Tunnel Radio

nov2015090

We’ve heard a few items from Seattle-based sound artist, composer and improviser Christopher DeLaurenti over the years, mainly in the area of what I would characterise as deconstructions of classical music, and especially our relationship to concert hall performances as members of the audience; such conceptual-ish works include Favorite Intermissions, and Of Silences Intemporally Sung. However, he’s also a paid-up phonographer type, by which we understand he’s a field-recording maestro of no small mien, and on the evidence of To The Cooling Tower, Satsop (GD STEREO GD024) he’s quite an exploratory one too. Here he is wandering about the tunnels of an abandoned nuclear power plant in Washington State, recording equipment strapped to his back, probably looking for all the world like a 21st-century version of a lunar spelunker exploring the ninth circle of Dante’s Inferno. What is it about American sound artists and big structures? They can’t get enough of ‘em, especially if they involve water in some way. I’m thinking of Richard Lerman of San Francisco larking about in the Houston Astrodome, although on the East Coast we have Eli Keszler and his ambitious Catching Net project, made by stringing up an abandoned water tower.

DeLaurenti briefly tells the story of this costly and wasteful public building project, which ran out of money after ten years of construction and left behind a 2-billion dollar debt, leaving a white elephant of gargantuan proportions to be ridiculed by the locals. Perhaps he relishes the idea of treating the resulting network of tunnels that joined either side of Washington State as a highly-expensive art project that went wrong; at any rate he successfully manages to repurpose it that way. He saw it as a gigantic and highly unusual resonating chamber, savouring its strange echoes and reverberations, hearing sounds coming from near and far. The very sound quality itself is far from straightforward, and you should listen out for the strange “smear” effect that delighted his ears. DeLaurenti claims his own sense of depth and space was altered by this acoustical experience. Throughout, the constant sound of water passing through concrete troughs creates an authentic non-musical drone; you can understand why there’s a school of thought that prefers this sort of naturalistic “found sound” to composed music.

This release is the second in the series which Geoff Dugan calls “Improvisational Architecture”, continuing a thoughtful line of works which can be traced back to those key (for me) 1990s releases Psychogeographical Dip and The Architecture of the Incidental, both chock-full of fascinating instances of how to explore, perceive and use modern urban spaces for purposes not originally intended. The idea of “playing” the city like an instrument is also one that will appeal to readers / listeners who enjoyed the Alvin Lucier Chambers rendition by Rinus van Alebeek. Lastly, there’s the embossed letterpress cover which uses detail from Axis, an artwork by Robert Lansden, reinforcing the notion that we’re exploring the circles of Hell. A superb release. Arrived 24 April 2015.

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