Tagged: field recordings

It’s a thin line…


Devin DiSanto
Tracing A Boundary

This is an odd one. At first, this sounds like a fairly standard airy slab field recording. Someone, presumably DiSanto, is going about his business. We can hear the sounds of people and traffic in the background, and what sounds like DiSanto rummaging around. Occasionally there are more dissonant sounds, a loud hissing, for example, which suggests some other activity. There’s the odd twang of a guitar and ukulele at around the 35 minutes mark. Not exactly the most dynamic thing I’ve ever heard, but actually quite engaging. There’s looseness to it, a lack of focus that renders it pretty engaging, not engaging the deep listening way that you might listen to a more intense nature recording, but the kind of pleasure you get on those afternoons when you can hear the neighbours bustling around in their backyard and you can’t help but eavesdrop.

Yet there are several things that hint this might not be as lackadaisical a recording as you might expect on first listen. The first thing is the number of musicians credited on the back of the CD. Trumpet, trombone, two guitarists and a ukulele – not to mention a bass clarinet credited to DiSanto himself. Then there’s the fact that, as well as these musicians, a group of different people are credited as ‘performers’. Finally, there are the periodic vocal interventions from Desanto, mainly announcing lengths of time. So, for example, at around the 13-minute mark, he says ‘Eight minutes’.

What is going on? If I’m honest, I have no idea. But I like it. It’s as if Disanto has assembled his musicians for a Wandelweiser-style quiet performance, but one where the process of setting up and preparing to play is as important as the playing itself. By doing this, it unpicks the conventions of this kind of performance. It seems to conflate the bustling, workaday nature of preparation with the intense focus of the playing – an act which itself combines as it does the physical acts of plucking or bowing with the intellectual activity of listening and responding to other musicians – into a single plane of action.

Or it might be something completely different. There’s no talking, for one thing – apart from the aforementioned vocal interjections – which undermines my thesis that we’re eavesdropping on preparations for a performance. It’s all very mysterious. But it is a playful mystery, like Tom Waits’ ‘What’s He Building?’ as performed by the cast of The Good life. It’s something that invites us as listeners to join the dots that DiSanto has left for us, pushing us to bring our own view of what we think this piece should be. An enigmatic, beguiling and yet strangely satisfying work.

Common Bloop

Another odd package received from Tape Noise which arrived here 2nd September 2013. We’ve had a number of these over the years, most recently noted by Darren Wyngarde in a review which also brought forth a supportive comment from one Belle Blue, calling our attention to the unique position occupied by Tape Noise and his community art venue ‘No 10 Decimal Place’. For this latest bundle, Tape Noise sent us a couple of CDRs instead of cassette tapes. The usual practice, if I understand it correctly, is that each cassette tape exists in an edition of one single copy, made available for sale on eBay, under the series “ONeOFF”. These mini-CDRs also have hand-made covers, hand-decorations on the disc surface made with a Sharpie pen and with little attempt to conceal the brand of CDR. The contents, when spun, are likewise pretty inscrutable; low key murmurings, ill-defined events, field recordings that aren’t much more than eavesdropping, bizarre poetry recits, distant droney grumbling…nothing is explained, no context is given, no “track titles” or anything so boringly conventional. Not much to listen to; hardly anything to hear. I’m slowly beginning to get the sense that Tape Noise releases are about as non-musical / anti-art as it’s possible to be.

That said, there is in fact a wealth of contextual detail in the enclosed hand-written letter from Mr Tape Noise (decorated with his own doodles and drawings supplied by his young daughter), which identifies CD 1 as Common Bloop and CD2 as The Cabbage; and now that I look more closely, I can see these titles are indeed written in brio on the covers, in very small handwriting. According to these annotations, The Cabbage “starts with a live recording from a Weird Garden gig in Lincoln at Decimal Place…where a few people from up here have put together some experimental music events. Pete Rollings has helped a lot. I shall see if I can send more of his stuff to you. The other two steam engine field recordings were done in Norfolk from Yaxam and they are un-edited as I always find it so easy to lose the original quality of the recording once you start messing about with it.” I think these statements should persuade you of the seriousness of Tape Noise’s intent, and there are numerous clues provided as to his defining aesthetic.

