ALFRED 23 HARTH – Micro_Saxo_Phone. Edition III

Kendra Steiner

Nobody stops Alfred Harth’s inventiveness, a perpetual whirlwind of activity and experimentation that – at 61 – keeps him rolling fiercely and inexplicably with an energy that younger artists (ha!) would only dream about. Issued by a tiny Texan imprint that also publishes contemporary poetry, this limited edition (123 copies) represents the last step in A23H’s path towards the utter dismemberment of the conventional implications of a saxophone. A process started in 2005 and that still takes advantage of extended techniques, a Kaoss Pad and a laptop, besides the renowned “normal” tones that the Frankfurter emits whenever French-kissing that embouchure (or speaking into it, as frequently done in this case).

The over 74 minutes of extracurricular activities contained herein – deserving a set of top-class headphones for best results – promise headaches for those who want to keep fantasizing on their favourite things. Ever since the initial “Chukyo” (dedicated to the Japanese university that invited the protagonist to give lectures in 2010) one realizes that Harth observes another kind of reality – or several of them – through a mere reed instrument. Chunks of guitar are employed to add to a small flotilla of kaleidoscopic tricks and treats, percussively resonant traits revealing a weird influence on the brain, left paralyzed at first and completely vacant later on. The way in which the guy totally ignores the rules of good behaviour when subjecting the fruits of his improvisations to the computer is admirable for the absolute lack of prescribed definition and consequent stylistic stringency. And yet, every snippet possesses at least a modicum of sense, the sum of the parts giving birth to uncompromisingly personal statements that transcend probability and worn-out beliefs. Just listen to the magmatic delirium of “Resveratrol”, sort of a gamelan orchestra ending is existence via the crushing wheels of a giant mechanism.

Does anyone know what Gagok is? Neither did I before reading the liner notes. It’s a typical Korean “fake classical music”, with opera singers and all the rest, that Harth masterfully inserted in a great text/sound piece called “Doublespeak”, something that lovers of composers such as Åke Hodell might cherish. The taped voices (which include a fake interview with art photographer Nobuyoshi Araki where both the participants are impersonated by Harth) and the disfigured scenarios defining this nightmare for retarded martyrs are, on the contrary, pure joy for the cognoscenti. Infected and sullied by the hiss of old tapes and reinforced by the shifting howls of a soprano who never in her life could have imagined of getting abused like that, these sounds open the mind better than the whole history of Timothy Leary’s acid tests. And you’ll be able to tie your shoes after the experience.

As soon as a new record by the Seoul resident appears, this narrator starts shivering in fear of the inability of finding a method to illustrate the ingenious excellence of the work. When so much meat is being cooked at once, the task becomes really arduous. But – as always – a pair of receptive ears linked to a head delivered from conventions will help receiving this plethora of altered codes with some grounding. Even if someone mistakes the four episodes of “Surplussed” – electronically treated static masses of alto saxophones – for reversed outtakes recorded on a sun-struck Agfa cassette by a rehabilitated ex-nihilist postindustrial nonentity, or thinks that “Twonky” was performed by a drunk Tibetan monk, we’re sure that the sturdy hands of the little big man are not going to sock the unfortunates that hard.

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