Hatch Reopens Cold Case Files
by Marc Couroux
Originally published in Musicworks 86
Review of "Gathered Evidence" compact disc
At the risk of repeating what ought to be axiomatic: Works of art are only as valuable as the generosity of their allegations. Risky undertakings invariably induce problematic responses from the listener-viewer, mobilized out of a purely receptive, quiescent state. Art that is open-ended enough to allow for further speculation is worthy of mention in a period where rampant careerism appears to be closing up investigative alleys in the name of an internationalized musical esperanto.
'Nothing but cold case files', one might mutter upon hearing the recent music of Peter Hatch on Gathered Evidence. Indeed, most of the works on this disc reopen issues which one would have thought solved long ago. We of course pride ourselves in how well we know The Planets, or the Four Seasons (we've since dropped that irritating need to name the composers). Nevertheless, Hatch makes the compelling case that our utter familiarity with these works has impeded a deeper understanding of them: have we actually ever really listened to them' Or is it the overwhelming desire to belong to a cultured elite, claiming intimacy with classical canons by default, which has fatally marginalized the very icons it seeks to uphold'adoration without investigation' In any case, it is curious how, once something is fatefully labeled as known, knowledge mysteriously slips away to an undisclosed location.
Otherwise known as a composer of exposés of the present moment, abstract, non-teleological, granitic slabs of motoric inertia, Hatch ably enforces in this collection Gertrude Stein's ability to keep the listener enmeshed in the continuous present, a quality which cannot be too strongly emphasized (and applauded) in a 'zap-when-you're-bored' conjuncture, where listening abilities keep steadily devolving, right where the conglomerates want them.
Gathered Evidence is archaeologically inclined. Hatch is keenly aware of the multiple quagmires invariably lurking around postmodern excavations, of which both critical and acritical types spring to mind. While the former is absorbed with the creation of an elaborate hypertext, via the ludic debriefing and rehabilitation of musical symbols (au courant in Quebec and old Europe), the latter consists in a populist, pervasively unironic (though no less ideological), nostalgic embracing of the past, the product of a pathological fear of audience alienation (spotted South of the border, occasionally West of Toronto). Hatch opts for a third, less pinpointable manner, in touch with populist contentions minus its frequent disregard for the listener's intelligence, but simultaneously eschewing esoteric game-playing destined for the lucky few.
Endangered Worlds (1996) is an examination of the potentialities of long ago cast-off ideas. A whole world of speculation is opened up when what was once taken for granted, that three-note ostinato in Jollity (Jupiter) for instance, is extended beyond its internalized life-span, causing it to become unstuck from its original context. In revisiting Holst's raw material, Hatch adopts the methods of non-linear audio editing: his recomposition is replete with splices, loops, feedback delay (the gooey Adagio from Il Cimento), compressions, layerings, Reichian additive processes... Indeed, stasis is favored over forward motion, anything to keep the listener in the moment, as Stein would have it. 'Timeless' classics, indeed.
Il Cimento dell'armonia e dell'inventione (2000) remakes Vivaldi's ubiquitous opus in order to convey that elusive aura (Walter Benjamin), tragically faded through centuries of exposure and endless mechanical reproduction (musak). In this impenitent light, Hatch is therefore chiefly concerned with making the energies come 'onto the nervous system more violently and more poignantly', as Francis Bacon attempted in his endless quest to reinvent representational painting in the age of photography (another kind of mechanical reproduction). Side-effects (or fringe benefits) of such a radical approach are not uncommon: if one discerns the soundworld of Arvo Pärt in the Allegro movement, it only serves to demonstrate the underlying continuum of expression only waiting to be unlocked by the dismantling of orthodoxies.
Of course, a review like this one, itself a product of the incessant rush to pigeonhole, obsessed with concision (the 'newspeak' term for soundbyte), is far too conceited to truly reflect Hatch's bifurcated, ambivalent outlook. Which is why he throws in a spanner of harpsichord pieces, sporting the Ellingtonian title In a Vernacular Way (1990), fully exposing the composer's self-professed 'bluntness'. The floodgates are ripped open to any number of cheap shots : grossly emphasized disco bass, Hey Joe Elizabethan-style (!), puerile 'rapping' to square blues, ('and though the rhythm was neat, I really missed the beat', the performer declaims...) etc. The word problematic is singularly inadequate. In short, Hatch adopts a profoundly anti-absorptive strategy if ever there was one, designed to inhibit rapid classification'and therefore dismissal'of his artistic project. Instead, the listening continues...
In contrast to the obsessively phenomenological What is a Country (1992), a ritualized slide-show of disconnected, oneiric utterances, Hatch indulges in uncharacteristically nihilistic irony in the title work. Gathered Evidence (2002), first up on the disc, also functions as a pretense evacuator: a rapprochement between the present and the past cannot possibly be achieved if one is enslaved by a reductionistic worldview. Hatch paints a rather bleak portrait of two solitudes'the cultured and the vernacular (one practically imagines team jerseys)'on a blatantly devised collision course. The disembodied 1950's-style emcee leads the hapless string quartet down multiple blind-alleys only to ditch them in the last inning, where Tchaikovsky meets rap, cynically spun as a predigested consolidation long before the parties have even begun meaningfully broaching conversation. Starkly etched, Gathered Evidence remains a mechanically cautionary tale, decrying careless integrative solutions'the 1990's 'we're all OK' credo as effective dialogue terminator'in order to defend the true revolutionary potential in all musical material, to shine a hard light on our woefully underexamined tradition. If one is to truly live in the present moment, absolutely nothing can be taken for granted.
It is thus that Hatch plunges unafraid into glorious unmitigated failure, opting for the speculative rather than the successful. It is in the distance between allegation and cold hard fact where meaning is made, where active listening and its massively untapped potential is embraced. I, for one, sleep more soundly at night knowing that Special Prosecutor Peter Hatch is on the case again.
Marc Couroux is a pianist/composer/writer/activist. You can read more about him at: http://www.yorku.ca/finearts/faculty/profs/couroux.htm