Tagged: field recordings

Circle of Light: a low-key abstract soundtrack of beauty and imagination

Delia Derbyshire and Elsa Stansfield, Circle of Light, United Kingdom, Trunk Records, JBH061CD (2016)

From the deft fingers of Delia Derbyshire, the British electronic music pioneer who gave the world the original spooky version of the Doctor Who TV series theme music, comes this soundtrack to a half-hour film made in 1972 by photographer Pamela Bone. When first released, this film “Circle of Light” appeared in a number of film festivals around the world and was noted for Bone’s photographs placed on glass transparencies which were arranged in a slideshow structure to conform to a narrative detailing themes of nature favoured by Bone. These days the actual film itself is secondary to the abstract music soundtrack composed by Derbyshire and Stansfield, not least because the music is said to be the longest sound recording known to have been made by Derbyshire.

After a brief introductory description by film director / art collector Anthony Roland of Bone’s work and Bone’s artistic statement, the music launches on a journey that’s remarkably ethereal, controlled and restrained, and eerie and spacious. There are various spacey and alien effects and much is made of musique concrete recordings using nature-based sources, all of which contribute to the music’s strange and sometimes sinister qualities. Birdsong occasionally adds a cheerful mood in some parts but otherwise the soundtrack is a serene and steady work.

One definitely has the impression of being absorbed into a world of weird yet beautiful and quiet stately landscapes populated by exotic birds and animals that might have escaped from an imperial menagerie of unimagined rich strangeness. Long-lasting wind storms sigh through misty regions where life may be glimpsed through clouds of water vapour and thick bush. Insects sing their complex rhythmic songs. In the second half of the album the music drones become more threatening and the mood is sombre but tension eventually dissipates.

There are few recordings like this one where the music allows, even encourages listeners to run their own abstract art films behind their eyes and between their ears. This must be part of the genius of Derbyshire, that however strange or abstract her music is, her ego never dominates but instead allows the listener’s imagination to take her music and make something of it particular to that person.

Off Site

Test/Tone Documents (DRONE SWEET DRONE DSD018) is a new release from sound artist Thomas Tilly, whose work keeps growing on us here at TSP HQ. We normally associate him with field recordings as the starting point, but his work also mixes up such recordings with electronic music, and in places the whole Tilly career shades into some form of research, or investigation. On Le Cébron / Statics and Sowers, he did it with fields of broken ice at a lake in France, while on Script Geometry his starting point was the wildlife teeming in a rainforest environment. On Test/Tone Documents, his “subject” is a building in Reims, the modern arts centre La Cartonnerie, where he made this collection in 2007.

The aim appears to have been to document various sound events happening in the building, and – like many who have created similar statements – Tilly believes he has discovered the “central nervous system” of the building when he finds the electronic network that powers it, by which I suppose he covers everything from computers to lighting, lifts, air conditioning etc. We have encountered similar explorations by Francisco López (Buildings New York) and more recently Hannah Thompson and her work in Senate House, University of London. Tilly is evidently trying to make some statement about architecture and the use made of the building; he alludes to something rather intangible, suggesting that these sounds are merely traces of former activities, or “residual matter” as he would have it, and that in some way the four walls have “eroded” the sound made by these activities. This is shading into the metaphysical; I always reach for Nigel Kneale’s The Stone Tape as a comparison at this point, and want to ask the sound artist in question “is this what you mean?”. Kneale’s proposition was that the four walls of a building could actually record history by “capturing” the intense emotions of past violent events in the very fabric of its bricks and mortar; when these “records” of the events were replayed, we would see ghosts. It certainly terrified me as a teenager when I saw it on the telly in 1972.

Tilly’s investigations are thankfully more benign, and I found Test/Tone Documents to be a compelling listen, fascinated at the variety of textures on offer and listening with rapt attention as the building moves through its paces, like a friendly machine. If you’ve ever found yourself paying attention to an old fridge motor doing its stuff, you’ll understand why this might be of interest. Not only is it a vaguely reassuring sound, it even seems to tell a story (in an extremely abstract, bare-bones manner). The record thus succeeds in its aim to create a “listening space”; there is enough room here to wander around in, and breathe. López, in his work, made the New York building seem claustrophobic and alien; you are in no danger of that happening here. If you buy the full package (I only received a music CD and a one-sheet press handout) you get a set of documents printed on acetate (?), a poster, and a black sleeve hand-made by Jonathan Gowthorpe. From 10th August 2016.

Four Walls Recorded

Here is the latest release from Crustacés Tapes, sent to us from Montreal – an art-tape label whose understated releases usually arrive with a printed card that’s been hand-decorated and the minimal text has been applied on with a John Bull printing set. Ryoko Akama is a new name to these pages, but she’s a well-respected composer and sound artist who runs a label of her own, Melange Edition, and also co-edits a publication with the foreboding name of Reductive Journal. She’s extremely minimal; proud of her “almost nothing” aesthetic, her plan is to create small sound events which I suppose are taking place on the fringes of human perception, often using small everyday objects (toys, balloons, bottles) to trigger them.

