At first, it sounds like a standard piece of acousmatic wrangling. An airy metallic drone, crosshatched with glitches and clicks. A field recording, the sounds of urban life, fade in and are slowly subsumed in a wavy, electronic cloud. Then, around three minutes in, a woman’s voice starts singing, rapping, murmuring, and everything changes.
P.A. / Hard Love is a reworked version of a sound installation Rosenfeld developed and toured between 2009 and 2011. Originally vocal-less, the work was a kind of steampunk sound system that enabled Rosenfeld to create kind of mutant field recordings on the fly, taking ambient sounds from where she’d set up then playing them back, often manipulated and overlaid with bits of her own voice and other aural debris.
When it came to committing the work to tape, Rosenfeld enlisted London vocalist Annette Henry, aka Warrior Queen, and Korean cellist Okkyung Lee to add textures and punch to the pieces. Lee’s contributions are subtle, submerged in Rosenfeld’s electro-acoustic collages, emerging occasionally in moments of scratchy eeriness.
Henry’s vocal interventions, on the other hand, are astonishing and transform this record from what would be a worthy addition to the canon of electro acoustic experimentation to an inspired, idiosyncratic and emotionally affecting work.
As Warrior Queen, Henry has amassed an impressive CV of contributions to reggae, dubstep and post-whatever electronica for artists in the UK and Jamaica, with a delivery capable of summoning up righteous fury to lascivious cheek. Check out her interventions on The Bug’s 2008 London Zoo album for a sense of what she’s capable of in full-on attack mode. There are glimpses of that power and range here; on ‘Hard Love’ Henry’s saucy spitting is matched by clanking dancehall kick drum that gives the shifting soundscape a thunderous urgency. On ‘I Launch An Attack’, Henry’s fluid chatting seems to be coming from another room as ragged synth lines arc across the track.
Elsewhere, Henry’s contributions evoked a kind of haunted vulnerability, floating over the mostly beat less tracks like incursions from an unknown station on a badly tuned radio. Occasionally there are echoes of Space Ape’s work with Kode 9 on the ‘Memories Of The Future’ album, but with dread replaced by anxiety. ‘Seeking Solace /Why Why?’ is a despatch from a soul lost in limbo. “Wrapped up in spiral webs… blurred images cascade in my mind” cries Henry, sounding distraught, disorientated, her vocal looped and layered by Rosenfeld. “He was the love of my life… tell me why, why, why”. On ‘ New York/It’s All About…’ offers up double-dutch style chants, as if remembered from a long-ago childhood.
Listening to this album is an evocative, unsettling experience. I feel like I’m an amnesiac wandering, lost around some future metropolis. The city is full of things I can’t comprehend, yet they seem to spark resurgent memories of some other, half-remembered life.
With P.A./Hard Love, Marina Rosenfeld has crafted a wonderfully immersive and melancholic record. It has both an original approach and a faultless execution, resulting in an album in a genre, and a class, of its own.