COELACANTH : The Glass Sponge
23five004, Compact Disc
published in 2003
$12.98, plus shipping

The glass sponge is a subclass within the sponge phyllum, distinguished by their silica spicules that unite into delicate geometric networks. These needlelike structures form the skeleton of this most simple animal, which when dried acquires an exquisite white hue. During the Victorian era, these dessicated remains were prize possessions in the finest of wunderkammers; and from what we’ve been told, a pair of glass sponges mounted under a dome could fetch up to “5 guineas.” Furthermore, glass sponges have the unique ability to respond to their harsh, deep sea environment through rudimentary electrical impulses that ripple through their bodies which are devoid of nerves and muscle.

These are merely the beginnings of the fascination with the glass sponge for Coelacanth, a sound art project whose name is of an ancient fish once thought to be extinct, but in truth has been flourishing in oceanic trenches. Authored by the Coelacanth duo of Loren Chasse and Jim Haynes, The Glass Sponge takes an abstracted yet empathetic view of its allegorical subject. Throughout The Glass Sponge, Coelacanth sets textural flutters, squeaks, and scrabblings in motion. These brittle events punctuate the boundless excursions of minimalism brought to life through elegaic bell tones, ghostly feedback, and tuning fork resonance, all spiralling together into translucent drones. Despite the obvious submariner references for this album, it may be a surprise that very little water spilled into the recording of The Glass Sponge. Loren Chasse is also heavily involved in the much acclaimed collective Jewelled Antler, where the multiple personalities of Thuja, The Blithe Sons, The Franciscan Hobbies, The Famous Boating Party, Child Readers, and Of speak in the tongues of pastorally psychedelic improvisations. Jim Haynes is an artist describing his craft in the former with the pithy statement, “I rust things.” He might also be known for his writings from The Wire.

Volume 06 / Issue 40

October 12, 2003 23five came into the public eye as the label vehicle for sound artist-types, peddling the kind of stuff I'd see in the MoMA gift shop and pass by thinking it just wouldn't be the same outside an austere gallery space. Now only 6 releases into stride, the label has proved me wrong several times over. One needs only to hear Furudate & Zbigniew's World As Will II to see why. The opening minutes of Coelacanth's sophomore release, however, left me with second, or rather third, thoughts. The Glass Sponge begins with a sparse scraping, thumping, and clanging that seems on the brink the ever-arty black hole of inaccessibility. After a few minutes, droning bell tones and tempered feedback ease their way in, making the piece more substantial before, as quickly as it began, the music fades into silence. Those opening bits were merely a prelude to the real meat of track, a sort of second act comprised of layered static and an enriched texture of lulling feedback and prolonged bell tones. Stuttering vocal utterings rise from drone and static layers that sound truly oceanic. Song titles like "The Leaden Sea" and "The Violet Shell and Its Raft" lend a marine theme to The Glass Sponge that feels apt in relation to the music. (The name Coelacanth, also, refers to a prehistoric fish recently discovered to still exist). All four tracks exhibit an approach to drone music that is both texturally rich and emotionally resonant. Tracks range from gentle, inviting trips across static that gurgles and glimmers like actual liquid to eerie passages where hollow drones and squealing feedback rise from the depths. The Glass Sponge is host to a multitude of bizarre, untraceable sounds as well. Various throbbings, tinkerings, and knockings find comfortable home in Coelacanth's sound world, given overture in the album's first moments, making it increasingly hard to believe that any of this was gathered from public performance as the notes describe. This is beautiful, thoroughly engaging, and unique music, no doubt more appropriate headphone music for pretending your bed is a liferaft than for strolling the museum floor. -- Andrew Culler

Dusted Magazine
November 16, 2003

The choice of a band name carries certain implications. One would not, for example, accept a band called Mastodon if they played Belle & Sebastian-style tweephonics. Not even if it was presented ironically. So when I saw this project – band, whatever you care to call – it I expected to feel like I was on the bottom of the Marianas Trench in a submersible, staring some Cambrian-era plated fish in its beady eyes. And I was not disappointed, Coelacanth keeps their end of the implied bargain.

