Robert Haigh “Strange and Secret Things” CD (2011)

CD coverRobert Haigh should be a name familiar to more intrepid record buyers of the 1980’s.  I discovered his EPs on L.A.Y.L.A.H. Anti-Records in the bins of Tower Records, where the label name associated his music with purveyors of sonic perversity such as Nurse With Wound, Organum, Current 93, Coil, and The Hafler Trio.  In fact it was in their company that I first heard his music tucked between those very artists on “The Fight Is On” compilation, oddly enough with a solo piano piece.  It seemed out of place to say the least, but the EPs “Juliet of the Spirits” and “Music from the Ante Chamber” made more sense with their further fleshing out of the sombre aesthetic with additional instrumentation.  They were not dark and challenging like his associates, I was later to find out that he had worked out those desires when working under the name Sema on a series of privately released LP for his Le Rey label.  After those early releases, there was one final LP for United Dairies called “A Valentine Out of Season” – a solo piano record on Nurse With Wound’s label.  Steve later told me that he did it as Robert had promised to give him a great experimental record if he would only release this piano LP.  Of course the experimental record never did surface, and all United Dairies did to follow was to release the rather misleadingly titled cassette “The Best of Robert Haigh” which was largely taken up by Robert’s early rock based band Fote.  Robert’s music was really not reaching the right audience through such an experimental outlet.  Its final appearance in the 1980’s was the CD “A Waltz in Plain C” on the only very briefly restarted and then shuttered Le Rey.  There was such a lack of audience for this follow up that the distributor I was buying from told me they imported only 9 copies of this disc into the states.  I don’t think I saw anyone else carry it either.  After that Robert disappeared with occasional rumors of him resurfacing as a techno artist, which did end up to be true.  This was confirmed by die hard fan John Podeszwa of the Seal Pool label who released Haigh’s 2007 “comeback” album “From the Air”.  Since then Haigh has released one solo album of soft music per year on various labels including the defunct Crouton who once mentioned an unfinished collaboration with The Hafler Trio from the L.A.Y.L.A.H. days, but it seems that remains an unfinished project.

This latest installment comes from Siren Records in Japan, who also released the last two discs, and for me is the strongest of his discs since his return to his earlier style.  The focus is on piano sounds throughout but also tastefully introduces synthesized sounds as accents.  The music is melodically simple and will no doubt evoke French composer Erik Satie for many.  Perhaps Satie’s idea of “furniture music” might apply to “Strange and Secret Things” as it could be heard in the manner of an aural environment which would not intrude on other activities.  And in this way, we could continue to draw a line to Brian Eno’s first ambient music, which is after all quite active and musical compared to many things given that appellation these days.  However, that would be to overlook the sombre introspection at the heart of this disc.  Haigh’s music seems to me to be more polished and refined on this disc than some of the previous few.  The left hand plays a simple bass pattern over which the right hand delicately plays in between in a very light and free flowing manner.  There is just the right amount of embellishment in the lines.  To make them more complex would take away from the atmosphere.  This perhaps keeps these 17 miniatures from the realm of most classical listeners, but would fit well in the catalogs of Brian Eno’s Obscure and Ambient series or the Cold Blue label.  To complete the thought forming above, I would say that “Strange and Secret Things” belongs with the L.A.Y.L.A.H. EPs as the best of Haigh’s solo work.  For those that have not explored Haigh’s most recent releases, I would recommend this one as this disc to start with.  Of course the Sema LPs are also highly recommended, but have been devilishly difficult to locate since the 1980’s.  On top of this, the Le Rey LPs were poor pressings, a fact even more noticeable with such delicate music.  Thankfully, “Strange and Secret Things” has been mastered by Denis Blackham, so the sound is astoundingly clear and never harsh.

The disc comes appropriately packaged in a handmade miniature LP sleeve with inset artwork which was produced by Andrew Chalk’s Faraway Press in England.  Even these details are not given on the spare cover which only provides track titles.  Given the contents, it seems most appropriate this way.  A small end strip does translate the barest of information into Japanese.

I don’t know if there will be further installments of Haigh’s work on Siren Records as I have gathered that sales have so far been lackluster.  On another front, the Sema recordings will soon get a long awaited deluxe reissue in the form of a 4 LP box set to be released by Vinyl-On-Demand this year.  Hopefully that will pique interest in all of Haigh’s work.  Right now it seems to be province of only a small number, but those Haigh fans I know are quite devoted and enthusiastic.

Siren Records – SIREN 020