Further indications are given in another enclosure, this one written in red ink on top of printouts from eBay pages. Here the creator reflects on the place of art in the marketplace, what “publication” actually means in 2014, how art may tend to be defined by those who buy it as much as those who create it, and what happens to the buyer and seller in the process. He positions all of this in the context of social media, mobile phones, and the web, which he claims have “really shaped the way people interact, with regard to selling their second hand goods and home made stuff, with both positive and negative attributes…it is worthy of investigation I think.” He illustrates the trend of his arguments with a diagram which proposes the marketplace as a three-tier structure, comprising Cloud Street, the High Street, and the Underground. A ruler at the side of this chart indicates some form of metric. Notice how the Underground layer contains skulls and bones within the measurable portion of the diagram, yet there seems to be even further activity taking place at a much lower level – a level which evades the scale, and is quite literally “off the map”. I have included numerous scans and photos, for the curious reader to investigate further. Suffice to say this project is asking quite pointed questions about the fugitive and intangible nature of art, yet doing so through a continuous (and presumably quite prolific) stream of tangible product.

Hermit Crabs


Here’s a teamup between Ian Holloway, the English mystic who I think resides in Swansea, with the American fellow Banks Bailey, nomad of the Arizona desert zones. Strange Pilgrims (QUIET WORLD FORTY FOUR) is a single half-hour cut, for the most part assembled and montaged by Holloway using as a starting point a field recording of a Hermit Thrush sent to him by Banks. True poets have already identified this bird as significant; according to Walt Whitman, the Hermit Thrush stands for the voice of all Americans when he wrote a threnody on the death of Honest Abe Lincoln. Said Thrush also trills a melody in part of T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land. I say this to confirm smart choice on part of Banks. But that’s also a considerable burden to place on the beak of one poor bird. Can Holloway up the ante on these poetic predecessors? He’s man enough to try. He radically repurposed the song of that bird through extensive treatments, making cutups and varispeed interventions, until he had “what sounded something like a bamboo flute”. Holloway then proceeded to add his own field recordings to the tableau – mostly of a water-based nature – and additional wispy, ambient electronic drones of his own manufacture. This “blending” approach is nowadays a commonplace among many musicians and sound artists, so what I claim is distinctive about Holloway is his (a) his sense of atmosphere – Strange Pilgrims reverberates with a spooked-out, twilight vibe that verges on the occult – and (b) his deft, light touch in making these subtle assemblies. He didn’t just throw sounds together in ill-suited juxtapositions; rather, he worked hard to achieve a perfect equilibrium between the natural sounds and the electronic / digital interpolations, aiming for due diligence with the Thrush as much as the environmental feeling. He succeeded. This unassuming gem weaves a potent spell and casts a strong mood. Perfect listening for the midnight hour. Cover art is from “a found stained glass window”. I wish Holloway could have named which church he found it in, unless he found the window lying under a bramble bush. Clearly it’s modern. Maybe an ecclesiologist could identify the image for us. From September 2013.


Recent missive from underground Italian electronics duo st. ride is Conquistare Il Mondo (NIENTE RECORDS VOLUME 11), a title which translates as “conquer the world” and which is underscored with a cover of two pennants at sea which may mean something to a mariner or swimmer; anyone well versed in flag signals is welcome to write in with useful information, please. Given the Marxist bent of these highly critical Italian creators, the title may well refer to the current state of monopoly Capitalism and its inexorable grind, but may also be an ironic comment on this band’s chances for financial success on the order of One Direction – not that they’re actively seeking same. As regular readers may know, we’re very keen on st. ride’s “primitivo” approach to belching forth fiery tranches of synthesized and rhythmic noise. What strikes me about Conquistare Il Mondo is that the abrasive edges I usually expect to hear (I have a special tin helmet which I wear when playing their records, with their name painted on the front) have been slightly mollified in favour of strange, detuned, continuous drone effects and remorseless pulsations, such that you’ve only got to put the CD on and the entire air is filled with invading flying saucers in a matter of moments. The pace and tempo varies from a torpid, malevolent gloom to a species of joyless dance music, where the practice of hopping about and rubbing your shirtless sweaty body against others in the press of the rave situation is reduced to a mechanical, meaningless action, where the exact inverse of good-time party vibes are what you take home on the ride in the cab at 4 AM. These clear-eyed sharp-headed Genoese bastards Edo Grandi and Maurizio Gusmerini may not be your go-to guys when you need a fun-loving DJ set for your 18th birthday party, but they sure as hell pass on a palpable sense of ugly, growling discontent with the modern world, without even muttering a single lyric to aid their case. All studio recordings on this one; arrived 20 September 2013.

