Tender Are The Ashes

Martin Kay is the Australian sound artist who came our way in 2014 under his Mountain Black alias. That release, Closing In, was a baffling and inscrutable piece of sound art, which may or may not have been based on field recordings. Today’s record, Stadium (AVANT WHATEVER 018), is very much based on field recordings and is also highly site-specific; it was created at Melbourne Cricket Ground, and concentrates mostly on voices. Come to that, voices are the conceptual thread running through the work, starting with the sounds of the crowd of cricket fans enjoying the game, but also including fragments of individuals, e.g. families out for the day chatting to each other, and on one track, the mechanical voice of the lift which takes the spectator from one level to another. He’s so intrigued by the workings of the building itself (a trope used by some other field recordists, though not as widespread as you might think) that he even records the ventilation system and starts exploring fences, railings, and various obscure parts of the stadium, such as the highest point in the seating bank that a human being can reach. At all times, the voices are audible – but often at a distance, or filtered through the layers of mechanical sound, or muffled by the surrounding architecture.

Kay then proceeds to follow his nose (or his ears), and takes his mics outside the stadium and into the local suburb of Richmond in Melbourne. In so doing he gets to a nearby railway station, a living room, the Yarra river, and a church – which is where the record finishes. Kay’s explanation is that he is following a “trajectory”, and that he “traces their lines of flight upwards and outwards”; he seems to be saying that the sound of these voices carries everywhere, and that if you live in Richmond there is virtually no escape from the haunting tones whenever a match is being played, so it must be hell for non-cricket fans in the summer (or whenever they play – I have no interest whatsoever in the game). In pursuing this trajectory, it has to be said Martin Kay fetches up in some quite lonely and remote sounding places, and a certain flavour of desolation creeps into these long and mysterious sounds. It may be simply because he’s so far away from the action, but there seems to be a deeper emotional pull at work here. By the time he gets to Saint Ignatius Church, all that ends up on the record is a faintly grim and empty white-noise drone, some of it caused by very distant traffic.

At one level Stadium can be read as a decent piece of process sound-art based on field recordings. Its documentary approach is reflected in its utterly prosaic titles, which are short sentences describing precisely where the recording was taken (lacking only a grid reference which Chris Watson might have supplied if he were doing this project). On another level, Stadium tells the story of a simple journey, which takes Martin Kay like a young Odysseus from the “thick of the action” into a quiet and solitary place, one associated with spiritual contemplation. Gradually the sound of the cheering cricket crowd evaporates through this journey, and the traveller ends up alone and far away from the teeming mass of humankind. From 26th September 2016.

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