from the early 1980s. It’s a fitting final third of what turns out to be a remarkably coherent album, despite the disparate occasions for which the pieces were originally performed.

1. Umbra
2. Ahead- Only the Stars
3. Dans le Lointain

Most Read