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Don Haugen – Angels with Black Wings

Don Haugen – Angels with Black Wings

Written by:  Sage
Artist:  Don Haugen
Title:  Angels with Black Wings
Label:  Obfuscated Records
Cat. #:  OR3
Format:  DIY CD-R

Genre:  Noise / Minimal / Drone

01) Steel Eagles of the Black Dawn
02) Gripper
03) Plague of Wolves
04) Test Pilot

Don Haugen is an artist from the noise world in Eugene, Oregon, and while the man has been a part of numerous projects before, this is only his second offering as a solo artist under his own name, and his first physical release.  His first solo effort was a digital collaboration with multi-instrumentalist and electronics artist Jeff Kaiser (pfMentum label owner) on the (mostly) net-label Control Valve.  As mentioned, this definitely isn’t the extent of Haugen’s experience.  He’s also played with Roger Smith (Insects with Tits) as Mandom, Chris Gierig (I Died / Black and Purple label owner) as The Trees Ate the Children, and a one-off project with JM Ginsberg (Rotted Brain, Invertebrate) as Watery Grave.  Of course, there’s Haugen’s alias Warning Broken Machine that he’s also worked under, but the output from this project, outside of being named as the collaborator in several of the aforementioned projects, seems largely based off of recordings of live appearances with other artists including Daryl Groetsch’s now well-known and relatively successful project Pule Emitter.

The music on “Angels with Black Wings” is an abstract and fragmented view into what would otherwise normally be considered an aesthetically pleasing theme.  While Haugen’s sound art isn’t harsh, it certainly represents the noise scene in its experimental nature and confronts sound in much the same way that artists like Vertex Germ, and to a lesser extent, Marlo Eggplant.  There are moments on Angels with Black Wings that go beyond the noise world and move along into other areas.  While every track is certainly based around minimal noise, there are many elements of drone ambient and electro-acoustic music to be found within the release.  The tracks consist of few layers, with the primary layer evolving throughout each track into a different tone and manipulated state.  Every change outside of the primary layer is subtle but noticeable because of the nature of the noise.  On occasion, a background layer will take over the character of the track.  Track 3, Plague of Wolves, is perhaps the most dynamic and certainly has the most complexity.  The track begins in a minimally rhythmic style, with static being manipulated in a way that brings about a tribal flavor to the music from the beginning.  Eventually this gives way to a thick electric hum before returning, albeit it still partially veiled behind the hum, with a weather radio breaking down the week’s weather — strangely speaking of Summer weather.  This is where drone takes over a bit in an unexpected bridge that features the harmonious, warm spherical textures.  The track reverts back to its tribal nature before a vocal computerized count-up into an uncomfortably loud tone that quickly descends and re-ascends into a pulsating sound that doesn’t evolve as much as it shifts shape with varying degrees of occurrence and intensity throughout the remainder of the track, stopping only long enough to revert back into a droning harmonious beauty before the pulsating hum with many faces takes it back.  This track is nearly 32 minuets long, so get comfortable.

There are both pros and cons to having this release on for background noise or for an intent listening experience.  While focusing on the effort is certainly worth the effort as there are interesting developments happening throughout “Angels with Black Wings”, 31 minutes through one track of this style is hard enough to ask of someone — let alone with the other three involved.  For the casual background listener, if at an audible volume, some moments can sneak up on you and disturb whatever process you’re in the middle of.  Thus there are moments to like and dislike for conflicting reasons depending on what purpose you’re using the album for.  Though much of the release is constructed at a low to mid-range volume, I do not recommended playing the release at high levels because of the noted sudden shifts in volume on the CD itself for various moments.

It should be noted that Haugen is also known in the art world for his graphic design company Munky Design, and because of this, it’s strange that someone so involved in this line of work would be comfortable putting out a release like this on a DIY level.  While the label states that they offer “hand crafted artistry” with their releases, the Don Haugen release is a simple one-color black screen-print on both sides of a stock cardboard sleeve and the CD-R itself.  While, at least for me, this doesn’t meet the definition of “hand crafted artistry”, the label is young and can hardly be faulted as they try to find their way into releasing music in the noise world.  This isn’t to say that the packaging isn’t without error however.  The ink on the sleeve doesn’t appear to have been cured correctly, so it simply scratches off and appears to fade for unknown reasons — that is, unless the print was simply too light on the copy that I received.  I realize that that average noise listener probably won’t give a damn about the quality of a DIY release like this, but with artists like A Death Cinematic and labels like Auris Apothecary really stepping up the game regarding quality in the DIY world, it’s more important than ever to find a way to make your releases special.  Then again, the old homage ‘you get what you pay for’ extends to this release, and for $3.00 US shipped / $5.00 world shipped, you can’t exactly ask for a delicately created piece of art.

Rating:  3.5/5