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Hymn: Silence, Then Birds

John Sharpe By

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Under the moniker Hymn, the British threesome of trumpeter Chris Dowding, violinist Sylvia Hallett and electronicist David Ross present extemporized slices of understated minimalism distinguished by aching melodies emerging from a granular scratchy undertow. They maintain a taut balance between repetition, movement and noise on three tracks recorded live in London and Norwich, with outcomes variously hypnotic, soothing and spacious.

The title cut begins with the sort of hiss which could be distant traffic or waves breaking on shingle, before being joined by indeterminate percussive interference, like rigging flapping in the breeze. Dowding's breathy trumpet unwraps tuneful fragments which drift across a canvas of beeps, hums, and gurgles while, later, Hallett's violin supplies a plaintive counterpoint. Other constituent elements include thudding trumpet key pads, a secondary trumpet air woven in amidst the electronic toots and distortions, and fleeting voice-like sounds. Ultimately, the layers coalesce into a hymn-like (yes!) chorale to close.

The end result is a beauty crafted from simple parts. But such apparent simplicity is based on considerable artifice, with everyone utilizing electronics, creating a latticework of repeating loops in real time. As important as what they play is the shared agreement about when to pull back, revealing not quite silence, but rather the ambience which remains when everything else is switched off.

While still recognizably a product of the same unhurried ethos, "Camouflage, Last Peace" takes a more blustery, friction-laden approach, featuring piercing violin strokes which dissipate into sibilance. Even here, looped trumpet refrains buried within the mix form a connective thread, continuing to echo in the mind's ear even after they have ceased. "Ourselves, Our Bodies" reverts to the opening territory, as lyric scraps gradually unfold, set within lots of space, both folky and wistful. The piece finishes on chugging electronics and whistling winds, suggesting a journey come full circle.

As an additional plus, the CD is one of the last to come disguised as a mini LP in a distinctive stylish tin box, as was formerly customary with Confront Recordings.

Track Listing

Silence, Then Birds; Camouflage, Last Peace; Ourselves, Our Bodies.

Personnel

Chris Dowding: trumpets, electronics; Sylvia Hallett: violin, bicycle wheel, saw, electronics; David Ross: davestation.

Album information

Title: Silence, Then Birds | Year Released: 2019 | Record Label: Confront Recordings

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