Gathered Out Of Thin Air
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Gathered Out Of Thin Air is a new Half-handed Cloud (John Ringhofer) double LP compilation of sixty freshly mastered, non-LP singles, recorded throughout the band’s second decade (2010-2019) in many different places, including Berkeley, California; Brussels, Belgium; Pretoria, South Africa; and Helsinki, Finland.
The Gathered Out Of Thin Air title is kind of half true.
Gathered? Absolutely. These songs come from all over the world, in multiple formats, and have been compiled from an array of seventeen different releases. Some of the sixty songs have thus far only seen digital release (such as 2015’s twin home-taped sound collage pop releases Foiled EP N°1 & Foiled EP N°2), while others were released only on vinyl (2011’s DOVE EP [which now features a new mix], and 2012’s Blood Brothers EP). One 7-inch EP collected here consists entirely of analog synthesizer song experiments (2016’s Jiminy Circuits), and a significant batch of hard-to-find loose tracks were originally released on various compilations—digital, compact disc, given out with a festival ticket, or along with a CD-R zine compilation.
Sections of this material have never seen the light of day at all, ever, until now, including a 7-track unreleased EP, and “Naaman,” a previously unreleased cover of a previously unissued Sufjan Stevens song (!!!).
The themes and locations in this portable song library (with its card catalog-referencing artwork) are as interesting and varied as the formats. For example, one cluster documents the compositions that were commissioned for a 2008 live printmaking event in London, which had Ringhofer leading group sing-a-longs from the wobbly surface of a giant 12-foot spinning plywood record (#2-8). Half-handed Cloud recorded one of the songs to benefit breast cancer research (#15). Other songs wrestle with the complicated history of 16th century exploration (#10-14), or are intended as devotionals for walking (#38-44). There’s even a whole EP’s worth of Christmas songs (#53-60), summoned here from various Holiday compilations from the last decade, including the original version (#59) of one that was recently turned into the grand theme for hit alternate Y2K internet simulation video game Hypnospace Outlaw.
So, yes, Gathered? Yes!
But while “Out Of Thin Air” is a neat turn of phrase, it’s perhaps less accurate. Each of the sixty songs most absolutely comes from somewhere. Every song captures the very specific place and time and meaning of writing and recording. Ringhofer’s approach tethers each song on Gathered to the grit of work and the discipline of revision. These sixty songs demonstrate an unwavering obsession with marrying the performative experimentalism of song “art” with the sweat and discipline of song “craft,” a balancing act few artists can master.
Because of its frequent religious allusions, Half-handed Cloud’s music is sometimes pegged as a soundtrack for Sunday School. But the sixty songs on Gathered Out of Thin Air might owe more to the brutal efficiency of late ‘70s DIY punk, or the messy sonic worlds of mid-‘90s lo-fi tape experimenters than they do Sunday sermons—Ringhofer’s scholarly and philosophical inquiries distinguish his songs from standard religious apologetics.
With sublime brevity, Ringhofer has always tried to explore the innocence and “nectarean essence” of song melody and structure, then quickly move on (all sixty of these intentionally sequenced Half-handed Cloud songs could fit on a single 80-minute CD-R). This economy reflects the quick-witted imagination of a playful and prolific musical prodigy who refuses to indulge. For Ringhofer, songs are a sacred thing, and the longer you linger, the less sacred they become.
Gathered Out Of Thin Air is special—special because it is truly a gathering of the sacred, put to song, brought to earth for the rest of us by a guy taking the whole thing seriously, accompanied by great levity, and with the sort of detachment that comes from breathing thin air. Like books borrowed from the library, these songs are a kind of gift. When the songs, after having been crafted and loved by Ringhofer, finally leave the speaker, they find homes in our hearts.
Double LP gatefold vinyl, with song notes and artwork by John Ringhofer
Vinyl includes full 60-song digital download
All material newly mastered by John Dieterich (Deerhoof)
Physical media debut of 38 Half-handed Cloud songs
Digital media debut of 20 Half-handed Cloud songs
An unreleased 7-song EP, + a HHC version of a completely unreleased Sufjan song
A limited set of 4 Gathered Out Of Thin Air bookmarks, available from Asthmatic Kitty Records