CD (E75)

A trebuchet is a medieval siege engine. Trebuchet is a humanist
sans-serif typeface. A trebuchet is an instrument of punishment
consisting of a chair in which offenders were ducked in water.
Trebuchet is the title given by Marcel Duchmap to the readymade
sculpture that he created by nailing a coat rack to the floor of his
apartment. Trebuchet is an endgame position in chess in which
whoever is the first to move will necessarily lose the game.

Trebuchet is performed by Steven Hess, Joseph Clayton Mills,
and Adam Sonderberg. This is Haptic recording number seven.
Made in Chicago.

See also

Edition of 300 copies
Out of print

“Full of bright, glowing colour and no small
degree of elegant beauty”
The Watchful Ear

Left to right: Mills, Hess, Sonderberg


The operational area for Haptic is that of mesmeric elusiveness
informed by a measure of physicality, causing a feel of anticipation
for an event that might materially occur, but we'll never be able
to realistically justify. There’s no credible method to describe the
acoustic phenomena that the trio engenders, if not by trusting
adjectives that by now sound stereotyped, when not plain worn
out: organic, tactile, laminal, throbbing. All hopeless attempts to
seize what’s uncatchable.

Quite often, this sagaciously deployed mix of treated field record-
ings and unspecified instruments contains sounds that are more
similar to the amplified version of certain indiscernible frequencies
emitted by the insides of our ear than to the different external
examples that one could muster. The layered clusters of harmon-
ics — equally effective in an enticing segment like the introductive
Counterpoise and in the development of the cryptic scenarios
heard in Three — enrich sonic topographies mainly expressed
through a low-definition mantric inertia, finding a reference point
(admittedly vague) in artistic realities such as Andrew Chalk and
Christoph Heemann’s late Mirror. On the other hand, the third
and longest chapter Four is constructed with mildly interfering
matters, actual essences (am I hearing concealed firecrackers and
bell towers in there, together with the helicopters?) and granular
crunch submerged by subsonic tremors, at times calling to mind
environments rendered well-known by Asher. Haptic do possess
their own nature, though, which is beautiful to ascertain upon
repeated spins.

Ultimately, the quality of Trebuchet is directly proportional to its
capacity of ‘freezing’ the listener and, along the process, making
the brain work in a subliminal way. The awesome muted hums
appear as a memento of the decaying aspects of intellect, finely
contrasted by the purity of the screaming children appearing in
the disc’s very last seconds, as to represent the new beginning of
a cycle that once was believed to be endless and instead is about
to be broken by something ineluctable.

Massimo Ricci at Touching Extremes

When Steven Hess, Adam Sonderberg, and Joseph Clayton Mills
first formed Haptic, it was intended as a real-time collaborative
venture to counterbalance the share-by-mail methods of the
Dropp Ensemble. Over time Haptic has become much more; in
2009 the group was a vehicle for art installations, studio work,
and interactions with video artists as well as concerts. But if
their name suggests the band's underlying purpose, they're still
on track. While Haptic's music encompasses drones and sudden
events, lulling softness and sharp, neck-snapping surprise, it has
always a synaesthetic quality, as though you can feel the sound
that comes out of the speakers through your fingertips. This CD
incorporates field recordings and broad expanses of sound so low
and subliminal that some might deem it mere ambience, but in
Haptic’s hands it’s more. Like Duchamp [whose Trebuchet sculp-
ture was made by nailing a hat rack to the floor], they make art
from other things, some quite prosaic — radio static, the sounds
of children playing and helicopter blades beating — and use con-
textual framing to assert significance. But instead of Duchamp’s
calculated insult, Haptic enact a gesture of appreciation. The
fluctuating shapes and rich, varied textures of Trebuchet’s three
pieces evoke pleasure and wonder. Like John Cage, they seek to
demonstrate the wonder of the world by setting up opportunities
to appreciate what is generally ignored. And because they’re
music fans as well as self-concious artists, they don’t place the
burden of engagement entirely upon the listener. The music on
Trebuchet isn’t just tactile: it’s seductive.

