R K Faulhaber, Dugong Weeps, United States, Helen Scarsdale Agency, HMS062 limited edition cassette (2021)
He’s apparently the shy and retiring type, having released a small number of recordings into the public domain since 1989 at least, so when R K Faulhaber puts out another work, no matter how small it is, there’s sure to be rejoicing across the land – or at The Helen Scarsdale Agency anyway whose head honcho Jim Haynes worked with Faulhaber in Die Propylgruppe years ago. Despite its apparently whimsical title, “Dugong Weeps” is a challenging work of often unsettling atmospheres and gritty textures. Opening track (and title track as well) “Dugong Weeps for Baiji” – well, speak for yourselves, dugongs, your survival status is not so great either! – is as creepy as dark underwater electro-ambient tracks come with deep low-end drone in conversation with more shrill chirps and whistles, as though two marine mammal species, both in desperate need of help, really are trying to contact each other. Messages don’t fly back and forth all that easily either: no, they must make their way against strong ocean currents, migrating shoals of fish and strange objects booming their own sinister sonar; and they risk being pulled and spread apart by other species’ communications and strange chemical compounds in the briny deep. Whether the dugongs and the baijis are able to find common cause through their messages is hard to say, as various electronic noises and drones buzz and bubble continuously, and the mood of the track changes from dark to neutral as it progresses.
The rest of the album is very dynamic in its constant shifts from one set of textures and moods, and the contrasts within that set, to another with its complications, as we move from one track to the next. Some early pieces (“opearl” and “OCE”) are very playful and others (“mnydric” and “radiolariana”) are more introverted and can seem a bit ominous even as they hustle and bustle. The last three tracks are long but are not much different from the earlier short pieces in their busyness – if anything, being long, their dynamism has a better chance of drawing in listeners into their universe and listeners can feel more at ease before being ditched unceremoniously into the next piece.
It can be a little scary at first, like going on your first rollercoaster ride and not knowing what to expect, but with repeated hearings this album turns out to be amusing and eccentric in its own way. The sounds are amazingly clear and precise, their order in individual tracks appears completely organic, and the way in which they appear to ebb and flow in volume – and the vast worlds that open up in your head as a result – is astonishing. Even though everything you hear was created digitally, and as far as I’m aware no field recordings were used, the soundscapes have a life and bundles of energy all their own.