The Haxan Cloak: U.K. Producer Channels Demons, Curdles Blood
"Ever since I was a child, I've always warmed to the darker-natured things in life."
Who: Hailing from Wakefield, England, Bobby Krlic is the Haxan Cloak, a producer of dark ambient music as blackened and viscous as a scorched crème brulee. He takes his alias from the 1922 silent film Häxan, a hallucinatory exploration of witchcraft and psychosis, and his death-rattle strings and amorphous drones (with titles like “Raven’s Lament” and “Burning Torches of Despair”) leave little doubt as to his sepulchral inclinations. “Ever since I was a child, I’ve always warmed to the darker-natured things in life,” Krlic admits. “My brother is eight years older than me, and when I was a kid, he’d bring home Napalm Death records, but also Snoop Dogg and Ice Cube, and a lot of the imagery and lyrical content in those records is very dark. My mom would always say, ‘Don’t let Bobby listen to it, he’s too young.’ So me and my brother would have these listening sessions where my mom didn’t know. The whole thing was very exciting, because it was forbidden fruit.”
Metal Circus: Krlic spent three years recording his self-titled debut album, which was released in 2011 on the Aurora Borealis label. That record wove scraped percussion, strings, and gravelly digital processing into a shifting electro-acoustic soundscape that recalled Iannis Xenakis’ spectral fantasia more than any of his metal-minded labelmates. The new Haxan Cloak album, Excavation, out April 30 on the doomy Tri Angle label, is a seething mass of timbral head-fuck, like the THX “Deep Note” layered exponentially and turned up to 11. Much of the raw material was sourced from acoustic instruments in the studios of the classical Britten-Pears Foundation. “They’ve got loads of orchestral drums and tympani and gongs,” says Krlic, “so I was just like a kid in a sweet shop for a few days. With the last record, it was very much primal instruments, all acoustic, quite bound to the earth. With this one, I wanted to deconstruct those elements and make it more ethereal. Get field recordings and just crush them — really get the magnifying glass in and break them down and go really textural, like Impressionist painting.”
Don’t Tri Angle This At Home: Early on, Krlic studied classical guitar, played in punk and metal bands, and messed around with turntables and Reason trying to reverse-engineer rap and dance music. It was while studying sound art at university that he hit upon the visceral frequencies that make his work so throat-grabbingly compelling. “I started getting speaker cones and taking them apart,” he explains, “and I would place different materials on top, like water or jelly or plastic or metal, and I would see the effects that different frequencies have on those materials. It sounds pretty naïve, but I had never thought about the physical properties of sound.” In his live shows, throbbing tones seem to emanate from inside listeners’ heads, and they expand until the walls and ceiling tremble — a trick he manages by exploiting the resonant frequencies of the rooms he plays. “There’s a descending high-pitched frequency and a descending low-pitched frequency at the end of the set,” he explains of his technique. “I’ll be listening intently as I’m going down the tones and finding where it really pops out, and then I’ll leave it on that and kind of modulate around it for a bit, just trying to spin people out as much as I can.”
Aural Rehabilitation: When he’s not spinning out his listeners, he helps a different crowd find its way through his work as a music tutor at a youth offenders’ prison. “Like any kind of teenage kids, whether you’re in prison or you’re in school, everybody’s self-conscious and scared of making a fool out of yourself,” he says. “We’ll do a lot of team-building exercises and games to get their confidence up. Sometimes it doesn’t work in your favor if you tell them they’re doing well. It’s uncool to be doing good, so you just leave them to it, and slyly give them confidence in other ways. There have been a couple of projects where we’ve encountered good rappers, and I’ve gone home that night and made some instrumentals, and the next day I’m like, ‘Quick, have you got 10 minutes to spit over this?'”