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Hugh Hopper and Matt Howarth: The Stolen Hour

John Kelman By

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The Stolen Hour refers to the year 2000 when, succumbing to pressures of the international media, Australia's government decided to commence Daylight Savings Time over three months early to better synchronize so that the televised Olympic Games could be seen at more acceptable times by other countries. Bassist Hugh Hopper, of Soft Machine fame and more recently numerous other projects including his intriguing Jazzloops series, collaborates with American artist Matt Howarth for a multimedia project that combines Hopper's music with Howarth's comic book (included as a PDF file on this enhanced CD) to examine the impact the event had on the Australian public, and one fictitious character in particular.

Hopper creates a diversity of rhythm loops over which he layers bass, guitar and the occasional synthesizer, providing a backdrop for a variety of guest artists to contribute, including ex-Soft Machine band mate Robert Wyatt on cornet and vocal loops, and ex-Gong woodwind multi-instrumentalist Didier Malherbe. Ranging from the direct funk of "Some Complications at Work" to the more hypnotically propulsive and aboriginally-textured "Craig's Distended Train Ride," Hopper builds twelve pieces that coexist with Howarth's art, telling the story of technology worker Craig's encounters and frustrations with the change in DST before heading to the Outback to escape the confines of time. There he meets The Old Spirits, who offer some spiritual revelations, and experiences a series of fatigue-and-hunger-induced hallucinations before encountering Mia, another political rebel who has come to the Outback for the same reason. Everything ends on a happy note with Craig and Mia watching the sunset together, operating on a schedule untouchable by governments and business concerns.

Hopper began experimenting with loops as early as the late '60s, and he introduced his uniquely personal concept on the now-classic 1984 (from '73). But both technology and experience have come a long way since then. Experimental in its multitudinous textures yet approachable in its trance-like nature, Hopper's looping experiments bridge the boundary between abstruse structural innovation and improvisational freedom. Sometimes feeling rhythmically akin to the jungle density of Miles Davis' mid-'70s work on "Yearning for the Stolen Hour," other times tranquil and majestic on "Compatibility," Hopper's compositions are often ambiguously linked with Howarth's images. But as far back as his days with Soft Machine, Hopper has never been one to make things easy. The concluding "Sharing the Stolen Hour" revolves around an energetic John Marshall drum loop and soaring-but-slightly-outré sax work by Pierre-Olivier Govin that manages to be obscure yet emotionally uplifting at the same time.

One of Hopper's strengths has always been in creating music that is less than obvious. With rhythm loops consisting of samples that seem to include more than a few found sounds, Hopper creates an audioscape that feels otherworldly, yet is rooted in the here and now by its viscerally-driven rhythmic nature. The Stolen Hour ultimately makes for an engaging listen that is accessible enough to reach out to a significant audience, yet oblique enough to interest listeners interested in exploring new territory.

Visit Hugh Hopper on the web.


Track Listing: Craig's Distended Train Ride; Complications at Work; An Inescapable Encounter with Mrs. Pry; Yearning for the Stolen Hour; The Long Drive; An Unregulated Sunset; A Sideways Peek at Dreamtime; Snide Wisdom Involving the Immateriality of Time; The Stuff He Sees; Mia's Timely Emergence from the East; Compatibility; Sharing the Stolen Hour

Personnel: Hugh Hopper (guitar, bass guitar, rhythm loop, midi programming)
With guests Robert Wyatt (cornet, voice loops on "Craig's Distended Train Ride," "An Unregulated Sunset," "Mia's Timely Emergence from the East"), Frank van der Kooy (saxophone on "Complications at Work"), Pierre-Olivier Govin (saxophone on "Craig's Distended Train Ride," "Complications at Work," "Yearning for the Stolen Hour," "The Long Drive," "The Stuff He Sees," "Compatibility," "Sharing the Stolen Hour"), Simon Picard (saxophone on "An Inescapable Encounter with Mrs. Pry," "A Sideways Peek at Dreamtime," "Snide Wisdom Involving the Immateriality of Time"), Jan Ponsford (voice on "A Sideways Peek at Dreamtime"), Didier Malherbe (flute loops on "A Sideways Peek at Dreamtime"), John Marshall (drum loop on "Sharing the Stolen Hour")

Title: The Stolen Hour | Year Released: 2004 | Record Label: Burning Shed

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