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Mark Van Hoen - Plan for a Miracle LP

Mark Van Hoen - Plan for a Miracle LP

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Mastered by Stefan Betke (Pole) at Scape 
Artwork by Ian Anderson (The Designers Republic) 

“I like to work with a variety of instruments and set ups,” says Mark Van Hoen, sometimes known as Locust or Autocreation but here working under his own name on the excellent Plan For A Miracle, his first physical release of solo music since 2018’s Invisible Threads. ”Sometimes it’s literally in my studio, with all the hardware electronics available. Sometimes the laptop, using software instruments. Some of the tracks on this record were recorded in the desert (Joshua Tree) using a 4-track tape machine and small modular synthesiser set up. Each track was recorded in different location using different instruments, which accounts for the distinction between each piece. It’s also about my own reaction to my environment, and what’s going on in my life at the time.”

The Croydon-born Van Hoen started musical life in the early 1990s, signing for R&S records in 1993 but developing his own, myriad and distinctive style across a range of releases on Touch, Editions Mego and other labels, using a battery of instruments, including analogue synthesizers and taking a number of different approaches to recording, rather than ploughing a single sonic furrow.

Each track on Plan For A Miracle does indeed sound like a world unto itself, a mini-environment, a weather condition, an ecosystem created for the moment. It’s a collection of tracks recorded over the past few years, released on Bandcamp - despite his apparent absence, Van Hoen works constantly. Opener “Climates”, in its exquisite limpidity, feels like a homage to Brian Eno, one of his most formative influences in his teen years, commencing with Music For Films, which he bought in 1979. “This Is For Them”, feels like a ghostlike throwback to early drum & bass or electronica, reminiscent of his own, earliest outings. “There have been a number of requests from labels to make some more music like my very early releases on R&S,” says Van Hoen. “This is part of ‘letting go’ and realising that there’s nothing less creative about going back to those styles again.”

“Pencil Of Spheres” is something else again, a magnificent, imaginary glass structure, shimmering, refracting, without visible means of suspension, a thing of impossible beauty. “Electric Lights” evokes an abandoned fairground, its lights still pulsating, its music lingering. “The Underpass”, meanwhile, insofar as it reminds of anything at all, is faintly reminiscent of Cluster or Neu’s! West German ambience, the urban mundane rendered magical, the sodium lights, the whitewashed walls. The reverberant, faintly oriental chimes of “Insight” transport us yet again, burgeoning and intensifying.

The landscapes, the skyscapes rendered on Plan For A Miracle feel unpopulated as a rule - but when he does introduce vocal elements, Van Hoen has a history of doing so to spectacular effect - think of “Real Love” from 1998’s Playing With Time, the seductive intonation of its title recurring throughout like a series of massive holograms, echoing, stuttering, breaking up, surging. Here, there are just the faintest of vocals, barely distinct, disquieting. “There’s been a bit of a game changer in recent times,” explains Van Hoen. “AI software that enables you to extract vocals and instrument parts from virtually any recording. That means sampling individual parts from existing sources is no longer limited to the original mix exposing certain parts soloed. The vocal parts I use are from multiple sources and often pitch shifted altered rhythmically and melodically.“ There’s further vocal chatter on “I Really Do”, proceeding at a faster pace as if giving chase, or being pursued - distant, enigmatic. “The Music”, meanwhile, its beat tolling, lost in its own fog of static, features a curious intonation, like the ghost of a lost Walker Brother.

Sadly, the album’s title is in reference to a personal tragedy on Van Hoen’s part - the loss of his wife. Titles such as “I Won’t Give Up”, which faintly reminds of another Eno masterpiece, Another Green World, in its nautical hurly-bury, or the pastoral strains of “Mrs Who”, heavily clouded with sadness, seem to allude to this. “In fact the record was recorded entirely before she passed away,” says Van Hoen, “most of it before she even became very ill. The title was given to the album when it started to look like she wasn’t going to make it beyond a few months. It was something Indian mystic Osho said - “plan for a miracle” - so it was a statement of hope. Unfortunately it was not to be.” Although the album is non-thematic, non-specific in its atmospheres, sound paintings, elegant structures it most certainly stands as a magnificent monument to her memory.

-David Stubbs 

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