Tabs Out | Catching Up with Hotham Sound

Catching Up with Hotham Sound
10.24.18 by Ryan Masteller

If you’re unfamiliar with Hotham (pronounced “hoth-um,” not “hot ham”) Sound, you might as well go jump right in it, as it’s a “sidewater of the Jervis Inlet” in British Columbia – although it might not be the most hospitable place to swim seeing that it’s a “testing ground for military submarines and sonar technology.” Plus, it’s probably abominably cold most of the year, so bundling up in a thermal wetsuit before submersion is almost certainly a recommended precaution.

Instead, may I suggest “diving in” (metaphorically) to the catalog of Hotham Sound? I can see your confusion. See, Hotham Sound is also the name of an experimental tape label run out of Vancouver, which just happens to be in British Columbia as well, and the label not so subtly lifted its name from the geographic feature. On closer inspection, the connection isn’t so unusual – Hotham Sound (the label) could after all represent an audio “testing ground” for … well, not military submarines. Maybe sonar.

Before we stumble all over ourselves trying to connect the importance of Hotham Sound to Hotham Sound, let’s just see what Hotham Sound is interested in, shall we? We can cull this information directly from the label’s handy internet website, where the copy/paste feature of my computer’s keyboard really gets a chance to shine: “lo-fi electronics, tape loops, musique concrete, vertical listening, analog synths, digital synths, plunderphonics, geophonics, rhythm boxes, drum computers, field recordings, bent circuits, contact mics, lock grooves, echo jams, pedal trains, thumb pianos, oblique strategies, aleatoric workflows, modular freakouts, musicians, non-musicians.”

Sounds like a lot of cool words, some of which happen to come out of the mouths of Tabs Out Podcast participants at times! You guys are in for a real treat, let me tell you. Let’s explore together, like divers uncovering the remains of military experiments at the bottom of deep inlets.


Mount Maxwell – Blue Highways series
Jamie Tolagson, aka Mount Maxwell, runs Hotham Sound, and his “Blue Highways” series is as close to a mission statement of the label as you’re going to get. I mean, volume 1, track 1 is called “Hotham Sound” for crying out loud! Make the connection, people. Utilizing a variety of synthesizers, Tolagson submerges us along the passage of the BC Ferries fleet as it served the Gulf Island archipelago communities in the Strait of Georgia in the 1970s. Using a concept I like to call “imagination,” Tolagson crafts narratives of oceanic swells and wild territories, of inlets and beaches, of hope and regret. In these delicate but vast compositions you can hear the waves, taste the salt air, feel the texture of driftwood. Well done, Jamie Tolagson – you’ve defined the Hotham Sound Way for all of us. How does it filter into the rest of the releases? (Spoiler alert: I do not answer this question.)


KR75 – Ondular
Like some of our pals at Hausu Mountain or Astral Spirits, KR75, the double-Kristen tandem of Roos and Rattay (seriously, both spell “Kristen” the same way – what are the odds of that?), record everything IN A SINGLE TAKE, improv-style. “Ondular” finds the Kristens in a shimmery, pulsating mood as they wrangle their gear to spit out some of the most lovely and languid electronic music you’re bound to hear this side of Warp Records. Each lengthy side is a vast trip through ethereal and nocturnal landscapes, like liquid electricity through subterranean switches and transformers. “”November 25, 2016” was a magical date for glistening bioluminescence. “February 14, 2017” was an anti–Valentine’s Day of unforgettable lament. “Ondular” captures some fantastic and stylized mood pieces—and did I mention all of it was recorded IN A SINGLE TAKE?


Ross Birdwise – Nine Variations
I’ve written about Ross Birdwise before, once here, another time here. The Vancouver experimentalist has released music on various labels such as Orange Milk and Collapsed Structures, but here he stays pretty close to home for “Nine Variations.” The source material for this cassette was composed in 2001 when Ross and artist Nathan Medema formed the duo “if then do” (lowercase, hence the quote marks for readability), and it’s from these recordings that Birdwise cobbles together “Nine Variations.” Here again Birdwise displays an advanced ear for the abstract, making it seem easy to simply rip music apart and recombine it in fascinating and engaging ways. If he were a civic engineer, he could rip down the old town courthouse and use the pieces to recreate it in an amazing, insightful, and meaningful way. It might not be safe to use as a courthouse still, or even walk in for the briefest of moments, but it’d look really cool before the township condemns the thing and authorities arrest Birdwise for doing all that without a permit. … This relates to his music somehow, I promise.


Dimir Standard – Abramelin
“Dimir Standard (AKA Vancouver synthesist Jesse Creed) draws from a deep well of occult theology for his first Hotham Sound release; a series of intensely textural works meant to accompany the final stages of the Abramelin ceremony in ritual magic. If performed correctly, the infamous 18-month-long ceremony binds the combined powers of the twelve Kings and Dukes of Hell to the practitioner’s will.” Uh, shhhhhhhhhhit. I just listened to this whole thing. Does that mean I’m in some sort of spiritual trouble? Is it worse if I kind of love it? Does that make me more susceptible to demonic possession? Morbid synthesizers smear the unholy nighttime rite with ominous mood. Stream “Abramelin” in  it’s entirety here if you think you can hack it, if you think you’re powerful enough to withstand becoming overwhelmed. Be forewarned: this is how horror movies start.


ALECSI – “033186”
Alexi Baris, aka Alecsi, has the distinction of releasing the most recent Hotham tape, the label’s tenth. As you might expect from the tape’s cover – featuring broccoli trees adorned with cherries – the synthwork within is a series of pastoral burbles as things blossom, greenhouse style, and life maintains in a series of introspective and relaxing mood pieces. The promo copy references “geodesic space gardens” from a movie called “Silent Running” that I haven’t seen, but I’m told by the internet it’s about a spaceman who has a garden and robot helpers. The spaceman revolts (against an authority of some kind) when he is asked to destroy the garden. Moral of the story: don’t destroy gardens! Listen to “033186” instead, and feel the roots, the branches, the leaves, the fruits growing and ripening all around you.

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