Nature & Organisation


Adrian Shenton & Banks Bailey
Wrapped In Clover

Between nature sounds and singing bowls, this CDr begins. Four tracks of little chirping birds mixed with synthesised sound and atmospheric ambient music. There is a pressed flower on a laminated card inside a limited edition of 50 copies. With a Spring note it has the ambiance of a lush green parc as a place to chill out. Gargling water sound throughout the CD easily gives the music a flow, made by nature and coloured by the musicians. But the pianos (synth?), played on most if not all the tracks, kill the mood – bringing you back to muzak, along with the singing bowl, which is also prevalent throughout this album. On the whole, there are some good ideas which could be developed with the field recordings or in Brian Eno’s spirit, but there is a sense of naivety taking hold, in some hippie genre, that doesn’t always fit with the intention.



Main have been active since the mid-1990s with lots of good ambient releases. Their music is full of drone and reverberation, static noises and extended percussion sections. This new release on the Mego label is somehow looking for a new direction. Tracks I and IV are very much a mix of Musique Concrète like Main’s classic ambient style. Of course this release was recorded in GRM Studios in Paris which is not entirely incompatible with these two tracks. That said, the other tracks are divided into levels of sounds, varying from the quiet and reverberating to the resonant, as if everything were fading away and lost in wave after wave of echoes. However the composition is more precise than most classical ambient music, with lots of changes in direction and sudden shifts in the organisation of the sounds and its reverberation. Main has been composing this type of music for many years now, giving the impression of new perspectives on classical music inspired by Brian Eno. It does have a bit of a 90s sound though, a special kind of research on resonances within the echoes and distant frequencies.

View From the Interior


David Berezan
Allusions Sonores
CANADA empreintes DIGITALes IMED 13122 (2013)

Always grateful to take receipt of new releases from a favourite electroacoustic label: empreintes DIGITALes, whose releases of benchmark collections by Monique Jean and Manuella Blackburn have previously wowed me to annoying verbosity. David Berezan’s a new name to me, but he upholds the label’s reputation for quality product; this set of allusive sounds reflecting everything I enjoy about electroacoustic music. While they are said to inhabit different bodies, Berezan and Blackburn display a strong thematic and audible kinship in their respective works. Both have produced pieces in and about Japan for one thing, and both have an appetite for exotic instruments. Accordingly, Berezan constructs the lush but byzantine second piece, ‘Thumbs’ (2011), from a single plucked note on a Balinese thumb piano; a note he gets right inside: stretching it every which way in and around our ears and bodies.

It is a compositional discipline that informs every piece, each with its distinct identity, which digital processing never detracts from. Take ‘Nijo’ (2009), with its origins in customised Japanese ‘nightingale’ flooring. Otherwise stable and silent, certain castle floorboards were raised ever so slightly as to ‘sing’ if and when an intruder stood upon them, alerting security to their presence. Perhaps for the possibility of emergency, the piece forsakes the stealthy motion one might expect for the torrent of bouldering acoustics we actually hear. Other tracks are more subdued, but no less fascinating: ‘Buoy’ (2011) is almost ambient in its representation of swelling seawater, its patina of digital glitter endowing the soothing sounds with an almost rotoscoped, fictional veneer.

In total, these five pieces offer us a glimpse of the potential breadth of the composer’s work, and I suppose newcomers (in particular) a view of some of the more palatable possibilities afforded by electroacoustic music. Even those of us as jaded about ‘experimental’ music as much as sausage factory pop or electronic should surely find solace in such careful craft.


Ab Ovo
PORTUGAL CRÓNICA 085-2014 CD (2014)

Cool, calm & collected collection of clicks n’cuts piped in from Portugal, courtesy of Miguel Carvalhais and Pedro Tudela, aka duo @C. While not an explicitly maritime enterprise, these exploratory and oft-asymmetrical offerings seemingly probe fissures in the ocean depths to reveal a complex and hitherto concealed world of electronic miniatures; doing so amidst a palpable atmospheric pressure, which is offset by the curious movements of such delicate creatures, and illuminated by an occasional sweep of radiance.