Bill Meyer in Signal to Noise

Containing just three tracks (the second and third of which are
entitled Three and Four — pick up a copy of The Medium if you
want to find One and Two), or rather two with a tantalisingly
brief intro, as the opening Counterpoise disappears frustratingly
after barely three minutes, it could be Haptic’s most accom-
plished release to date. The title could refer to anything from
a medieval siege tower to a ducking stool, a Marcel Duchamp
readymade to an unwinnable position in a chess game, and how
the music cunningly blends acoustic and electronic instruments
and field recordings is just as hard to figure out. Richard Pinnell,
over at The Watchful Ear [see below] wonders what the sound
of a children’s playground in the final seconds of Four might
signify. I haven’t the faintest idea myself, but it’s a magical
ending to a most impressive album.

Dan Warburton at Paris Transatlantic

This Chicago trio specialises in a sustained electroacoustic tac-
tility, drawing out the details from field recordings, found object
manipulation and electronics into long-form passages grounded
upon a drone foundation. Over the first half of the record, the
ensemble slowly peels back the layers of gravelly texture, evolv-
ing towards a single pure tone. By the end, wiretapping hiss and
the artefacts from electrical field disturbances bristle above a
low-end concoction of rumbling environmental din and the sus-
tained decay from the rattle of a large piece of metal.

Jim Haynes in The Wire

(First track] Counterpoise is a miniature of soft, organ-like tones
with subtle thuds and minimal percussive patter, very enticing and
sadistically ended at 3'16". For shame. [Second track] Three varies
most widely from previous Haptic material I’ve heard though it’s
not so far away — the texture is thinner than the normal porridge,
the sounds more gaseous. The earlier track rather resembles
previous Haptic work; more of the same, in a way, but their ‘same’
is very good: deep rumbles, dense eddies, the implied throb, the
punctured steam vents, the escaping magma. Although it’s my
favourite piece here, I might have rather heard something at this
level of more recent vintage. Minor carp, though; another fine
release from these fellows.

Brian Olewnick at Just outside

The first track on Trebuchet, Counterpoise, is only just over three
minutes in length, and acts as a kind of front page for the album.
It is quite different to the other two pieces, consisting of warm,
relatively high pitched tones, not unlike the sound of metal[s]
vibrated gently and lapping slowly over each other while electro-
nic pulses brood underneath and a grainy layer of itchy, scratchy
scrapes and tapping sits on top. This short piece is full of bright,
glowing colour and no small degree of elegant beauty, and its
simplicity works well as a counterpoint to the dense, grittier
material that is to follow.

[Second track] Three is gorgeous. It opens with a roaring,
detailed rush of sound that might be a field recording of a busy
road, or an airport, or something… but is soon bathed in hisses,
lulling moans, piercing tones and a repeatedly chiming bell sound
which doesn’t stay still for one second and gradually melds into a
layered, continuous drone for a few moments with the chime still
ticking underneath for a while. After nine of the track’s 17 minutes
everything strips back to some kind of unidentifiable field record-
ing, vaguely industrial in its feel, but quiet and distant in nature.
[Then] a peculiar thud is followed by what I think is a deeply reso-
nant piano note and a rush of heavy swarms of oscillating tones
which form the basis for the last five minutes, always changing,
sometimes with other sounds added, dying into what could be
another field recording to end the piece.

[The final track] Four [was] recorded earlier than the others,
with Dropp Ensemble colleague Salvatore Dellaria added to the
ranks. At 21 minutes it is the longest track here. It opens with
what sounds like a heartbeat, or a musical approximation of
one murmuring away quietly. Very slowly, through continual
accumulation of material over the next ten minutes, the track
builds into a heaving mass of grainy detritus, few tones, little
colour, just overlaid recordings that suggest different shades of
grey peppered with dusty fragments and static. The beauty of
the music is wrapped up in this layering of multitudes of inter-
esting sounds that all merge together into [a] sensual detailed
mass so that the individual elements or instruments can’t quite
be made out. Then, as the noise subsides into a stream of thin,
whispery elements, a field recording emerges from beneath
the music. It is the sound of children at play. The field record-
ing quickly engulfs the other sounds, and then sits alone at the
end of the track for just a few seconds before cutting dead to
end the album. The interesting thing about this moment for me
is that, while field recordings have been used throughout much
of the album this is the only one that can easily be identified
as one — and a recognisable one at that. Its place here at the
end of the piece is somehow very powerful, a statement of some
kind after the rest of the music, though what kind of statement
I am not certain.

The power of the music, its almost symphonic grandeur, comes
from the layering of so many sounds, perhaps many of them in
real-time improvisation, others in post-production. The cumula-
tive effect is one that really focuses the listener [and] pulls you
into the music, like being dragged down head first.

Richard Pinnell at The Watchful Ear