005 Our Fearful Symmetry
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Aliases are not a new concept – but the increasing cult of personality surrounding modern music, and the Amway-esque need to tie recorded output to a brand or package has certainly seen a rise in the use of them in recent years…
Hummingbird (not to be confused with the 70’s band of the same name) is the non de plume of an otherwise well known composer behind the album “Our Fearful Symmetry”, which defines elements within the modern classical genre. It includes subtle string arrangements mixed with echoes of piano notes, fused with hallmarks of the electro-acoustic genre – waves of static, white noise and field recordings tangle with layers of fragmented texture that create both the foreground and background.
From the sparse nature of opening track “Uncertainty in Copenhagen”, the album leads into a myriad spectrum of haunting environments both soothing and unsettling — a reflection of the modern neurosis that albums like “OK Computer” documented, and the veins that artists Max Richter, Peter Broderick and Machinefabriek continue to mine.
Hummingbird treads carefully on the line of fact and fiction, creating a solace of sound by both live instrumentation and automated means. “Our Fearful Symmetry” reveals beautiful and thought-provoking music, dizzying and imaginative in detail which will impart a self-conscious resonance into any listener.
Listeners drawn to the mysterious nature of the project will soon find themselves rewarded with a cohesive journey through 11 tracks that reward repeated visits, with rich reverbed soundscapes that are both familiar and distant. One can only hope that the person behind the veil continues to toil in obscurity to bring more of such material to the surface (even if it remains unattributed).
“Our Fearful Symmetry” comes packaged in handmade, letter-pressed sleeves. Each issue is accompanied with an original photographic polaroid slide, dating back to the 1940’s. The release is limited to one hundred copies and will not be made available digitally.
Uncertainty in Copenhagen
Seeds of Deception
The Little Green Box
Sketch of the Mythology
Thoughts in the Head
The Making of a Revolution
Garden of Secrets
Hummingbird’s “Our Fearful Symmetry” is an album of incredible poise, precision and elegance. From the opening notes of piano-led ‘Uncertainty in Copenhagen’ to the final decaying haze of “Garden of Secrets” there is not a phrase, sound, or idea out of place. It is evident, even on a first listen, that the musical mind behind Hummingbird had an inordinately clear vision of what this album was to sound like – each track has been put together with a diamond cutter’s eye for detail.
The tracks that make up the album are pared back to bare bones but remain remarkably and resoundingly complete. “Sketch of the Mythology”, for example, over the course of its brief 3 ½ minute duration, is at once wistful and grand. A pensive cello carves out a quintessentially mournful phrase which, delicately accentuated by simple touches of piano, gives way in the middle of the track to lulling washes of voice. Gradually the cello returns with what could be the sound of crickets or the whirring of a broken tape player. The effect is oddly nostalgic and ghostly– like revisiting a, now abandoned, childhood home.
“The little green box”, another stand-out tune, takes a music-box melody slowly being unwound and carefully sets it against a subdued and diffuse arpeggio before allowing the delicate structure to break down and reform in a different guise, bathed in warm vinyl crackle. The unfurling melodies and depth of production on this track alone would make this an album worth owning – yet a similar level of quality can be found across all 11 pieces here.
On “Starfish Seastar”, the listener is carried along on echoing, widescreen piano notes and snatches of doleful strings within an enveloping cloud of reverb. This is music of an unhurriedly assured modesty – it is not pretending to grandeur but nor is it shying away from distinction. An imperturbable balance is struck.
Throughout “Our Fearful Symmetry” we hear pianos, cellos, undefined humming pads, snatches of conversation, vinyl pops – the elements are, no doubt, familiar to fans of electronically-tinged modern classical sounds, but there is something just right about their use here. Rarely are such commonly used ingredients put together so expertly in a single track – how much more rare to hear this level of expertise across an entire album?
Hummingbird’s marriage of restrained classicism and contemporary electronic atmospheric manipulation means that “Our Fearful Symmetry” is very much a record of the moment – the ambient/electro-acoustic scene abounds with artists mining the same vein of inspiration – however, while many acts aspire to the creation of reminiscence-evoking beauty it is an uncommon achievement. The artist behind Hummingbird accomplishes a startling ubiquity of grace throughout this album and though it is a debut outing for the project, the strength of the material and its connotative power betray the unmistakable hand of a master at work. – John McCaffrey
Its been a while since I had a chance to review anything from the Fluid Audio label so the chance to check out ‘Our Fearful Symmetry’ by Hummingbird was something of a long overdue treat. Rather than give myself a dedicated listening session this album became my walking companion over the last day or so as I moved around a bright and sunny yet somewhat quiet Sheffield (the students have gone home and Glastonbury seems to have beckoned the rest).
Its a striking collection, sparse and slightly otherworldly. The arrangements are largely minimal consisting of spacious piano arrangements, strings and a disparate array of varied percussive elements. The overrall mood is one that is rooted in melancholy but in this instance that’s no bad thing. Right from the opening track “Uncertainty In Copenhagen” we have gentile arrangements that really seek to draw the attention of the listener, listening to this on headphones does have the effect of making the everyday world become somewhat secondary. A sun drenched day in a slightly underpopulated city suddenly becomes akin to being the last man on Earth. The skittish found sounds that fall into place behind the musical arrangements are the aural equivalent of something playing across the edge of your field of vision. Intriguing stuff indeed.
Its an unusual soundtrack for these balmy sunny days but trust me its a worthwhile one. – Adrian Carter
Sometimes, all it takes is one moment in music, a specific sound, a sliver of a piano note, a shimmer of guitar, where the listener is, at once, completely taken over…
An unassuming sound creates a moment of clarity for the listener and from that moment, the listener is transfixed on the music, a sense of bewilderment overwhelms them, and they are beholden to the album until it finally ends. Hummingbird, the nom de plume of an otherwise well-known composer, of whom very little is known, creates many of these moments throughout Our Fearful Symmetry, and at each, wonder abounds.
Upon pressing play, “Uncertainty in Copenhagen” lulls the listener into the minute intricacies of the sustained notes of piano, which find their way through the current of strings gliding fluidly around the piece. The listener continues to be drawn in further from the ominous plucks of “Seeds of Deception” to the sparse notes of “The Little Green Box”. Each sound emitted sends the listener off on tangents of introspection, allowing them to move effortlessly from place to place, in tune with one’s physical surroundings as well as the space surrounding the sounds.
Most of the pieces on Our Fearful Symmetry are built around subtle string arrangements that become entangled in a string of piano notes, odd field recordings, as on “Thoughts in the Head” where I could swear there was the sound of a clanging buoy gently rocking on the sea, and other minimal electronic textures that add to the wonderful use of space on each of the pieces presented here.
The listener is never overwhelmed, and instead, is given space to breathe and absorb, before returning to soak in the ever-expanding sea of sounds. On “Defining Space”, Hummingbird does just that for the listener, which is a microcosm of the album as a whole, creating a place in order for the listener to exist and giving that place meaning or definition.
This album is truly a wonder and as it is limited to 100 copies, those lucky enough to secure a copy will bask in its beauty for a long time. – Michael Vitrano