Sometimes as long as twenty minutes, these five tracks constitute the soundtrack to ‘OVO’, a multimedia puppetry piece by the theatre group Teatro de Marionetas do Porto. A little YouTube searching produces an eye-catching array of situations for this play alone, which resembles in places a western variation on Japanese bunraku, some puppets requiring several nimble, black-garbed manipulators. While their thespian antics are not always immune from derision, the puppetry is quite novel, and the footage offers some context for the music and its high level of abstraction.

The album’s staple sound is a low-key, flickering fluorescence: as unhurried and eminently fascinating as krill viewed through a microscope. Diversion emerges in the spell of robotic alien-speak in ‘100’, while ‘101’ is hijacked by a brutish variant on the signature style, inducting listeners into a briefly heightened tension level, like a submarine hull creaking under immense pressure. All in all, it’s not all that alien from the hitherto popular ‘glitch’ sound of Mille Plateaux et al., though a good deal more streamlined, than that which I’ve heard anyway.


Seattle Phonographers Union
Building 27 WNP-5

There are only so many clichés one can wheel out to describe the dark ambient location recording, and I’ve flogged them all to death. Differentiating the one from the homogenous many and doing so persuasively is the reviewer’s lot, though there are worse jobs I’ll admit. I suppose a similar problem pesters the artist, for whom novelty is by necessity the child of invention, but for every ten of whom we might find one with something interesting going on. The others badly lack friends – or at least honest ones – to talk them out of serving up some ‘same old’ gloomy slop they recorded in a spooky, abandoned factory. Glad am I to report then that the Seattle Phonographers Union falls into the fortuitous 10%. Why badger friends when you can simply recruit them?

This is certainly the case with the duo Howlround, on whose recent recordings I have shovelled glow-in-the-dark accolades. Their haphazard reel-to-reel merging of out-of-sync sound recordings yielded us something genuinely engaging. They also know when and where to make an edit: a skill in woefully short supply in this field (pun intended). The 16-strong SPU also belongs to this illustrious fraternity of the darkness, thanks to these two side-long hunks of monolithic menace, which far better resemble electroacoustic composition than snapshots from a perfunctory site inspection. With an almost painful freighting of invisible somethings into near view across immeasurable spans, the sounds shift (in their own time) between miles of hulking reverb to pin-drop immediacy and back, in seamless fashion.

One might expect a painstaking but judicious editing process to be the key here, but far from it. What we hear arises from onstage improvisations using previously made field recordings, within selected spaces, in this case a disused aircraft hanger and an unfinished nuclear power station. And it’s unedited to boot. It must have been the treat for the audience to experience these booming acoustics so directly, but the current living room bombardment seems an adequate booby prize. Feels rather like being on the set of Terry Gilliam’s latest, The Zero Theorem, though without all the tacky futurist zeitgeist baubles that left it a weak sibling to Brazil. I’ve no idea how many of the collective were ‘performing’ on their laptops at the time of these sets, but collectively they are adept at obviating intrusiveness and present a strong case for a ‘strength in numbers’ approach to field recording.

Dry Stone Walls

Black Mountain Side

Mountain Black is Martin Kay, an Australian sound artist based in Melbourne, specialising in sound art, field recordings, compositions, installations, and soundtrack work. On Closing In (MOOZAK MZK#006) we’ve got a very subtle blend of slow-moving sound episodes, where the edges between field recordings and (electronically-generated?) ambient sounds are continually blurred and confused. He has no interest in site-specific recordings as far as we can tell, unless naming a track ‘Singapore’ qualifies as identifying a particular locale. Though there are 10 index points on the album, this feels like it might work when played back as a start-to-finish suite of near-imperceptible sonic musings. Kay does get briefly agitated about halfway through ‘Non-Diegetic’, and ‘Glass Eaters Part II’ contains its share of thunder-cloud massing droney drama. The most eventful cut is ‘Silver’, just 2 and a half minutes of mysterious burbling intercut with untraceable sound sources, following a wistful dream logic. Quite nice. But for the most part this chilly material is opaque, inscrutable, mysterious. From August 2013.

