Klaas Hübner is a sound sculptor, improviser, and instrument maker whose work can be seen and heard in live concerts, theatre pieces, gallery installations, and recordings. On his new album “Sog”, he makes extensive use of whirly tubes, instruments consisting of hollow flexible tubes of different lengths, traditionally played by whirling them above one’s head like a slingshot (though there are many other ways of making them sound). Fans, funnels, sine wave generators, guitar pickups, and other objects all contribute to the album’s unique sound world, with the most elaborate setup being a 10m wood and metal tower housing whirly tubes controlled by a belt and clutch system, built by Hübner and Andrew Schrock.
The simplest and most straightforward track on “Sog” is the first one, in which a single whirly tube is played in an empty, reverberant space, a whistling, whooping melody. In ‘sswsw’, a repeating melodic pattern races a cyclic clicking; the two lines gradually synchronise before switching to a new pattern. The simple combination of one tuned instrument line and one untuned one produces a wealth of small details in the fluctuations between the two. A series of pieces titled ‘schwarzwald’ features Hübner’s vocal imitations of animal and bird sounds, which he recorded to magnetic tape and then manipulated by playing with the speed and direction of the tape playback. The results are like a strangely mechanical reconstruction of a pond scene, made from sounds that could easily be organic or mechanical, a frog with a cold or maybe some small motor desperately trying to spin into life.
‘music for ceiling fans’ sees Hübner joined by collaborator Lysandre Coutu-Sauvé to play the eponymous ceiling fan with whirly tubes. One tube produces a constant oscillating tone, while a meandering tune, as from a very small pipe band, is driven along by marching rhythms. The most subtle and ambitious piece on the album is perhaps the concluding ‘château poulet’, in which quiet oscillations from Hübner and Schrock’s towering whirly organ slowly morph between different interference patterns. The tones multiply, sounding at different pitches and rotating at different rates, until a whole flock of warbling, oscillating whirly birds sing forth from the tower. As sonic sculptures and installations, Hübner’s work is perhaps best experienced live or through the videos released alongside “Sog”; however, hearing this music as music, in the form of an audio recording, allows different layers of the work, such as its concern with timbre and melody, to come to the fore. As such, it’s an ear-opening perspective on the art of a very intriguing and imaginative artist.