Album review: Sarah Haras – ‘Mirage’: deeply effective and affecting abstraction




THERE will always be a need for difficult music that unsettles and challenges, puzzles and intimidates, intrigues and inspires.

It’s tricky to get this most delicate of balances right but Sarah Haras, the experimentalist and producer from Bahrain, once again shows her ability to sustain and engage on her latest album, Mirage, available via Chinabot from March 5th.

Whereas her previous release, Metal East, drew on the conventional fringes of electronic music with pronounced beats and fractured songs, Mirage dives more deeply into abstraction. Here Haras takes layers of sound interference and warps them into something you interpret as music … maybe that’s where the title comes from.

Mirage is, if anything, an elemental recording forged by the composer’s connection with the Bahraini landscape and the exploration of its suggested rhythms. After the opening distorted fanfare of the dark wave ceremonial “Mobile”, “Sahra” and the title track, “Mirage”, draw exclusively on these touchstones, tempting sound patterns and pulses from seemingly natural sources. “Sahra” builds on a twin sequence of fluttering rhythms that alternate head to head before reducing to single slow stomp and occasional rattle.

If this track imagines music made by insect swarms, ‘Mirage’ looks beyond lifeforms for its reference points. Haras sets up a booming wind tunnel foundation for the composition before a faster, chugging pulse dances around the explosions, playing cross-rhythms with the sounds of the natural world. As an introduction to any album, however experimental, this opening trio of cuts is a bold move, taking the same risks as Jon Hassell’s last two Pentimento records. It’s pure electronics.

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From these parched, stark soundscapes Haras works on developing their potential with subtlety and sensitivity plus a dedicated pursuit of the inner drone. “Mta. Bnroo” pushes a swelling symphonic chord back and forth like a rolling storm, charting its progress with a steady, almost Klaus Schulze, synth line.

“Karisma! again establishes that rumbling foundation then overlays an echoing snare strike that morphs at some indefinable point into a sequence of higher pitched oscillations. But it’s probably on “Mutated Samri”, on which scratched bows on strings and finger-light rhythmic drips suggest traditional music making, that Haras reconstructs her exploration of single note monophonics most significantly.

The voice also plays a part in adding human texture just when it’s needed. You can trace the references that Haras makes to Khaleeji folk music in the constant rolling drum patterns and shimmering banks of vocals in the more urbanised soundscape of “Euphoria”. Those spiritual samples return alongside fragmented song phrases and urgent broken beats in “Wish That I”, a tune for a clubland in the future.

Perhaps the most striking use of vocal lurks in the gothic intensity of the album’s closing track, “Smallest Child”. Stripped back to a repeated, unsettling chord, you gradually become aware of a tiny voice; maybe crying, maybe singing, in the distance. As the sounds decrease that voice comes closer and the anguish becomes clear in a melody line reshaped as an otherworldly mantra.

It’s a breathtaking finish to a deeply effective and affecting collection from Sarah Haras. Often abstract albums come across like a loose series of random sketches; but not Mirage. It’s got a clear vision that binds it together and like the best electronic music suggests something different to every listener each time they tune in … and that is some achievement.

Sarah Haras’ Mirage is available now digitally and on very limited cassette from Chinabot Records; you can order your copy now over at Bandcamp.

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