Kg.03 | James Hamilton | Xenolith


1. Distant hungers
2. Half mass
3. Outer hell
4. Contagious spaces
5. Chant zero
6. Dead hemisphere
7. Uncertain descent

Recorded, mixed at and mastered at The Pines, Montreal, 2015 — 2017

JH | Hammond BV and Farfisa Compact organs, amplifiers, treatments.

CD in gatefold sleeve with insert.
Released 23.4.2017.
Order here.

preview: xenolith I-VII from The Keraunograph Organisation on Vimeo.

A hermetic and mysterious man is James Hamilton of Montreal, who currently operates through the agency of the Keraunograph Organisation, a base which is also the home of the Keraunograph Ensemble. Apparently he used to be Dystonia EK up until 2009, then decided he needed a new mask or identity to cloak his activities; it's planned that Keraunograph Organisation will release just 11 records, and then stop – or to use his own rather ominous expression “the book will be closed”. He even has a typographical monad to call his own, featuring a large capital letter K printed in reverse. So far it’s almost like dealing with a character from Riven: The Sequel To Myst, or similarly involved computer game.

I expect Hamilton would like us to explore Xenolith (Kg.03), the extreme-minimal composition, in the same way as we might wander around one of those virtual landscapes, trying to find our way past seemingly impenetrable barriers with very few clues at our disposal. The work itself is a monumental organ drone, with barely-suggested slow pulsating and breathing rhythms, lasting over an hour, and though divided into seven chapters according to the insert, there are no index points on the CD. We move from ‘Distant Hungers’ to ‘Uncertain Descent’ in stages, passing through ‘Outer Hell’ and ‘Contagious Spaces’. The cover art is likewise stark, its red and black colours insisting on themselves with a mute authority, seeming to depict an underground cavern that leads to an infernal zone, the roof of an impossible cathedral, or a sun going super-nova. Perhaps all three associations are not inept.

The music does evolve and vary across this slow odyssey, gradually bringing some form of shape into our view; it does indeed succeed in conveying a colossal scale, a thing too large to apprehend in a single gestalt. There's no question but we have to listen from start to finish to digest the entirety of this titanic entity that Hamilton wishes us to consider, and enter into a state of extreme concentration. Unlike some benign and hippy-drippy drone music, it's fairly evident that Xenolith has no intention to send us into a trance; quite the contrary. We need all our wits about us to deal with this apparition, and apply perceptual senses which we didn’t even know we had at our disposal. At one level, perhaps Hamilton thinks it's his job to equip us to do so, to shine a light into those lower depths of the subconscious where we normally fear to probe, and give us the viewing equipment needed for the job.

“Ungrounding music for Hammond and Farfisa organs”, is the composer’s own description of this remorseless, darkly minimalist work. “This is another [piece], from much further under the earth. Holes, tunnels, erosion, trauma.” I see there is a video version too, a short excerpt of which is available on Vimeo through the composer’s website. It's evident that Hamilton puts a good deal of concentration and focus into each work, paring away all that is unnecessary to the central theme, and a fully integrated thematic work of art is the result. From 8th May 2017.

— Ed Pinsent, The Sound Projector, 2018.01.04

Behind Xenolith is one James Hamilton, who is “discreetly” active since the mid-80s, and his more recent output is with various collaborators as The Keraunograph Ensemble, as well as with Genevieve Beaulieu of Menace Ruine as Preterite and working with John Duncan and Ingenting Kollektiva. I don't think I heard of him before but so it goes when one is discreetly active I guess. Duncan invited him for piece for Hammond organ and video, of with “Xenolith” is “both a complement to and extension”. The press text also says that “in order to function as intended, this piece should be heard at very high volume in total darkness”, but darn it, it's day time, the sun shines and the neighbours are at home, so probably it doesn't function for me properly. In this piece, Hamilton uses Hammond and Farfisa organs, guitar amplifiers and 'antique' treatments, which are sadly not specified (I'd love to know what that means of course). The first twenty minutes are very high pitched so even without neighbours I would turn down the volume anyway, but as soon as the low end kicks in, the volume goes up a bit and the rest of the sixty-three minutes of this work we remain firmly seated in this drone ride. It moves all over the road, from deep low, to sharp high and covering a great middle terrain (when another neighbour walked in and said she thought she heard gas leaking; true incident, happened around the thirty-fifth minute break), and going up to a mighty crescendo on all dynamic levels at the same time towards the end. Was I ever thinking of Farfisa and/or Hammond organs? Not for a single second. Only when I returned to think about what to write and looking at the first lines already jotted down, I realized this. Oh yeah, I was listening to antique treatments of those likewise antique organs and guitar amplifiers and not some computer based drone. Right. Never mind. The only thing that sprang to mind was the current strong work of Coppice, who do similar drone works, but more from an improvised music perspective. Hamilton spend fifteen months on the realization of this, which might not be something one hears I would think, but this is surely one mighty drone work. It seems always to be on the move, with lots of small movements throughout. Should a possibility occur that I can play this in the dark and very loud, I will certainly try that, but I am already convinced about the high quality of this work.

— Frans de Waard, Vital Weekly

Project 01