From Aural Innovations #9 (January 2000)
The Spleen Of Columbus: A Self-Indulgent Dip Into Cowtown's Other Sounds
(Floating Musik 1999, FM0000001, CD)
The Hawthorne Effect - Live at Victorian's Midnight Cafe, December 10, 1999
The Spleen Of Columbus is a compiliaton that includes Columbus, OH bands The Hawthorne Effect, Thee Floating Gass Chamber, Rodney Riffle, and Water Regular. However, with the exception of Water Regular all other bands include members of The Hawthorne Effect. And this is the band that still exists as a performing unit.
The Hawthorne Effect consists of Kane Naylor on guitar, moog, percussion, bass, and violin, Scott Bosley on keyboards Brian Lewis on drums, percussion, and vox, Chris Bidwell on trumpet and electronics, and Rodney on percussion. The opening track, "My Head", is more song-oriented and not really representative of most of the music on this disc, or of the music I heard The Hawthorne Effect perform live. It does include an interesting combination of trumpet and crashing guitars, but I'll move ahead to the stuff that really tripped my trigger.
"Clouds (Intro)/Mu/Clouds (Outro)" is where these guys shine and is thankfully what most of this disc is really about. The Hawthorne Effect's stated influences include numerous free jazz pioneers like Sun Ra and Miles Davis, as well as Krautrock counterparts such as Can and Faust. These influences are most apparent on this 15 minute avant jazz exploration of the cosmos, particularly Sun Ra whose inspiration is in evidence throughout the CD. In fact, "Mu" is The Hawthorne Effect's version of the Ra tune off the Atlantis release. A slowly developing electric piano excursion accompanied by trumpet takes the lead while the freakiest of bleeping space synths shoot about in the background. The different instruments contrast with each other in a way that keeps things interesting throughout, but are never off in their own little worlds. In terms of contrast, the trumpet is actually pretty "normal" sounding; though the Ra-like keyboards and outerspace synths seem to accept it as a comrade. Things get far more cosmic as the tune progresses and the climax is the most exciting segment as intricate percussion and eerie synths take the lead to bring the track to its conclusion.
Thee Floating Gass Chamber is the original recording project between The Hawthorne Effect's Kane and Scott who have been performing together for over four years, and contribute two tracks to the set. "La Maison De Rendevous" is a dark atmospheric, but melodic piano dominated piece. "Do This Then Do That (Pt. 1)" is even darker, but the focus here is more on the atmosphere than melody. It's almost like a chamber orchestra in space. Sampled voices that sound like Russian give this the feel of an excerpt from a sci fi flick. Subtle, but one of the more intense tracks on this disc.
Rodney Riffle contributes four tracks and consists of Rodney on vox, guitar, percussion, and keyboards, and The Hawthorne Effect's Kane on bass, moog, keyboards, and percussion, and Scott on guitars and bass. "Untitled" sees us getting away from jazz and more into avant spacerock territory. A slowly soloing guitar strolls along and space synths flicker about like darting UFO's. The guitar sounds like Snakefinger during his more laid back moments though it has a more psychedelic edge. "Bright Small Room" is an acoustic melodic psych tune with a bluesy feel. And "Gedatsu" is an atmospheric acoustic psych tune. For this listener it stood out for its simple, but highly effective use of varied percussion. "Razor" had the same effect on me that the opening track "My Head" did. It's a song and I think these musicians' strengths lie in their instrumental explorations rather than structured songs.
Finally, Water Regular is a solo project of Josh on guitar, percussion, and electronics. "Neo-Lusitania I" is an intense electronic excursion that includes small hints of Derek Bailey guitar. The tune sounds like it would have preferred to be all electronic. "Neo-Lusitania II" is a great leap forward into beat-jazz-in-space territory. It's similar to The Hawthorne Effect in its use of Sun Ra influenced electric piano, but the mood is slow and bluesy and, unlike "Neo-Lusitania I", the guitar totally belongs here. "Sing Song" is a heavily voice sampled tune against electronic percussion. We're getting a bit into rave territory, though I liked the multiple layers of electronics that made it danceable but a bit off-kilter. Neo II is the really winner here.
As a live unit, The Hawthorne Effect performed a set of improvisation and two covers including "Mu" and Mongo Santa Maria's "Afro Blue". Kane alternated between guitar and moog. Scott played keyboards, but played a little guitar and piano also. I have to confess I was focused on Chris much of the time. He had two trumpets with him. One was a standard horn. The other was completely wrapped in duct tape and used to produce an array of cool sounds and effects. The device used is made by Yamaha and the trumpet is run through this unit, which in turn is plugged into a guitar effects processor.
He produced some intriguing sounds with this setup, almost like another synth player. Some of my favorite numbers were when the band played full blown with this efx'd horn, two keyboards/synths, and drums. The band hadn't played together in a while and so the night resulted in some tunes that indicated they weren't all on the same page. But the songs that worked well were impressive. Sometimes the spacey avant free jazz element was most in evidence. At others, there was an interesting mixture of ambient and space jazz that I'd love to hear more of. According to the band's web page everyone in the band is into free jazz like Sun Ra, whereas Scott also has a strong interest in ambient music. I think bringing these varied interests to the fold is a strength for the band and on this evening resulted in their more enjoyable numbers.
Overall, I have to say it was a real pleasure to be able to sit in cozy atmosphere listening to truly alternative and creative music barely a mile from home. The band is a bit raw in spots but regular practice and performances should iron that out. Early in the show some people left, possibly frightened off by sounds that didn't quite get their toes tapping. (Victorian's is a neighborhood eatery that happens to let bands perform.) But later on more people came in and contentedly played chess and cards as the band jammed away.
For more information you can email The Hawthorne Effect at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also visit The Hawthorne Effect web site.