Acousmatic Hollows

Another Australian sound artist is Tattered Kaylor, which is an alias for Tessa Elieff. She’s got ideas about the environment which involve using hollows, caves, and cavities, and has installed her work in places that offer natural surround-sound effects. Sombre Nay Sated (STASISFIELD SF-1101) contains three of her pieces, originally intended for installations. In each instance, she’s reprocessing and reconstructing tapes provided by other creators, although she did create sounds for ‘Waves’, the first piece here, which is a fairly intriguing work of transformation which builds up to an impressive, swelling climax – like gentle furies blowing up a storm inside a vast cavern. ‘Taken To Borroomba’ isn’t as thrilling though, a vague meander-fest mostly comprised of outdoor field recordings edited together – campfire, winds, thunderstorm, amounting to not much more than the document of a soggy camping holiday. ‘The Broken Return’ is quite a nice piece of metallic creaking and vague murmuring, almost manifesting a rather evil presence; it’s derived in ways I know not from a field recording of ‘Minigit’, an art installation by Andreas Trobollowitsch. Trobollowitsch seems quite an interesting creator actually, and I’m surprised I don’t know more of his music – he uses for instance prepared guitars, live electronics, radios, and feedback as part of his setup. I’m not clear to what extent Tessa Elieff has transformed this original source, but sonically speaking it’s largely in keeping with the general tenor of the rest of the album. From August 2013.

Dem Dry Bones

Sebastiane Hegarty contributed an essay about Guy Sherwin’s film work to a DVD of Sherwin’s work produced by the Lux in about 2008. He’s also a sound artist. Unlike the two artists above, who work on a grand scale with outdoor field recordings, Hegarty proposes a microscopic view of the world in his collection Eight Studies of Hearing Loss (VERY QUIET RECORDS VQR007). On these eight imperceptible tracks, we’re hearing the sound of chalk dissolving in vinegar. The chalk is taken from geological samples collected from around the world. Each cretaceous sample represents a different geological period from millions of years ago. To put it another way, what we’re hearing is very small acoustic events generated from the bones of dead dinosaurs. In the accompanying sheet of notes, Hegarty points out that these experiments create “a release of ancient gas”, but also speculates on the idea that it’s an “audible escape from substance”; I suppose he means it’s as though we can hear the process of extinction taking place in some way. He was inspired to do this work by Dr Simon Park, a microbiologist from the University of Surrey who has interesting ideas about the art-science interface, and Sarah Craske who donated one of the chalk samples from Lyme Regis. It’s clear he’s knowledgeable about geology, chemistry, and the history of dinosaurs, and his speculative ruminations on what this sound can mean to us are quite philosophical in nature. In short, the idea that “we can listen to the loss of substance occurring” is a very intriguing one, but I wish he’d worked a bit harder to make it more interesting to listen to. As sound art, it’s dull; it flatly refuses to sublimate itself into anything more than the not-very-interesting document of a routine chemical process. I completely applaud Hegarty’s strenuous efforts to prove to us that fossils contain a great deal more information than we might suppose, but for me it’s not enough just to write that down in an essay; if you’re proposing that as sound art, then I want to hear it on the tape. Since it might be regarded as a compromise to process the recordings in any way, it means he’s confined to strictly scientific methods, and not those of an electro-acoustic composer. Thus, he’s apparently unable to perform this aural transformation, so I doubt I’ll be revisiting this one. If I could add some constructive criticism, it would have been nice to see some additional visual components to the experiment…maybe photographs of the chalk samples, map references, images of “before and after” the vinegar was added, more details about the chemical process, pictures of his equipment. Not saying these would have been especially interesting to look at, but they might add conceptual weight to the experiment. But I do like the cover artworks – a shell printed on the wrapper envelope, and on the front cover a little cigarette card with a printed dinosaur image. That’s visual poetry. Ian Hamilton Finlay could have done no better. The record label is run by Tony Whitehead. From August 2013.

