Somnambule - Writing About Music

Szam Findlay ~ Die Hautfabrik

Think of mediaeval houses huddled together in the lee of great mountains, of the jerkiness of villagers’ movements as they walk into sepia fields. Notes tremble and waver like wheatstalks in a nervous wind. Drums pound portentously.

Melodies appear to be always on the edge of nightmare: as the Golem escapes the rabbi’s servitude to spread fear and chaos, so does Szam Findlay’s music threaten to run amok into dischord.

The photographs on the cd booklet appear to capture inbred plantlife, effigies erected by superstitious peasants far from big city ‘civilization’, folk memories of the victims of natural but inexplicable disasters.

Hummed The Stem ends with what sounds like the winds of fear blowing outside your window only to be succeeded by The Tide A Glutton whose awful trudging rhythm sounds as though it might die of exhaustion before it manages to take another step, instead it is overtaken by tremulously piping organs.

Rhythms are frequently marshall, but may at any moment fall into disarray, watched over by sighs and groans. Woodblocks and shell marimbas pitter patter like knitting needles on weatherbeaten sheeps’ skulls. The darkness never remains complete, but is frequently leavened by brief shafts of light, hopeful notes, passages of quiet beauty.

The soundworld of Die Hautfabrik conjures Jan Svankmajer’s animations: the sound of clockwork automata gaining a frenzied freedom, in particular those automata housed in belltowers and allowed to move only every hour.

The impression conveyed by both the music and of the cover design is that of outsider art – but outside of what? I don’t know, but I think I like it on the outside, it’s less claustrophobic, and there’s more freedom - though it can be hard to reach (think of the travails of Winston Smith or THX1138).

Die Hautfabrik is certainly outside of genre, unless there is a card index somewhere in a distant, outlying shop (opening only on the fifth Sunday of every fourth month) which delineates music that is at once mediaeval, filmic and electronic, gentle and stormy, dreamy and nightmare-ridden. Push me into a corner and threaten me with outlandish punishments and I might spit out suspect affinities to Meredith Monk’s Book of Days and Bedouin Ascent’s Further Self Evident Truths.

Listen to this and cross yourself before you go to sleep.
Colin Buttimer
May 2003
Published by the BBC