In the case of Hako To Oto (CRUSTACÉS #8), the small object in question is a music box. If you spin the tape, you might hear the occasional note issuing from said box within the confines of the “rural hotel room” in Portugal where it was recorded. Mostly though, you’ll hear a lot of silence, a lot of room tone…this is also part of Akama’s plan, creating “situations that magnify temporal/spatial experience with silence, time and space.” I found this release very testing, with nothing in the way of aesthetic enjoyment to reward one’s patience. But I expect I’m approaching it all wrong. It’s very clear she has virtually no interest in the music played by that music box, and wants the sound to break up the silence, or to punctuate the silence in some way. Maybe she intends this punctuation to take place on a grand scale, as though drawing a map of the hotel room, using sound as callipers.

In a way I have to admire Ryoko Akama’s determination to refuse conventional “beauty” in this work, and it obstinately declines to become anything more than just a tiny music box making occasional sounds in a silent room; no existentialist “meaning”, no transcendence through repetition, no deep listening, not even an appreciation of the silence, which Francisco López might once have insisted on. If any of this is near the mark, then it’s possible that Ryoko Akama is setting out a new benchmark for what minimalism might mean in the area of sound art. For more of her compositions, text-scores, installation pieces and so forth, see her site; she has performed Alvin Lucier’s Music on a Long Thin Wire, but that composition seems positively eventful compared to this. Arrived 29 July 2016.

An Insect on the Other Side of the World Climbing up a Table Leg: a quirky and charming stream-of-consciousness work

Matthew Revert, An Insect on the Other Side of the World Climbing up a Table Leg, Caduc CD #CA17 (2016)

A beguiling work composed of spoken word monologues, field recordings, samples, occasional acoustic guitar noodling and off-key singing, “An Insect …” heralds a growing body of experimental music by Melbourne-based absurdist novelist / graphic designer Matthew Revert. This recording nods in the direction of improv, drone, light noise and neo-primitive folk without being captured completely by any of these categories. It’s quite a busy release with hardly any pauses or lapses in the continuous free-form patter of sound and I marvel that Revert is able to keep up the brisk pace without losing a beat. (Of course there would be have been a lot of cutting and pasting but any joins can hardly be heard.) All the sounds appear to be completely natural with very little processing and they are right at the forefront of the mix.

Listeners might feel a little too close to the action for comfort – there’s a phone conversation that they’ll be eavesdropping into, and Revert (I assume that Revert does all the monologues) mumbles under his breath and almost appears to drift into sleep – and possibly much of the intimacy feels too forced. Towards the end of the recording, sounds from the external environment – radio song, a soap opera soundtrack, half of a conversation – intrude into the musical narrative and turn it into something more forbidding and impersonal. It’s as if Revert’s private space which he has deigned to share with us is being invaded and torn apart.

Not too long for the stream-of-consciousness novelty value to turn kitschy and stale, and not too short either, this quirky work has much charm and many surprises. TSP readers need to hear it for themselves as to what meanings or messages (if any) it may have – but I need to warn you, the more you listen to it, the more you’ll wonder what it’s meant to be about. At least the cover art (done by Revert) is easy on the eye and looks as if it means something … or does it when you see the blank face and read the strange messages?

Sofia Nights

Fascinating set of field recordings by Das Torpedoes on Qu Nar (EH? AURAL REPOSITORY EH?88). Sometimes I feel frustrated by the “genre” of phonography and what I perceive to be its limitations, but this collection of 13 audio snapshots somehow works perfectly. I suppose I enjoy a number of aspects of it: first, the lack of detailed explanations as to what we might be hearing, although it is clear that train travel and other forms of transport feature heavily. Second, the every-day nature of the sound events; Das Torpedoes is not one prone to seeking out the bizarre side of life, and finds the humdrum of daily existence satisfying enough on every level. Then there’s the rough edges of the recordings themselves; they are not exactly aiming for technical excellence on the surface qualities, and might as well be the equivalent to digital photos taken using a cheap smartphone. I also like the way each track “snaps off” at the end quite abruptly; nothing much has happened to signal this closure (in fact very little is happening on tape at all), yet it’s a nice way of punctuating the work with an audible “full stop”. I can almost sense a hand-held cassette recorder at work, with its clunky keys and switches. Well, these recordings have been sourced from Zagrebo, Sarajevo, Istanbul, Sofia, and other parts of Eastern Europe in 2015. Das Torpedoes might be Charles LaReau, who has also put out tapes as Voost Viszt and is a member of Naturaliste, a “psych-junk” collective group with Bryan Day and others. Judging by this record, which is all I’ve heard from LaReau, he’d make a very good travelling companion; I say that because I think he’d leave me alone to my own devices, instead of trying to do boring tourist-y things like visit historical sites of interest, or forcing me to join him in the local cafe. If he did though I would be happy to buy him a glass of Albanian wine, a remark which I make influenced by Track 11 here. From 25 July 2016.