Divided By Nine


Francisco López / Luca Sigurtà
FRATTONOVE fratto021 CD (2013)

I’m not sure what the connection is between the two works on this split release. Perhaps they are two interpretations of same source material. If so, it’s hard to tell. But frankly I don’t care, as this CD kicks some serious ass. Francisco López is a playwright of sound art, in that his pieces can be composed of a series of discrete sonic monologues, dialogues, or crowd scenes. At least for me there always seems to be a sense of drama, of events unfolding, taking the listener to unexpected plot twists, revelations and epiphanies. In his track entitled ‘untitled#294′, field recordings of natural and man-made environments, machinery, or his beloved insects are filtered, looped, and processed in that Lópezian trademark manner. Moments of near silence or total silence (listen closely or crank up the volume) are follow by intense blasts of in your face density. It’s all very exciting and an enjoyable ride. Luca Sigurtà‘s track ‘Eaves’ almost feels similar to López’s. Field recordings are the source material for the most part, but some actual instruments find their way into the mix. And while López’s piece is broken up into discrete acts with interludes of silence, Sigurtà’s is free flowing. Lyrical moments try to break through but are swallowed up. An excellent album. Crank it up.


Alberto Boccardi / Lawrence English
FRATTONOVE fratto022 LP (2013)

The concept is straight forward: Alberto Boccardi assembles a three part suite using the music of Antonio LaMotta as conducted by David Mainetti. Later Alberto sent Lawrence English the material and tells him “do what thou wilt”. Alberto’s side is a three part suite comprised of french horn, double bass, cello, autoharp, vocals, soprano saxophone and electronics. It starts off with French horns playing a repeating four note pattern upon which layers of the other instruments and electronic sounds are added. The mix gets thicker and thicker until suddenly someone trips on the power strip in the studio as it were and everything stops, sans some spinning object. Or perhaps it’s an instrument. Whatever it is, I can only describe it as the sound of rotation. Again the same pattern of layering occurs, but this time it rather sneaks up on you. Buried in this construction are some guitar-like histrionics, which after a few minutes crescendo and then once again suddenly deflate and the music goes down the drain. On the third part Boccardi takes a minimal approach. It begins with looped voices singing a four note pattern for a few bars, then switches to some repeating electronic tones, coupled with some keyboard lines awash with tremolo effects. End of side one. On side two (I imagine flipping the record over as I only have a cdr promo to work with) English utilizes a minimal approach to the material. We kick off with a short prelude of the same looping chorus. Then it’s off to a fifteen minute minimal ambient exercise. Time-stretched and down-pitched sounds, repeated, layered, processed into hazy drones. At the end the chorus returns for a short coda but at a lower pitch. It’s all pleasant enough but I keep feeling that something is lacking. Perhaps it would have benefited from some vinyl crackles and surface noise, or even the hiss of a twice-dubbed cassette copy. Mr. Boccardi’s side has a lot more going on and offers a lot more to my ears. It makes its point quickly and precisely. While Mr. English’s side is a pleasant excursion into wallpaper music, his remixing of the material lacks adventure.

Fog Day Afternoon

Luca Forcucci
Fog Horns

I love fog horns. Or things that sound like fog horns. Or any sound that’s buried in the background, pulsing, bleeping, operating just below the surface yet conveying some very important information of some form. Unfortunately I don’t live near any body of water where fog horns are a necessity, otherwise I’d be hanging around the docks all day. So I am jealous that one day in 2011 Luca Forcucci landed in San Francisco after a long flight and was confronted by these murky whale-like sounds, unintended members of the wind instrument family known as fog horns. The title track is full of their distant heavy sighing. These sounds alone would make a fine track, but Forcucci mixes in vinyl cuts, beats and scratches. They seem really out of place, but somehow they work. No doubt the bird chirps and footsteps also help cook up this batch of Verfremdungseffekt stew. It’s quite an odd eleven minutes, but I dig such things. The next track is also about eleven minutes in length and consists mainly of waves crashing against the shoreline. These are occasionally filtered and ring modulated into high crackles. While waves are nature’s white noise and quite enjoyable, at eleven minutes all that water just becomes filler, since there’s not much else going on. Happily the final and longest track is a return to strange sonic mix of the opening track. “Winds” starts off with a filtered cistern like drone, to which Forcucci layers with water sounds, jangling objects, and a harmonious bass drone which sounds like its played on the neighbor’s stereo system at such a volume that its bleeding through the walls. Its there, but you can’t quite make it out. In reality it’s Michael Kott supplying cello murk and haze. The cello here answers the call of the fog horns, with its obscured warning.

