Robert Haigh, “Darkling Streams”

prima003Robert Haigh is a veteran of UK underground music from the early eighties onwards. In the eighties he worked on seminal Nurse With Wound albums and released a series of darkly ambient albums and EPs under the name Sema. The nineties saw Haigh experimenting with atmospheric textures and sequenced rhythms under the name Omni Trio. From the mid naughties onwards Haigh has returned to his love of minimal piano counterpoint with releases on Seal Pool, Crouton, Siren and now Primary Numbers.

Release date: September 17, 2013

Darkling Streams is the awaited follow-up to the acclaimed trio of piano albums released on Siren Records between 2009 and 2011. Taking up where the Siren trilogy left off, Darkling Streams is a collection of piano miniatures with occasional wisps of shimmering electronic texture. As with the Siren releases, the pieces are intimate, atmospheric, hauntingly melodic and introspective. Shades of Satie, Harold Budd, Arvo Part, Glass and Sakamoto can be detected in these works but never to the extent of overshadowing Haigh’s distinctive expression and harmonic preoccupations. This current set stands apart, however, with the inclusion of a handful of extended pieces. Tracks such as “Fugue State,” “Of Eros And Dust,” and “Rain For Avalon” have an epic and darkly cinematic quality not heard on previous albums.

tracklist:

  1. Fugue State
  2. Remains Of A River
  3. Twice Solitaire
  4. Cage Of Shadows
  5. Darkling Streams
  6. Ipcress Girl
  7. Lunaire
  8. Mysterious Lights
  9. Of Eros And Dust
  10. Air Cerulian
  11. A Plague Of Notes
  12. Crepuscule
  13. Crepuscule 2 – [SOUNDCLOUD STREAM]
  14. Circle Of Deranged Fifths
  15. End Title
  16. Rain For Avalon

The sounds of gorgeous modern classical piano streamed out of my hi-fi into the living room!

I took a double-take at the cover, but the riddles wouldn’t break. In the 80s, Haigh worked on Nurse With Wounds albums and released dark ambient albums as Sema on Le Rey. In the 90s Haigh has developed a new ‘ambient drum’n’bass’ style and created Omni Trio, and has released The Deepest Cut (Moving Shadow, 1995), which many still recognize as the very first jungle album. How was I supposed to know that under his real name, Haigh has already released a series of modern classical works: Notes and Crossings (2009), Anonymous Lights (2010), and Strange and Secret Things (2011), all on Japanese Siren Records.

“Darkling Streams is a collection of piano miniatures with occasional wisps of shimmering electronic texture. [...] The pieces are intimate, atmospheric, hauntingly melodic and introspective.”

It would be impossible not to liken Darkling Streams to music by many classical masters. Barely reverberated keys float through the minimalist chords to construct vapors of beauty, tranquility and lull. Subtle arpeggios, appearing in similar tonalities, sprinkle the album with patience and poise. There is even a waltz appearing as “Cage of Shadows,” dancing through the flowing curtains of my open space. On “Of Eros and Dust” we hear a first echo of a synth, reminiscent of minimalist works by Brian Eno, Harold Budd and Steve Reich. Walking keys across abstract and chromatic scales of course, remind me of Ryuichi Sakamoto, and there is an essence of the last breath by Erik Satie, Henryk Gorecky, and even John Cage.

As of this writing, Darkling Streams has remained on rotation throughout the weekend, and it doesn’t subside. If anything, the music brings a particular lightness to the external atmosphere, sounding very cinematic rather than new-agey. On the last piece of the album, “Rain for Avalon“, Haigh awakens a deep bass that adds thick layer of texture to the music, mixed with distant thunder and strings, leaving me somber and aching for more. There are sixteen tracks on this album and I’m having trouble picking out a favorite. Well done, Primary Numbers – I’ve got my ear on you now! – Headphone Commute

 

Rob Haigh’s journey has been so strange and winding, you wonder if there were religious conversions, drug epiphanies, New Age revelations, or perhaps all of the above, along the way. In the mid-1980s he was a prolific player on the UK Industrial network. A multi-instrumentalist, he released music under the name Sema and with the projects Truth Club and Fote, a selection of which was collected together on a 1987 United Dairies cassette, The Best Of Rob Haigh. Discs such as Notes From Underground (1982) and Music From The Antechamber (1986) had black and white covers with stern typefaces, and images that faded into ghostly traces like Victorian family photographs.

His re-emergence just a few years later as drum ’n’ bass project Omni Trio (a name that evokes not just music of the future, but a some kind of posse of robotic superheroes, in one of Jungle’s long tradition of fictitious collectives) seemed bizarre. His 12″s for Moving Shadow – a label whose music was so pristine, plasticene and sensuous it offered the promise of some kind of utopia – were recognisable by their ecstatic almost baroque breakbeats. They came in sleeves of bold primary colours and were given simple numbered titles, like a cheerful Lego box of beats and breaks. It was if the Gothic introversion of his earlier work was a passing phase.

