The Humble Bee

The Humble Bee - Instruction Booklet N. 1232, cassette with felt pouch

Instruction Booklet N. 1232

“Instruction Booklet N. 1232” is the latest release from The Humble Bee (aka Craig Tattersall). Released by the Dauw label, this marks the first cassette release for Tatersall under this moniker. Taking advantage of the format, each side on “Instruction Booklet N. 1232” is reserved for a single piece nearing the 20-minute mark.

“Exploding View” (aka Side A) swells into existence with a very grand sounding synth-driven melody. Of course the other thing that’s present is the decaying sound of the tape loop that’s working to bring that music to life. At first, the melody grows and grows, fairly undisturbed, but eventually the sound of so-much tape warble threatens the rising nature of the piece until it sounds as though it is one loop away from total decay and simply fluttering out of existence.

But of course that’s the point. There’s a tension between that grand melody that opens these moments and that warble. It’s a lesson in opposites: the mechanics of a tape loop, guaranteed to break down, placed in contrast with those signature Tatersall melodies, which somehow seem eternal. And just as that tension seems too much to bear — the melody dies to be replaced by something altogether new. What comes next is something much quieter, driven by a sub-aquatic bassline, some rhythmic tape hiss and some gentle piano.

It’s a very dramatic and sudden break. The technical elements of that could be attributed to Tattersall’s understanding of how far a melody can be pushed before it succumbs to the abuse of being processed out of existence — perhaps the tape had been looped and processed to its breaking point. Regardless of whether it was a technical or artistic choice, that hard break serves an important narrative function. Frequently in instrumental music, musicians play with opposites (quiet-loud, clean-distorted) to create a narrative to their work since they don’t have words/lyrics as a tool. In the case of The Humble Bee’s use of tape loops, one set of opposites in tension is always driven by the fragility of the melodies and the limitations of a machine guaranteed to inevitably decay the media it is designed to support. And where one thrives, the other takes a backseat. As side A winds down, the melodies are much more sparse — appropriate for en ending, yes; but it also gives more space for those hisses and crackles to claim their moment.

Side B is filled out by “Manual with Foot Pedal” and it begins as gently as its predecessor ended. Slowly eking outing it existence – it’s as if watching Tatersall set the board, showing his players on opposite sides of the table before really setting them in motion to do their thing. By the piece’s midpoint, melody has taken centre stage as a glitchy, piano-led rhythm marches its way forward, clearly carving out its space and claiming its territory. And almost immediately following that: the decay takes over again and those tape loops seem processed to near death — the melody almost barely decipherable as it flutters under the weight of the history of being looped/played ad nauseum. And in the very final moments, the melodies are sparse again, giving the tape hiss room to play its part — it’s as if Tatersall is giving both players enough space to take their final bows.

Come late fall/early winter, a new release from The Humble Bee is always welcome — something about watching a landscape get buried in snow is perfectly complemented by Tatersall’s half-buried melodies. Unlike most of the previous Humble Bee releases, this one lacks a backstory. With “Henrietta”, it was an album about a visit to Cornwall — a sort of audio travelogue. “Morning Songs” was just that; songs created in the morning over a specific period of time. But nothing is revealed about “Instruction Booklet N. 1232” — there is no backstory. As such, Instruction Booklet N. 1232 is an orphan of sorts. But that’s not a bad thing — it allows for the hypothesis that it’s part of a large catalogue of casual experiments. And that feeds the hope that there’s even more gems waiting to be uncovered wherever “Instruction Booklet N. 1232” came from.


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