Listening under headphones is like sitting in a giant, elderly valve driven radio that...
Peter Marsh 2002
There's a famous story about critic Richard Williams, who while writing for the Times in the early 1970s was sent a copy of a John Lennon/Yoko Ono album to review. One side of the album consisted of a single, unmodulated sine tone. Williams was initially a bit taken aback, but after a few listens began to enjoy what he heard, remarking in his review on how the record drew attention to imperfections in the vinyl, how it made for a deeply meditative experience and so on. It turned out he'd been sent an engineer's test pressing by mistake, with a reference 1khz sine tone on one side instead of the music. Though Williams was derided for this, Brian Eno rightly pointed out that his response (though conditioned by the fact that this was a John Lennon record and therefore worthy of attention) was an honest enough one. John Cage would have been proud of him.
And so it is with this release on the prolific and deeply odd Raster Noton label, though presumably this CD is not a victim of a mix up at the pressing plant. Carl Michael von Hausswolff, though perhaps not quite as well known as John Lennon has been producing electronic music for around 20 years, and his concern has been often with basic, untreated electronic sound sources, prefiguring the current wave of activity in this ultra-minimalist area spearheaded by the likes of Ryoji Ikeda, Carsten Nicolai and so on. Recently he has become interested in EVP (Electronic Voice Phenomena), detecting voices from the spirit world buried in radio static or white noise. Ström maybe a continuation of that interest; whatever, it's 48 minutes of what sounds suspiciously like mains hum, occasionally decorated with blips, slow gaseous hisses and radio static. Listening under headphones is like sitting in a giant, elderly valve driven radio that can't quite warm up and is tuned permanently at a remote end of the dial where even the Voice of America can't be bothered to broadcast. At reasonable volume through speakers, the resonant hum is likely to kill any nearby goldfish and can be heard in every room in the house. Move around while listening and the hum changes to a low, soothing throb or at particularly resonant points in the room, vibrates your skull rather unpleasantly. But it's when it finally stops that the disc does its work. The hum's absence is maybe even more powerful than its presence - things sound different, brighter, more vivid, not unlike after your ears have been syringed. Definitely for the intrepid.