With half of the cuts on this tape created from customized generative software and the other put together from recordings of electric fan motors and metallic objects, what’s surprising about ‘Salamander’ is not the diversity of its sonic palette. Sure, there are morphing buzzes, malignant hisses, airy flaps and grainy crackles aplenty, sounds and textures combining to create an array of curious and sometimes baffling formations. Yet ‘Salamander’ – Hoffman’s first full-length experimental release since the fine ‘Necropolis’ in 2014 – sounds remarkably consistent. Everything here shudders with an eccentric vibrancy that gives Hoffman’s strange, alien shapes a compelling aura, despite their brevity (only three of the tracks make it past the five minute mark). ‘Pinafore (Bloody Knuckles)’ lasts for just two minutes 13 seconds but evokes pungent and vivid images of ancient mainframes going berserk while forest fires rage all around. Opener ‘Headless (Aggregate 1)’ is only half a minute or so longer, but uses its runtime to conjure angry swarms of killer bees that buzz and swoop with sufficient verisimilitude to have me glancing around for the exit.
‘Salmander’ is united by its creator’s quest for idiosyncrasy. Across its 11 tracks Hoffman comes on like a quizzical god, summoning new pocket universes into being with an insouciant click of their fingers. And the fact that you can’t really tell what method is making which noise – is it the clever computer programme or the jangling domestic hardware? – only heightens the effect. I mean, I would have said the rackety clangs at the start of ‘Malediction (Granular 3)’ were deffo those metallic objects listed in the release notes. But then things go all rubbery and sweaty, before dropping into a woolly soft-shoe shuffle. You can’t get that by banging a load of pots and pans together now, can you?
Hoffman has been crafting noisy, impassive sounds for about a decade now, often but not always through his excellent Pilgrim Talk imprint. ‘Necropolis’, released on Kostis Kilymis’ Organized Music from Thessaloniki label, was one of my exceptions, but it was my favourite of his up until now. Its surly indigestibility suggested that Hoffman was really getting somewhere, avoiding noise-bro machismo in his quest for head-rinsing brutality and sidestepping electroacoustic orthodoxy as he did it. ‘Salamander’ has similar breadth, but the strange, ergonomic shapes it casts suggests that Hoffman has shifted his ground, to spellbinding effect. He just keeps getting better, I guess. Artists making noisy sounds often trade on metaphors of industry or machines to give their works an alienated buzz, but ‘Salamander’ vibrates with eerie, tactile life.