Helena Hauff – Shatter Cone

Shatter_ConeWhen I interviewed Ms. Hauff earlier this month, she described her new EP Shatter Cone as an Acid record defined by her distinct style. As an artist that often deals within the marginal aspects of electronic music, I was intrigued by this statement, but I had to wait a couple of weeks to hear her interpreted of the legendary genre. A musical anomaly that first cropped up in the eighties, Acid is one of those sounds that randomly make an appearance from time to time in the guise of a contemporary theme. At the post Dubstep phase of UK music acts like Blawan and Addison Groove loved putting in short Acid squiggles alongside rhythmically complex percussive parts, while during the summer of nu-rave, acts like Boys Noize incorporated it in their electro-informed repertoire. It all made for interesting interpretations of the Acid format and many of them made a lasting impression. Remember KiNK’s remix of Gingy and Bordello’s Body Acid? There have also been many failures, too many to mention in fact, a result of Acid’s inherent crutch: a little bit might be fun, but endless repetition can be hazardous to one’s health. On Shatter Cone, Helena Hauff manages to strike a composed balance between the Acid 303 chirp and the general development of a track, that puts her in the same league as the successful interpreter. The unusually down-tempo Furthermost Nevermore, employs the acid motif reservedly before it falls away to clear some space for the soothingly melodic stringed synth that imparts a moment of solitude for reflection before noisy riff makes its way back for the end of the track.

Hauff has managed to apply a developing form to Acid’s unyielding foundation, giving the tracks a sense of progression that is often absent from the genre. These moments of change tend to come along unexpectedly. On Severe Slash it takes a full two minutes before the repetitive motif suddenly, without warning, takes an unexpected turn into a new melodic phase. It is also punctuated by a hauntingly sombre synthesised string section, which gives the energetic track a foreboding darker edge, something that in concurrent with Hauff’s previous work. Hiemal Quietus however, uses the idea of development exactly for its contrasting effect. The harmonic movement keeps insinuating at a resolving phrase that never makes it to the table. There’s a constant sense of anticipation, which gives the impression that the track might reach its unattainable climax, an event that never transpires. It keeps enticing the listener into that next phase with some more sustain on the filter or a heavy assault of claps, only to fall back onto a new phase of assent towards that inaccessible plateau.

It highlights another unique element to Acid: the machine aesthetic. As music that is usually made from a very short repetitive sequential pattern, it’s the subtle changes in the machine that translate the artistic intent into the music and if there’s one thing Ms. Hauff understands, it’s the language of her machines. The way she executes her actions are precise, opening the sustain on filters at exactly the right moment in the phrase to give the pieces a natural flow without ever reverting to pure improvisation, which can often obstruct the general development of a track. The sounds she calls upon are perhaps not as adventurous as some of her past works, which is to be expected in the context, but she continuously finds unique ways to voice her distinct style. On the opening track, Accidie the percussive rhythm is relentless as toms kick out a rapid-fire beat while a pitch-modulating cymbal calls in the end of each phrase-group, which creates a similar effect to the 303-like acid riff running over the top of it. The acid aspect of the track thus happens across all the parts including the percussive section. These elements conspire in a track that is incredibly concise, with little more than a drum machine and a single repetitive synth making up the entire track. It’s in fact that is concurrent with the rest of the EP.

From the relentless anticipation of Hiemal Quietus to the down-tempo melodies on Furthermost Nevermore Shatter Cone covers the acid genre in a distinguishable Helena Hauff aesthetic. Her adventures through machines are well documented and this EP for Lux marks a very notable chapter in her discography. In our interview she did mention that she would be leaning towards the marginal aspects for her next release, but while we wait for that one…