Deison / Galán
LOUD! CD07 (2013)

Italian sound artist Deison met up with Sara Galán, a cellist based in Valencia, Spain for this short album of dirty electronics and processed cello drones and a sprinkle of field recordings. Like the cover imagery this is a hazy atmospheric affair, suggestive of a soundtrack to a film which doesn’t exist. No doubt it would be one with missing frames and peeling nitrate film stock. The cello sounds are marked by long single strokes intoned like foghorns along some lifeless port on a rocky coast. The electronic elements never take the center stage, as they seem to only work in service of the droning cello, acting to process it and thicken up the sounds, or add some faint morse code like dots & dashes. Some of the tracks sound like acoustic outtakes from My Bloody Valentine demo tapes after they’ve been taped over a dozen times and bathed in copious amounts of reverb. Despite the grey tonal palette this is a rather pleasant affair which grows upon me with each listen. Sometimes the indistinct sounds don’t hold up to scrutiny as there is not much there once you peel back the layers of smoke and fog. Smartly the runtime is only 35 minutes, which is just the right amount for this assemblage as anything longer would have diluted its strengths.

Simon Whetham
Never So Alone
CRONICA 073-2013 CD (2013)

An album of field recordings is never something new nowadays, so the question is how does this one make it any different, or rather, worthy of your leisure listening time in this world overloaded with sounds demanding your attention? I’d say you won’t regret listening to Never So Alone, as this one is pretty damn sweet. While it’s hard to present sounds that are not generated by yourself as being your own, Whetham does a fine damn good job of taking the sounds that he gathered and composing them into an album’s worth of material that held my attention for the duration of the ride. I didn’t hear any novel approaches to composing with field recordings, but Whetham does demonstrate a skillful hand and ear when it comes to assembling such sounds together to make them compelling and enjoyable. The sounds were gathered in Lisbon, Portugal in 2010. Throughout the 78 minutes divided into 7 tracks we hear heavy drones that could be air shafts or the time-stretched echoes of some ancient rusted water cistern, rain hitting window panes, metal objects being banged about while construction machinery grinds away, wind chimes overdubbed into a cacophonous wall of sound, long tones that are mutated into hypnotic organ sounds, sea waves hitting the shore filtered into oblivion, etc. Or maybe the sounds are not at all like what I describe. In any case this is a fine addition to the canon of field recordings.

Time and Tide


Another exquisite set of “hyperealist music” by the American one-of-a-kind composer, Noah Creshevsky. As is well known he works with samples of recorded music to build his extremely detailed and intricate compositions, in the process generating works of breath-taking complexity. Most listeners declare them as “impossible”, because they can’t credit what they’re hearing. Many of the actual sounds he uses are in fact recognisable, because they’re derived from musical instruments we’re already familiar with; it’s his configurations, the speed, the edits, the intensity, the juxtapositions, that’s what creates the exhilarating (some find it shocking) effects of his music. On this new album The Four Seasons (TZADIK TZ 8097), he’s taking a look back at his own canon of work from 1992 to the present, to present a retrospective or historic exhibition of sorts. Beyond that I can’t tell you much; I don’t think he’s sampled his own back catalogue in an endless regurgitation. A large number of talented musicians and singers are credited on the inside cover, and it’s from their work the finely-stitched musical fabric has been derived. Perhaps he has preserved their original source material from previous projects, and is now using it as the basis for the present recording. What comes across most strongly to this listener is that The Four Seasons represents an updated and warped form of classical chamber music; brass, woodwinds, percussion and strings are rearranged into amazing new forms, yet still preserve the intimacy and warmth of a Mozart string quartet or Schubert’s Trout. Likewise the singers, while never completing a recognisable word as their work is parsed into micro-syllables and abstracted phonemes, start to resemble a slightly absurd and cartoonish version of a Purcell opera. I have no doubt that Creshevsky is not intending to mock classical music (or any genres of music); he’s presenting an alternative, futuristic and intensified musical experience which is intensely satisfying to the listener, if we can clear enough space in our minds to make way for it. This release is not as breathless or full-on as some I’ve heard from Creshevsky, and with its similarities to classical form and surface, may be the ideal place for a new listener to start. From 25 July 2013.


