Switched On – Haiku Salut: The Hill, The Light, The Ghost (Secret Name)

haiku-salut-2021

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Derbyshire trio Haiku Salut relocate outdoors for this, their fifth album, which is in their words ‘an exploration of sound in relation to memory’. To fuel the latter they blend electronics and field recordings taken from a variety of sources, at all times seeking a personal touch or a story behind. The notes in the CD booklet document their findings, which range from natural sources to the strains of a ghostly piano in a large abandoned house, somewhere near Frankfurt.

What’s the music like?

Strange and captivating. Beginning with birdsong, Wide Awake is the ideal piece of music with which to start your day, soft strings and distant piano stretching the eardrums pleasantly. The mood changes with Entering, where a cold shiver runs through the arpeggios on the upper register of the ghostly piano. Gradually a mournful air descends on the instrument as it tolls slowly, beautifully played by band member Sophie Barkerwood.

A simpler, calmer piano informs the restful Trespass, while the tones are softer but the musical key remains the same for We Need These Beams, where a gently oscillating loop is gradually taken over by eerie displacement from the electronics. The sounds become increasingly wooden as the track dissolves.

I Dreamed I Was Awake For A Very Long Time is a lovely piece, a combination of a clipped piano phrase and stately chords over a steady, chugging beat. It really is a wonder, and is complemented by the wide open vista of How The Day Starts.

There are less field recordings evident for the friendly chatter of All Watched Over By Machines Of Loving Grace, an older track, but they come to the fore in the reassuring balm of Try Again And Again And Again, full of subtle positivity, and the closing All Clear, which brings back birdsong and strings akin to the start of the album.

Does it all work?

Yes, especially on headphones. Closer listening reveals the different layers and perspectives of the field recording, which is matched by the trio’s distinctive and carefully monitored musical complements. These are always pleasant to listen to at the very least but often take the breath subtly with moments of consonant beauty. There is, however, a dark undertone running through some of the memories, a shadow that once applied is hard to remove.

Is it recommended?

Yes. Another excellent set from one of our electronic musical treasures, who continue to fly just under the radar – when really they deserve to be held in much higher regard.

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Switched On – Haiku Salut: The General (Secret Name)

What’s the story?

This is a really intriguing proposition, in which instrumental trio Haiku Salut are invited to score The General, the silent Buster Keaton film of 1926. The group have until now built their reputation with three intricate and intimate instrumental albums, all containing music that translates well to a memorable live experience of subtle imagination. This would seem to be an ideal opportunity for expansion, for the band to show their talent for the bigger screen. The soundtrack runs for the whole film, clocking in at an ambitious 79 minutes.

What’s the music like?

Much more varied than regular listeners might expect. That’s not a criticism of previous albums, more an observation that it is easy to mistakenly pigeon hole a band! If like me you had them down as pedalling intricate electronica, building on small melodic loops to more expansive effect, you would be pleased to note the number of different styles Haiku Salut naturally work in to the fibre of this record.

Initially the pairing of graceful piano and subtle electronics is familiar, and is typically effective, but the sighing motif in the main theme of Start has a sinister undertone and is unsettling. In the centre of the soundtrack, Cannon plays some brilliant sonic tricks with its massive reverb and a held drone chord, expanding the band’s sound considerably, while Train Steal produces big beats to go with the depiction of the crime itself.

This wide range of moods continues to Chopping Wood, where solemn keyboard chords intone like thoughtful brass, or Hide, where a four to the floor beat gives softly voiced energy. ‘Reunited’ conveys its emotion simply through piano, with a watery accompaniment, Firewood crackles with an energetic if subtle beat, while Obstructions has the friendly chatter of loops. The final number of the 23, Finish, returns us to the same outlook as the opening – but that slightly sinister undertone has still not gone away.

Does it all work?

Yes, and without the moving pictures there is still a strong narrative thread running through this music, which leaves a lasting impression. While the subtleties are still on show, Haiku Salut show really impressive ambition and a taste for bigger and more imaginative sounds. The potential is clearly there for the trio to score a lot more films in the future, given the thought and imagination applied here. Their style will continue to win a lot of friends through its melodic approach and interesting textures.

Is it recommended?

Yes. The General continues to impress in subsequent hearings, either in fragments or in a listen to the whole picture.

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