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Various Artists - Hexadic III

  • Written by  Rob Crozier

Everyone loves a game of cards, don’t they? Ben Chasny’s attempts to break guitarist’s old habits has seen him develop a new system for making music based on a set of standard playing cards. The method, which he’s called Hexadic, gives its name to the seven tracks from likeminded collaborators. Hexadic III is the unsurprising title for the third incarnation of the project.

There is no swirling trickery behind the Hexadic system as it simply relates playing notes to cards, riffs or chords. Like some magical version of top trumps he is also in the process of making his own set of illustrated cards. Chasny explains:

“There is a romantic element to a deck of cards, such as the surrealist cards. “I actually started to have these strange half-dreams as I was waking up about composing with a deck of cards, but as a game,”

As he explains, it’s not about the deck of cards, but more so making the musician rethink music, allowing the unconscious and unplanned elements of their playing to come to the surface. The seven tracks start off with those fuzzy lovelies Moon Duo. The track is a slow, gentle meander with the former Wooden Shjips members, who are now forging a following of their own with a handful of excellent albums. As an opener, ‘Square of the Sun’ is the perfect mood setting for this experimental piece of work. Our ears are transported to a free-flowing river of relaxed San Francisco psychedelic wonderment. It’s also interesting to listen to changes in tone and chord, but it’s also a standalone piece. If you knew nothing about the albums production methods, it certainly wouldn’t hamper your enjoyment.

Jenks Miller is the next up, and his song writing skill is put through the cards. The result is a fuzzy laid back groove with twists and turns as the cards are dealt to him. It’s more obvious that the changes in chords are something he is not familiar, yet ‘The Hanging Man’ still works beautifully. The same is true of Meg Baird and Charlie Saufley. Both are folk and acoustic musicians by trade, yet the track ‘Protection Hex’ is piano based with Meg’s welcoming vocals enticing us in. The guitar accompaniment is again a strange, yet simple, chord or one note composition. 

As a guitarist they don’t come as diverse as Tashi Dorji. A native from Bhutan, he has previously worked with Chasny on releases for Drag City. He’s also previously released material only on cassette. This short piece combines his native sound; a loose stringed eastern vibe which is as interesting as it is challenging. It gets even more surreal with Richard Young’s contribution. Never one to be labelled, the Brit born multi stringed artist serves up ‘Abandoned Problems’. Off beat out-there cymbals meet strangled screeches of highly intense electric guitar. If you thought that was a challenge, wait until you here ‘Solastalgia’, created by Stephen O’Malley of Seattle - a guitarist and composer as well as a visual artist. He is interested in drone doom and many experimental music projects. He is joined on this minimal 13 minute extravaganza with Tim Wyskida on drums and Marc Urselli, a Sound engineer and producer. The final track comes from Phil Legard, a university lecturer who is interested in generative and algorithmic composition. He is almost perfect for this project as his background is pure sonic art.  

This album definitely moves you out of your comfort zone. It’s challenging and rewarding in equal measure. Although its appeal may be to a small audience, it will have many guitar players drooling whilst the rest of us are left wondering what just happened.

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