Another work which uses the four seasons structure is Chris Watson’s In St Cuthbert’s Time (TOUCH TO:89). The idea of it is simple – field recordings made in Lindisfarne, of the weather conditions and wildlife and the seashore, limited to what St Cuthbert himself, or any other seventh century saint, would actually have heard on Lindisfarne at the time, hence the subtitle “A 7th Century Soundscape of Lindisfarne”. As it happens, I visited the Lindisfarne Gospels exhibition last summer (2013) when it was at Durham, and an installation version of Watson’s work was conincident with the exhibit. I made my way to a small side chapel in the Cathedral and was half expecting an extremely “immersive” event with a large PA and surround-sound effects. Instead, the field recordings were playing back over a pair of modestly-sized white speakers, no bigger than what you may have for your PC. This was the artist’s intent; he expressly wanted to keep playback at a low volume, I think to create a suitably unobtrusive ambience, sounds you had to strain to hear, and to suggest a non-specific spiritual dimension through the act of concentration. The booklet is packed with mini-essays about the history of Lindisfarne, the structure of the Anglo-Saxon calender, the creation of the Lindisfarne gospels, and the life of St Cuthbert. The sound art itself is structured around the four seasons, and the field recordings document the avian wildlife one would tend to hear in that area around Winter, Lencten, Sumor and Haerfest. Birds, water, air – it’s all extremely pleasant to listen to, and the recordings are vivid and clear, but unlike with previous Watson compositions, I’m not hearing that much depth of meaning. Most conspicuously absent for me is the strong – almost mystical – sense of location that is usually one of his signature themes; his best field recordings have been undeniably rooted in the geographic location whence they came, a point firmly emphasised by the citation of grid references. However, in this instance, that would be to ignore all the components of the package which do strongly connect the work to Lindisfarne: sound, texts, images, photographs, and the selection and arrangement of the field recorings themselves. While not quite the time-travel experience one might hope for from the title, this is an accomplished piece of work. From July 2013.




Zeltini is a former soviet military base located in northeastern Latvia. The abandoned base housed nuclear missiles in large horizontal bunkers. Amongst the decay and debris of weapons of deterrence also lies a giant pink granite head of Lenin. Which sounds like a great place for a sonic environmental incursion. Five individuals did such a thing one day in November 2008 and documented their acoustic actions on four synchronized binaural recordings. Maksims Shentelevs, Eamon Sprod, John Grzinich, Kaspars Kalninsh, and Felicity Mangan use for the most part only objects and materials found in the bunkers. Pipes clang, metal objects are dragged, scraped and slammed in this reverberant space. The sonic explorers scrape away through the empty space, unleashing the ghosts of previous military activity. Their movement is never arbitrary but maintains a sense of composed actions. The first 30 minutes stays in the same clanging vein, then shifts into a more subdued approach and two sounds from out of the bunker milieu are introduced: the shifting sounds of a radio broadcast in Russian and then a jews harp. After a while the metal clanging returns albeit more subtle and then it wraps up with the sounds of water being splashed around to announce the end of the action. This is a CD to put on and fill your room with the sounds of another time and place, and experience a sonic incursion in your own environment.


Howard Stelzer & Frans de Waard
Pink Pearl
BOCIAN RECORDS be pp CD (2013)

The hazy and sometimes murky sounds of old cassettes and laptop produced sounds is what Stelzer & de Waard conjure up in this four track album. The tracks were assembled from recordings made either in person or via swapping sound files over a ten year period. This process of editing together disparate sources makes the music hard to place in time and space. It’s a thick sound, not drone, just hazy, hissy, and something easily to get lost in. The first three pieces range from 4 to 17 minutes, and are focused excursions of repetition and murkiness. The final piece, a side long slab called “here we are” clocks in at 24 minutes, and starts to drag midpoint with spare high pitched tones. As my mind begins to wander the piece suddenly comes back to life and teems with activity. Snippets of old tapes sneak into the mix and are recognizable. Laptop generated overtones almost hint at a melody…as much as an arrangement of three repeating tones can be considered such. Howard & Frans managed to bring it all home and end the piece in a satisfying way. If they had trimmed some of the meandering mid section, it would have only strengthened the work. Overall a real nice album of hiss and mud, with digital crackles and tones for those humid and overcast summer days or late night fogginess. Skip reading Stelzer’s linear notes about the album, as he sorta grouses about having to describe how the music was made. If you don’t want to say, then why bother saying that? I dig the sounds you’re making, so don’t sweat it.