P.H.A.S.T.I., The Stages of Sleep: A Metaphor for Toruń

It seems that when you bring two experimental music collectives together, it’s not just a matter of doubling the amount of experimental. Rather, it’s an exponential growth with endless possible outcomes. Brooklyn-based sound and video aritsts PAS traveled to Toruń, Poland for a music festival and there hooked up with two members of Poland’s HATI. When the festival was canceled due to a national tragedy, the teams took the studio, christened themselves P.H.A.S.T.I., and churned out The Stages of Sleep.

First things first: this is quite decidedly not for everyone. When a gear list includes found objects, a Casio sampling keyboard, a theremin and a fishing rod, it’s even money that we’re going unusual places, musically. There is a great deal of clatter, clamor and noise. HATI is, if their own gear lists are any sign, a percussion-based act, loaded up with drums, gongs, rattles, bells and cymbals, along with the occasional flute. Given all that, I went into listening to this disc already tucked into a protective fetal position. But what’s here, while firmly in the anti-music/improvised music zone, is no less accessible than, say, your average dark ambient CD. Sounds come at you from all sides in a disconcerting blitz and force you to defend your personal concept of music, but digging through the mire reveals hints of a rhythmic base that gives the brain something to latch onto. (You’ll need a lifeline back to normalcy when you’re in the thick of “Theta Waves.” It’s just that odd and mind-bending.) In places there’s even more solidity. Amber Brien’s bass walks confidently through the middle of “Sleep Spindle” and provides a point of familiar focus while the rest of the team just lob feedback bombs and assorted sonic assaults. Things take an interesting turn beginning with “Delta Waves” and ending in “Sleepwalkers” as the group move into a trance-like steadiness of tone and then shift it, largely without disturbing the mental haze they’ve induced, through percussion. In “Delta Sleep” HATI’s gongs come into play, ringing out and clashing against the hypnotic flow. They pull the listener back to semi-reality with the jazz-infused tones of “Dreaming,” which enters quietly and builds in smooth succession. Percussion is again a strong focal point, along with hesitant piano. P.H.A.S.T.I. then melt these elements down back into the experimental space and ride that to the end of the disc–passing through, let it be noted, a section with harmonica and what sound like party horns.

Stages of Sleep is not a disc I’ll return to often, but I’m glad to have taken this collaborative journey. My expectations of this round of experimental/improv music were shown to be unjustified while at the same time I felt I was opened to the kind of possibility and scope of thought that drive a project like this. Again, this is not a disc that most people will be able to just dive into and dig; it takes effort to work through it. But the music, and your response to it, just might surprise you.

Check it out at ReverbNation.

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