But Haigh’s early music had none of the grimy tape textures or cut-up disjunctions that you might associate with Industrial music. Records such as Music From The Antechamber or Juliet Of The Spirits were flowing, expressive, seemingly endless instrumental modes that suggested The Durutti Column, Sketches Of Spain or even Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells. There was a sense of private bliss to this music that, if you stuck a breakbeat under it, wasn’t so far away from the endlessly rushing euphoria of Jungle. Haigh is an arranger as much a composer, which enabled him to transpose his music from secret ritual to communal rave.

But the most recent stage of Haigh’s career has been an even more unlikely detour. After Omni Trio ended in 2004, Haigh re-emerged in 2008 with several albums of solo piano music which owe much to Harold Budd and, particularly, Erik Satie, to which can now be added Darkling Streams. Several have been released on the Siren label of Daisuke Suzuki, an associate of Andrew Chalk, and both like Haigh are former Industrial musicians who have travelled the long road to emerge with music of deep, meditative beauty. Haigh’s piano pieces are disarmingly simple, almost naive, more Roger Eno than Brian Eno, and at first listen are the kind of music you might find accompanying a mainstream TV documentary. Their pastel covers and pleasantly vague titles – Written On Water, Notes And Crossings – suggest the warm embrace of the New Age or even evangelical Christianity.

But Haigh has always had a beautiful melodic touch, wherever his head was at. Omni Trio’s “Renegade Snares” (1993), despite its bad-boy title, has a beautifully understated piano figure. On “Rollin’ Heights” from the subsequent year, there is something about the span, symmetry and conciseness of the melody that evokes almost impossibly vertiginous heights. On the Omni Trio 12″s it’s not just piano but lavish arrangements that tug the heartstrings, with strings and even the drums singing the same melodies.

Darkling Streams, like recent albums, appears to be played live, with a natural inhalation/exhalation running through the flowing arpeggios, though there’s also a placid perfection to it that is oddly unnerving. Haigh has a couple of quirks to his piano style that by this point feel like signature devices – the finger-fumble across a whole note, probably from one white key to another, that sounds like a direct borrow from Satie’s Gymnopédies, rippling the calm facade of the music; and the transposition of a melodic device from one chord to another, and then to another, to the point where it begins to jar. Recent albums Anonymous Lights and Strange And Secret Things have carried an uncanny mix of easy lyricism and circling, almost obsessive repetition, like an eye returning to an almost painfully beautiful image. Here, it flows more effortlessly. “Twice Solitaire”, “Cage Of Shadows” and “Mysterious Lights” are among Haigh’s grandest pieces, the latter dancing up and down the keyboard, dabbing in almost random notes with childlike joy.

Unlike Chalk’s piano pieces, there is no sense of opaque allusion or hidden tension in those of Haigh. They are limpid, sentimental and romantic, painting pictures with the sustain pedal held tightly down. But there’s an intimacy, simplicity of gesture and an awkwardness that is utterly disarming. Darkling Streams has a bruised beauty that escapes more intricate and overtly sophisticated music. Perhaps it’s because he’s taken such a long road to get here. – Derek Walmsley, The Wire.

 

Memorable melodies, ghostly harmonies, yearning phrases, and tense, frequently circular rhythms are often the only figures populating his songs, and with them he draws up a surprisingly diverse cast of expressions and feelings. – Laughtrack

 

Whether circular or linear, these tuneful, minimal melodies are truly precious pieces, black-and-white snapshots only just beginning to yellow and curl at the edges. – Igloo

 

You’d think Haigh’s choice of instrumentation — primarily piano — would act as a limiter rather than a liberator, but the opposite is in fact true. More evidently, Haigh’s channeled a number of his contemporaries (Steve Reich and Susumu Yokota spring instantly to mind) to give these pieces authoritative heft. – The Squid’s Ear

discography:

  • “Notes from Underground” and “Theme from Hunger” (as Sema), Le Rey Records 1982
  • “Extract from Rosa Silber” (as Sema), Le Rey Records 1983
  • “Three Seasons Only,” Le Rey Records, 1984
  • “The Sylvie and Babs H-Fi Companion,” (with Nurse with Wound), United Dairies, 1985
  • “Juliet of the Spirits,” LAYLAH Anti-Records, 1985
  • “Spiral Insana,” (with Nurse with Wound), United Dairies, 1986
  • “Music from the Anti-Chamber,” LAYLAH Anti-Records, 1986
  • “Valentine Out Of Season,” and “The Best Of Robert Haigh,” United Dairies, 1987
  • “A Waltz In Plain C,” Le Rey Records, 1989
  • “A Sucked Orange” (with Nurse with Wound), United Dairies, 1990
  • “Music for the Next Millennium” (as Omni Trio), Sm:)e Communications, 1995
  • “Haunted Science” (as Omni Trio), Moving Shadow, 1996
  • “Skeleton Keys” (as Omni Trio), Moving Shadow, 1997
  • “Even Angels Cast Shadows” (as Omni Trio), Moving Shadow, 2001
  • “From the Air” (with Silent Storm), Seal Pool, 2007
  • “Written On Water,” Crouton 2008
  • “Notes And Crossings,” Siren 2009
  • “Anonymous Lights,” Siren 2010
  • “Strange and Secret Things,” Siren 2011

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