A considerable number of electronic music albums released this year are dressed with the sound of birdsong. A coincidence, you might think – but this would seem to reflect the role played by natural forces in helping us deal with the isolation brought on by a global pandemic.
It turns out that Haiku Salut have been appreciating their surroundings in audio form for many years. Their fifth album The Hill, The Light, The Ghost is a culmination of five years of field recordings, of which birdsong is just one element. The Derbyshire trio – Gemma and Sophie Barkerwood and Louise Croft – have been documenting their surroundings as they travel on tour, a habit begun in Japan when they found themselves overwhelmed by the sheer multitude of events.
More recently the collections have become wilder and more remote in source, but wherever they stem from they become part of a middle sonic foreground, over which the trio’s carefully constructed music spins webs and colours. These form attractive single lines, become embedded in collages, or, as in a track like Nearing, the field recordings themselves come to the fore.
This track, a striking example, has a chill to its inception. It was recorded on a barely used piano in an uninhabited flat close to Frankfurt, whose use and origins were unclear. Although beautifully played by Gemma Barkerwood, the piano has a presence in its reverberation, and it is the ghost in this particular machine that stays with the listener. It does so thanks to clever perspectives secured by the record’s construction.
Each track on The Hill… has its own fascinating story to further enhance the impact on the listener. The wooden effects that splinter and crack through We Need These Beams, for instance, can be explained by the sound of crickets from a Japanese lake and recordings of Sophie Barkerwood’s dad sorting wood. It is another illustration of the personal touch evident throughout the album.
Even the more mechanical tracks are an intriguing blend of emotional warmth and a slight, unreachable shadow. All Watched Over By Machines Of Loving Grace is one of these, walking with an upright and suitably robotic gait but operating with a warmth that reveals its steadily beating heart.
Melodic interest is present throughout the trio’s workings. I Dreamed I Was Awake For A Very Long Time works a lovely, clipped piano phrase with stately chords moving at a much slower pace. It segues effortlessly into How The Day Starts, where the textures pan out for a wider vista.
The combination of strict process and softer emotion makes for a fascinating album. The Hill, The Light, The Ghost is clearly the result of years of tender loving care, and its ink appears to be only just drying thanks to the instinctive, organic approach. If ever proof were needed that electronic music can have a beating, human heart, this is it. Even the birds sing their appreciation.