One of the main attractions in sound creation, perhaps especially in experimental music and, for me personally, especially especially in HNW, is how much it is a narrative medium, in a practically writerly fashion. Voices can be employed at will, either by adjustments in sound design, thematic approach, visual identity or any combination of these. As such, sound creation enables one to, much like in (fiction) writing, construct characters, fictions, narratives to embed the created sound in a singularly immersive, sustained experience. While such approaches are part and parcel of music in many genres and styles, they are often barely or not at all removed from the artist proper: his/her/their voice is always the one relaying the character or story, as within most traditional genres the removal of the artist from the music is not in any particular (commercial) interest. Such concerns exist less or not at all in more fringe genres and styles.
Soft Fires was an exercise in the employment of several distinct narrative voices within a single release. Of course, my writing on it in part – if not entirely – untangles its mystery, demystifies it, which runs counter to what was at least its (or my) intention upon conception and creation. However, I find it is quite illustrative of the point I wish to make and, as such, will delve into it to some more depth. I released Soft Fires in 2014 on home-dubbed C60 tape as a faux-compilation featuring a slew of artists operating in a variety of genres: crystalline ambient and beats, lo-fi black metal, MIDI free jazz, drone, PE, harsh noise, witch house and synth pop. The tape was released through the fictional Super Pink label as, supposedly, a compilation featuring artists who had performed at an equally fictional festival, Super Pink Fest, some months prior to the tape release. The artists featured, among others, included Mothers, the bedroom synth pop project of 19-year-old Brit; Maria Cortez’ industrial drone project Inverse Reflection; and Kjell Bråten Berg, a Norwegian composer of chiptune jazz. Of course, what all these artists really were was a personal challenge to myself to employ numerous voices in equally numerous genres.
Another project featured on the Soft Fires tape was Malheurr, given in the liner notes as the project of ‘Dominic et Luc’. Also evidenced by the title to their track, L’essaim Interminable (The Endless Swarm), it was clear their project was conceived as French(-language) two-man band. In fact, I had conceived of their name even earlier, in 2012, in an exchange of fictional cover art, where I presented the at-that-point entirely fictional Malheurr and their album Malheurreuse, supposedly “depressed shoegaze metal from France”. For Soft Fires, then, I gave shape to Malheurr properly and recorded a gritty, lo-fi black metal track, which was then wedged in between the opening sample (from Ti West’s Sacrament) and Kjell Bråten Berg’s beepy, manic bursts of chip-jazz.
Outside of White Church, a witch house project that had another track featured on a one-off, one-copy compilation of personal works I made for Alexander Adams entitled Drifting Flowers, none of the projects featured on Soft Fires ever made another appearance. Malheurr, however, was to be revived, although it would no more be black metal. In 2017, I released Purge Fluids (Causerie Sur Les Temps) on Void Worship with the following blurb to describe its sound:
Current explorations in HNW – especially those explorations that investigate the very fringes – have served both to show the broad scope of the genre as well as to define its boundaries more clearly. While on the one end of the spectrum there is a steady stream of ever harsher walls that leave no space to breathe, the other end of the spectrum has seen artists employing quiet and sparseness instead; especially in ambient noise wall and crackle studies, the individual bursts of sounds (pops, crackles) that make up the wall – and by extension, the spaces between them – have grown ever more important and distinct. The broad range of sound within the wall genre (from sparse crackles to harsh blasting) exemplifies – in a fascinating way all of its own – the interesting interplay of tone and tempo. Purge Fluids is French duo Malheurr’s modest contribution to this active musical (noisy) dialogue and juxtaposes HNW with black metal rife with blast beats.
Indeed, Purge Fluids presented something of a blend of black metal with HNW. Although the sound was decidedly HNW, with a jittery, grinding crackle dominating the sound, buried in the mix there were distinct blast beats and even some guitar shredding to be discerned, though I think they were incorporated into the sound subtly and successfully enough to keep the wall a wall while at the same time managing to lend it a black metal vibe. The black metal nature of the recordings was, of course, further emphasized by its artwork, which – while keeping to the Void Worship template, breathed a distinctly (black) metal vibe. The blurb was accompanied by a quote from band member Dominic:
Luc [fellow band member] plays a lot of HNW before our recording sessions. This time he plays a really nasty, grimy tape. We sit with our beer nodding our heads to the wall and I give Luc a look. ‘Putain, this is like a fucking blast beat!’, I scream at him, and in that moment we know what we must do. We record two filthy blasting bm tracks and then we play them in our room while putting our hnw on top. The room fills with PURE FUCKING BLAST. We don’t know if it’s wall or drums but what we know is it’s bliss.
Dominic’s voice, of course, was entirely mine and encapsulated some thoughts and ideas I’d had concerning HNW and the way it does or might interact – or, perhaps, rather overlap – with other genres. I discussed such ideas at various points with other artists, most notably Damien De Coene, who equally had observed that any genre pushed to its musical extreme might resemble or be entirely similar to HNW. The lo-fi, gritty black metal that was the inspiration (and even a sound source, of course) for Malheurr is one example; splittercore and extratone are other examples of a genre pushed to an extreme where it may become a wall in and of itself. (Equally, of course, HNW’s derivations, especially those into areas of ANW and beyond, have served to demonstrate its closeness to lowercase music, for instance.) One anonymous contribution to my Absent Erratum label, Nike Air Max Nostalgia, is a wonderful demonstration of how (ar)rhythmic oscillations, gabber beats, basses and stutters can be used to create something akin to HNW (although purists may beg to differ with its classification).
The full Soft Fires compilation is currently not uploaded anywhere online; however, I’ve uploaded a few tracks to YouTube, each also adorned with supposed individual cover art.