Album Review: Against the Intentional – Joseph Hammer’s Dynasty Suites (Melon Expander)


Everyone welcome our newest contributor, Matt Byars. Matt runs West Main Development, who released the transcendent Nathan Bell @ 2640.

Photo credit: Angeline Evans

Anyone who has ever looked for inspiration knows that looking for it is the last way to find it.

When do moments of inspiration actually arrive? Usually when we’re ill-prepared to meet them: in the shower, in the car on the way to work, the dark of the movie theater.

Creating these situations artificially, thus allowing these moments to find you rather than the other way around, is the premise of many improvisational and “experimental” musics; LA-based experimental mainstay Joseph Hammer is one of the most compelling practitioners of this approach.

Hammer has been creating such artificial situations for himself since the early ’80s in numerous projects, including a pre-Medicine outfit called Debt of Nature.   He is a stalwart member of LA’s experimental scene, both past and present and cites AM radio station “mixing” (receiving more than one station at the same time) and an episode of the ’70s TV show Land of the Giants (in which astronauts used tape loops to battle aliens) as two of his primary influences.  

In doing so, he makes himself available to the unexpected, thwarting the intentional, and therefore limiting, approach of the standard sequential approach to music creation. Wielding multiple reel-to-reel tape machines and a gloved hand, Hammer manipulates the tapes as they run off the heads, thus allowing himself only a modicum of control: he doesn’t create the sounds…just steers them.

Dynasty Suites (Melon Expander 002), Hammer’s most recent and first solo work, was performed live on LA’s KXLU.  It is a wonderfully disorienting journey through snippets of other people’s songs that somehow link, mutate, and morph together into something wholly compelling, and at times even spooky. This is not to be listened to in the way one normally listens to music (especially music without vocals) — waiting for “moments” to happen, or for a slow build to a crescendo — but peripherally, out of the corner of your ear, as listening directly to it will reveal only technique, not meaning. Track one of two (sampled in part below), requires a long enough listen for small patterns to eddy then disappear in the wake of other patterns, slowly creating a larger whole in which melodies reveal themselves, then slowly fade to the exits, their egress scarcely noted.

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MP3: Joseph Hammer – Excerpt from Dynasty Suites

Is that a late-era Talking Heads song slipped in among the wreckage? Could be, and although the content of Hammer’s collage isn’t necessarily the noteworthy component of his work, this tweaking of what’s familiar to the listener amidst an audio-based hallucination certainly adds to the disorientation, like witnessing your own picture burn in the fireplace. Such vivid destruction is part of the appeal of Dynasty Suites, and those without inclinations towards at least a mild sort of nihilism need not apply here.

(Thanks for Jason Willett for directing me to this goodness).

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One Response to “Album Review: Against the Intentional – Joseph Hammer’s Dynasty Suites (Melon Expander)”

  1. murdock says:

    Debt of Nature is great. Thanks for this!

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