Loren Chasse, of Jewelled Antler fame, is one half of Coelacanth along with Jim Haynes, The Wire contributor and record guy at Aquarius in San Francisco. And though I am hesitant to recommend further Chasse-related work to anyone who earns less than the minimum NBA rookie salary or has less time to kill than Ed McMahon, the quality of this music certainly marks Chasse as a sound arranger of no mean skills. Take my word for it when I tell you that I listen to more aquatic-themed ambient music than the average bear. And most of it is, to work the metaphor to death, watery and weak. Chasse and Haynes inject some real grit into The Glass Sponge. The seven tracks are organized around shimmers and curtains of guitar-sourced sounds, and spotted with compact grains of noise. You get the impression of clouds of plankton, black plumes of superheated chemicals and the odd shaft of light penetrating the briny deep. There is a feeling of both claustrophobic pressure and suspension here, as the sounds appear and then recede across the listening field. -- Bruce Adams

Signal To Noise
issue 32, Winter 2004

Coelacanth pulse further into the abstract. The duo of Loren Chasse and Jim Haynes, their second disc The Glass Sponge uses sound as allegory for the object in question. Documents of various performances 2001 and 2002 are chewed through manipulations and banks of effects to resemble a slurried fog of haze, rendering sources delirious: a vision of the seabed caught through night fog, punctured by abject scratchings. Chasse's fondness for field recordings rears its head throughout the recording, most significantly in "The Hexactinellidae," where a bank of cicadas and insects are wrought in spatial disarray, multiplying in volume and panning across the stereo spectrum. If Coelacanth's intent was to abstractly invoke the glass sponge of the title, then full marks: their compositions are exquisitely rendered and shot through with electricity. -- Jon Dale

The Sound Projector
Issue 13, 2005

These two guys are Loren Chasse and Jim Haynes. Once again as Coelacanth they manage to produce something translucently beautiful, and have the single-mindedness needed to sustain such extreme forms of sound art. Continuing with considerable tenacity to plough their furrow, they explore the tiny and obscure channel of sound art they have chosen. Like jgrzinich, they too reserve the right to retain a great deal of mystery as to their doings. All we know from this is that it's pretty small-scale; a specialist technician was required, and is credited, to 'rescue sounds that tried very hard to make themselves disappear.' Otherwise, the events documented on The Glass Sponge are simply 'unspecified public and private performances.' Make of this what you will.

Having some familiarity with the work of Coelacanth (and of their nearest antecedent id battery), I usually have this image of the artists at work burrowing like moles in remote and unattractive zones in cities or countryside, depending on thier travelcard range... once therem striving hard to locate (perhaps with microphones) tiny events which can scarcely be said to be happening at all. Said events are captured and subsequently re-engineered into sonic entities. Layer them all toegther and you have these uncanny products, utterly alien reports from obscure corners, compellingly beautiful, intimate airless, fully formed. We should note that their work rarely appears to be artificed; it betrays little evidence of human intervention. List of things that are meat and drink to the Coelacanth boys include mould growth, rust stains, pockets of dust, cobwebs mists rising, peeling paint, decaying foodstuffs, and the gradual erosion of stone by the sea.

Water imagery abounds; yet apparently 'very little water spilled into the recording' of this CD. Of the four tracks, "The Hexactinellidae" is particularly strange, as though these name monsters are some form of microscopic life teeming in the depths of the ocean, whilst up above the surface miniature foghorns are blowing. Perhaps, these are inhabitants of "The Leaden Sea," another environment they describe. Ay, it's fascinating enough to sit and contemplate their processes, but the finished recordings unleash a listener's imagination in many unexpected ways. "The Electric Hydrometer" is more of a portrait of scientific / magical device used to measure the water; but we're back to sea-faring realms with "The Violet Shell and its Raft," an almost heart-hending episode of an ocean voyage undertaken by the smallest of vulnerable creatures, against impossible odds, yet still comes through it alive... life endures yet. I never thought about it before, but Coelacanth is of course the name of a prehistoric fish long thought to be extinct, until a specimen was capture in the Chalumna river near South Africa in 1938. In like manner, Jim Haynes and Loren Chasse capture and preserve rare sounds swimming in our own environment thought to be extinct... or in some cases non-existent! -- Ed Pinsent