Review: Kevin Sims – Battle Hymn of the Public, Part 1 (Orb Tapes, Aug 21)

A somewhat elaborate yet still careless scribble adorns the minimal cover of Battle Hymn of the Public, Part 1, immediately engendering thoughts of simplicity and gesture, things that certainly carry on, to even greater effect, in the music. Kevin Sims states that the tape is “a series of fifteen pieces for percussion and other instruments, including instructions for field recordings which can also be used as listening exercises,” and unsurprisingly the proceedings settle into a fluid series of passively captured public places, radio grabs, and environments along with reticent tactile performances on various drums and objects. There don’t seem to be explicit instructions for these “listening exercises” included with the album, so I can presume the only actual requirement for them is what their title implies location- or theme- wise, and one goes from there with the help of a recording device and percussion I suppose. I doubt anyone could perform these “compositions” as well as the composer himself, however; Sims traverses a host of detailed sonic landscapes, both abstract and physical, with the help of skins, metal, junk, his own hands and feet (for both striking and walking), and the control of the microphone’s gaze that documents it all. There’s tension here, mostly neutral but no less intense—take the jarring sequence of peaceful nature sound-walk “Wapalanewachschiechey” to the grinding, squealing metals of “Second Hymn” and the bad-vibes speech cuts of “Knowledge.” Battle Hymn of the Public, Part 1 is a formidable piece of music in the most disarmingly understated way, immersive and cinematic and harrowing.