Listening Habit(at)s

Welcome to the Jungle

With Obatalá-Ibofanga (NOWHERE WORLDWIDE), Francisco López rounds off his ‘Epoché’ trilogy of far-flung rainforest recordings with more sound-clouds of buzzing, clicking, whirring and chirping life-forms recorded from a host of sites across the USA and Cuba. Does this pairing betoken optimism for further thawing of relations between the estranged countries? There’s intimacy in the recording at least. Our winged and armoured co-inhabitants and their enviably tropical-sounding surroundings are blended seamlessly throughout (apart from when punctuated by seemingly arbitrary silences), with precious little treatment applied or required, forming virile insect ecosystems that infuse colour and movement into landscapes seemingly tamed into stillness by sweltering heat. Having enjoyed similar fare in surround-sound at a Dave Philips show a couple of years ago, I know exactly what I’m missing as I listen in the shallower audio theatre of my living room. Still, there’s enough clarity, variety and vitality in the musical chatter of this recording to stimulate your imagination through the hour of its duration. While López’ philosophical epigram, taken from Jacques Ranciere’s The Politics of Aesthetics has flown right over my head, his dedication of this work to the late Zbigniew Karkowski is a moving one. Just 300 copies in total.

Jean-Luc Guionnet Eric La Casa

Mi Casa es Su Casa

I’ve sometimes wondered what neighbours make of the sounds audible from within these walls. If it’s anything like my impression of audio-idiocy piped over from nearby student tenements then I should probably watch my step. Perhaps you also wonder why others don’t hear what you do. Luckily, musician/sound artists Jean-Luc Guionnet and Eric La Casa are on hand to shed some light on this intellectual blind spot and may even change the way you feel about what’s keeping you awake at night, though perhaps not. La Casa (at least) is an old hand at locational recordings, having put out a number of collaborative projects over the last few years, several of which involving Guionnet and other people’s houses-as-listening-spaces. Home: Handover (POTLACH P314) is, however, no ordinary field recording.

On paper at least it presents a daunting prospect, consisting of four CDs themed identically on the experiences and process(es) of music appreciation, related by four Glasgow inhabitants who, as they introduce their favourite music in the comfort of their homes, become the actors in their own stories, while in a sense inverting the entrenched artist/audience hierarchy. If the shelves of available music biographies serve as any indication, there is plenty of interest in the creative stages between artistic inspiration and realisation, while the listener’s emotional response is quantified purely in terms of sales figures (or in Elvis’ case, a self-gratifying album title). But La Casa isolates and examines the listener end of the process, allowing subjects to demonstrate the value of their own status; freely explaining their music preferences, listening habits and histories while the music assumes a variable background role. As each subjects speaks, La Casa continues to record as he moves around the house, finally surrendering his microphone to the subject to continue their ruminations. Quite self-consciously at times, as in the case of Lisa, our first subject, who wonders aloud what you and I will make of her thoughts about New Order’s ‘Blue Monday’. Others are more self-assured and even deliberate, as with Tango Crash fan and audiophile, Tim Nunn. What you make of their music tastes is one thing, because extending as far as ‘Evita’, something will likely chafe, but only the hardest of hearts will deny the common coin of music-love.

Beyond the walls of the house, the above recordings are piped into a live setting via headphones to an improvising quintet comprising male and female voices, saxophone, guitar and percussion. The musicians interpret the recordings (inaudible to the audience) according to prearranged rules, dividing sounds loosely into melody, rhythm and sonic interference, thus avoiding redundancy or intrusion. Just as interestingly, the vocalists’ real-time shadowing of our subjects comprises an amusing challenge, managing some adept turn-taking, but not without a deliciously awkward undertone – one effect of adding a non-native English speaker I suppose. The sense of exiting the very comfort zone that the original recordings are set in keeps things spontaneous into the third phase of listening: the recorded aggregate is handed on to a third party, Keith Beattie, who listens and responds, ever whimsically, to the recordings at home by way of speech or ad lib musical gestures. For the fourth and final stage Guionnet and La Casa overlay/collage everything recorded thus far, serving it up with selective editing. This is perhaps the most calculated stage, with our conceptualists ensuring that the preceding haphazardness is seen to fit more or less into a specific structure, ultimately ensuring that individual predilection can be categorised, perhaps the way Amazon does with sales algorithms.

At the other end of the listening process I honestly don’t know what to make of all this. Four discs certainly seems rather excessive for mere tomfoolery, but I’m left with more questions than answers. What exactly does the structural identity of each disc say about the value of the individual listening experience? Is all music pop these days? Are we to regard our innermost experiences as a generic by-product of the music industry? Look beneath the seeming identity into the variegation of the moment-by-moment listening experience? What would Jorge-Luis Borges’ character Funes – who could provide a different label for every split second of existence – have made of this? Better questions than nothing I suppose. All told, while not for casual listening, this is certainly a remarkable and thought-provoking endeavour that does offer intelligent new perspectives on seemingly familiar experiences.