CD (E127)

A-Bitrman, Acousticon hearing aid, A-E2, air conditioner,
bass drum, baoding balls, bows (cello and violin), cassette
recorders, contact microphones, crotales, cymbals, DS-1,
EHX-2880, e-bow, electric fan, electric bass, fabric, floor
tom, found home recordings, FX42-B, GE-7, guitars,
harmonica, hurdy gurdy, laptop computer, lapsteel, leaf,
location recordings, marbles, metronome, ME-50, MF-105M,
MX802A, open circuits, oscillator, paper (various weights),
parade drum (bass), pianos (baby grand, concert grand,
Rhodes), portable CD players, PS-5, radio, record player,
recorder telephone pickups, RV-3, sand, sewing machine,
snare drum, sparklers, strobe light, tone chimes, tuning
forks, wineglass, wire brush, wooden clothespin

Scilens is Haptic’s tenth release and third full-length.
It is co-released on cassette by FSS

Scilens is performed by Steven Hess, Joseph Clayton Mills,
and Adam Sonderberg and mastered by Tomas Korber.

See also

Edition of 200 copies
Out of print

“Richly associative and allusive work”
The Wire

William Shakespeare, The Life of King Henry IV, part II:
The Quarto of 1600. Act 5, Scene 3


As to the music, I am baffled by its inscrutability. Heavy bass
emanations, forlorn and random piano notes, shuffling brush-
work percussion, and dusty alienated drones from nameless
electronic generators. Where The Ister is rather a disjunctive
exploration into these unknown territories, Setae and Winter
Wasp are more integrated drone pieces, with a very solid
and tangible presence to the thick humming sound. Yet so
far everything seems stark, cold and almost inhuman, music
of great doubtfulness delivered by shadowy men with stern
faces and beetling brows. Pentimenti leads us even further
into the maze of cold storage units and malfunctioning
walkie-talkies, and it’s like taking a walk through an icy
wasteland which alternates with a deep-freeze meat locker.
Simultaneously, there’s too much space and not enough,
creating a delicious combination of claustrophobia and
agoraphobia in one handy thirteen-minute dose. Lastly
there’s [a] secret track, a 20-minute chiller which you
won’t find on the cassette version, and it’s an exercise
in sub-zero tension, its menacingly near-silent murmurs
and gently purring layers preparing the listener to expect
the worst at any moment. Quite remarkable industrial-
minimalist music, and commendable for the fact that
I sense it’s mostly created in real time by performing
musicians, without over-much reliance on processes,
effects, or machinery.

Ed Pinsent at The Sound Projector

The ascendancy of a record like Scilens on a sympathetic
individual’s understanding can’t possibly remain unsung.
There are artists that tend to melt away valuable energies
across a wide gamut of intuitions, sonic investigations
fluctuating in the midst of various levels of efficiency.
On the contrary, Steven Hess, Joseph Clayton Mills and
Adam Sonderberg are specialized in compacting the results
of their studio labour into messages that arrive straight to
the point, cutting the line that links concreteness and
transcendence exactly in between.

At least three veritable masterpieces are comprised by this
extraordinary album, enigmatic impenetrability appearing
as a precious gift. Setae and Winter Wasp are exemplary
drone pieces, vital swells hiding hundreds of procedures,
the kind of introspective response to life’s small incidents
that defines only a fractional number of creatures. If
someone’s able to catch just a few of the truly significant
sounds occasionally disclosed by silence, that person can be
considered blessed. But being able to take dozens of similarly
circumstantial events to include them in awesome textural
amassments — together with secretions deriving from an
expert handling of the inner parts of standard instruments,
electric circuits and everyday objects — that does require
special ears.

Long minutes of utter stillness introduce the third ill-defined
jewel: a 20-minute nameless track, not even hinted to on
the sleeve, placing an already overwhelmed listener in un-
comfortable mantric arms. The end is spelled via a reiterated
murmur — perhaps a processed gong, or bass drum, enhanced
by vanishing pitches at different heights — that makes one
consider the unavoidable termination of stupid existential
matters with the same fortitude of a soldier who knows that
he’s sacrificing life for a reason that is bigger than his will,
and is nevertheless ready to do it without flinching.

Massimo Ricci at Touching Extremes

In addition to percussion, various pianos, electronic instruments
and effects pedals, the instrumentation for this splendid third
full-length release by Chicago-based Haptic also includes objects
as diverse as Chinese exercise balls, a sewing machine, sparklers
and, um, a leaf. The music is, as you might expect, colourful,
but elusive, and like the photograph of the band on the Entr'acte
website, often remains tantalisingly blurred and/or hides its face
(that’s Sonderberg for you). It’s simultaneously instantly attractive,
but hard to figure out, and leaves one with the curious sensation
of being perfectly satisfied but intrigued (frustrated, maybe)
enough to need to listen to it again right away. Interesting to
note too that the album title, Scilens, is not only the name of
one of the country justices in Shakespeare's Henry IV Part Two,
but was also apparently the way the Bard spelt ‘silence’ (other
variants in use at the time, though not by Shakespeare as far
as I know, were ‘sillance’ and ‘sighlence’, just in case Adam,
Steven and Joseph are stuck for album titles next time round).
In the same way that the English language was in a period
of grammatical and orthographic ferment at the end of the
16th century, new music at the start of the 21st is at a
fascinating crossroads between composition and improvisation,
open to natural and man-made, live and prerecorded sounds.
In point of fact there’s no silence as such in this music at all,
but plenty of science — the musicians handle their gear with
evident mastery – and lens, focus on tiny sonic details and
how they resonate both within individual tracks and across
the album as a whole (check out those repeated piano tones).
Fill the Cuppe, and let it come. Ile pledge you a mile to
the bottome.

Dan Warburton at Paris Transatlantic

The persuasive third album by this Chicago trio opens with
a bold statement of intent. The Ister is a fascinating compro-
visation, assembled from a number of different recordings
of improvised material, edited together and overlaid. Or at
least it sounds that way — the joins are initially obvious,
but as the piece wears on, it becomes very difficult to tell
what’s in real time and what's not. Not that it really matters
when the juxtapositions are as evocative as this. Mostly
static and abraded textures are repeatedly contrasted
in a variety of arrangements, with recurring single note
piano motifs acting as a kind of locator tag. Its structural
sophistication eloquently implies oblique linkages and
cryptic symmetries. Most of the remaining tracks on
Scilens (the name of a minor character in Shakespeare's
Henry IV) focus on slow-moving, sustained sounds and
textural layering, loosely mooring Haptic in the murky
waters of electroacoustic lmprov, though there's nothing
idiomatic about any of them. Setae assembles laminal
sound masses, whose surfaces ripple and crest robustly;
Winter Wasp works up a power drone which later ventures
into abrasive realms. Pentimenti uses its 20 minute
running time wisely, very slowly evolving high-pitched
clicking and layers of loop-flecked static into a muted,
impeccably managed drone, subtly stirring in gliding
tones and shifting pitch almost imperceptibly. For sheer
ambition, though, only Entr'acte rivals The lster.
Counterpointing a succession of passages of variously
percussive sounds with high-pitched tones and granular
frequencies, it plays on degrees of focus and levels of
audibility, before ending with three minutes of complete
silence. Like the film for which it is named, it’s a richly
associative and allusive work.

Nick Cain in The Wire

The band that refuses to disappoint.

As ever, tough to encapsulate short of mere descriptives.
They’re careful and quiet, yes, with something of a dronish
character lurking about, though not so insistent as to
make it a very conscious apprehension. It more involves
the materials they choose to use in constructing these
hums, rubbings, vibrations and how (for example, in the
luscious opening track) they deposit small helpings of
beautiful, clear piano, augmented by rougher, less clear
string abrasion. On first blush, you (I) don’t realise how
much variation there is — a sign of great work: apparent
simplicity made up of enormous complexity.
  The fifth track gets rudely percussive for a bit, surging
then receding then coming back again, before settling
down. But it’s a fine jostle amidst the general, wonderful
haze. A ‘hidden’ sixth cut zones out spectacularly, just a
languorous throb amidst crickets and ice crystals.

Brian Olewnick at Just Outside

While there is no indication here as to who plays what,
the foil cover to Scilens includes an almost ridiculous list of
fifty-four items used to make the music here, ranging from
the likely cymbals, drums and oscillator to the less obvious
marbles, sewing machine and a hearing aid. In places
throughout the six tracks here the instrumentation use
can be daily identified, but often what we hear is a mass
of sound, often gathering into a crescendo, the content of
which is unclear but invariably beautiful. From the outset
of the first piece, named The Ister, the scene is set. We hear
soft mulling groans in the distance, topped by sandy hisses
of dry texture for a few minutes, bleak in tone, brooding
in atmosphere, until a rattling, rapidly rolling drum sound
appears, joined fast by a shimmering cymbal, and the
two quickly rise to high volume, merging into one glowing
mass of percussion that punches out of the speakers before
collapsing into a lull that is then abruptly brought to an
end when cut dead. Then we hear a strange set of ticking
sounds that actually had me leaping out of my chair
concerned that the disc had jammed, only to suddenly
resolve itself into a chiming piano sequence and then some
murky, unidentifiable scuffling field recordings, spooky wails
and what sounds like groaning floorboards, but as they
don’t appear on the list I’ll assume they are something else.
This is the way the album goes. I suspect if we were to get
a precise breakdown of each sound used here and how they
are all combined the complexity would be remarkable. What
is so impressive though is how it all hangs together as one.

Richard Pinnell at The Watchful Ear