Alternative Angles

Nigel Samways has passed this way a couple of times, first with his Nuclear Beach record in 2014, and then with Temple Of The Swine in 2015. Both were elusive records, characterised by a very diffuse cloud of sound and much overlapping of unidentifiable sound sources. His written explanations on these only served to deepen the mystery, of course. What I have always enjoyed is the beauty and the mystery of his work; fragile atmospheres, somehow captured successfully on a recording medium, without any pretensions or over-elaborated ideas. We’re getting much the same vibe from today’s record, a collaboration with Foss Moigne called Sanyo 07.1 / Sanyo 07.2 remixes (INEVERTHINKOFYOU INTOY4). Apparently it’s derived from a set of field recordings made in Japan using a minicasette dictaphone recorder; there are two remixes which give us “two new views of the same material”, and beyond some allusion to “similar structural elements”, we’re not told very much. The choice of lo-fi recording hardware no doubt accounts for much of the surface noise, but the actual sound events captured have an uncanny air; a root drone somehow floating in the air, lots of air and space, and the distant wail of female voices singing. It’s like a vision from the past, somehow captured and made whole. It’s a short 3-inch CDR, but you will wish these 20 minutes of divine sound could go on forever. From 20 July 2016.

Blowing Hot and Cold

Here is CD04 in the Alessandro Bosetti box set Stille Post (BÔ?T RECORDS BR R010 / MONOTYPE RECORDS mono100). It contains two related pieces under the combined title Campanas & Whistling Republic. On The Whistling Republic, a piece for WDR from 2003, we hear another mosaic assemblage made of fragments of recording, mostly spoken word and a strange whistling language. These elements are underpinned with an electro-acoustic droning sound which grows gradually darker over the course of some 25 minutes, leaving the listener with a highly ambiguous snapshot of something. The theme of The Whistling Republic is to do with communication, a characteristic it arguably shares with all the records in this box. La Gomera is one of the Canary islands, where people sometimes communicate in whistles. This “silbo gomero” as it’s known is described as “a whistled register of Spanish”, and has been included by UNESCO on its Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Bosetti may or may not be interested in protecting or preserving that heritage, but he’s certainly interested in it as a language. When he stayed on Gomera, he wrote down some texts – some of them diary records of his sojourn, a couple of them complete works of fiction – and then passed these texts to the locals, asking them to express his words using the “silbo”. He was apparently standing over a mile away at the time with his microphones, yet he still captured these amazing whistles on his tape deck, because one of the features of the “silbo” is its ability to carry a message over long distances. The spoken texts on the record are the attempts made by the Gomerans to decipher and translate these whistles back into the spoken word. As ever, I expect the lively cross-communication dynamic is what appeals to Bosetti in this situation which he has set up. I would interpret it as a metaphor for all human communication; we’re all acting as transmitters and receivers, sending out messages in one language and decoding them into another.

On Campanas, Bosetti revisits Gomera some six years after he did the Whistling Republic piece. This time he took with him some of the unprocessed recordings from the earlier piece, and replayed them back into the air as he wandered around the island, looking for “acoustically interesting spots.” Sounds layered on top of other sounds. He re-recorded these sound events, and edited them into the suite we now hear on this 2009 piece. His own voice appears on the set; he speaks of returning to the island and giving something back, after he previously took something away. He writes, in his printed text, of “putting something inside a space in order to hear it”, making an observation perhaps about the nature of acoustics, but more likely an observation about the importance of context. He also draws, in yet another attempt to make himself understood, and the tentative doodles on the cover here illustrate some of the fantastic things he saw on Gomera; some of them are re-asserted by his vocal descriptions of them on the recording, and he states with some conviction that he “wasn’t dreaming” when he saw a man with two donkeys disappear into the clouds. Other magical-realist fragments emerge through the richness and wizardy of these recordings, and it’s a record that casts a compelling spell over the listener with its imaginative recasting of field recordings, forming uncanny broken narratives and rich atmospheres. Excellent.

Stille Post: Lid of box and front cover of booklet

Previous reviews:

CD01
CD02
CD03

Curriculum Vitae

The last tape in the envelope, which is a shame as I’ve enjoyed hearing these oddities – every one giving new and unexpected surprises, which is more than many labels can say these days. I Placca are the duo of Iritur’aràrcamu and Ben Presto, and their La La Vitea (TUTORE BURLATO #11) is a wonderful tape-jumble collage using everyday sound effects, field recordings, music, noise and what have you, creating a kaleidoscopic vision of modern life across six separate tracks. As ever with this label, the emphasis is on energy and humour combined with a decidedly skewed view of everything. Where some of the performers on this imprint shade that skewed view in darkness and grotesquerie, I Placca are more life-affirming and upbeat, and what is conveyed is that while life may be a little chaotic and hard to understand, it is not completely absurd and futile. Only once do our witty duo permit themselves to editorialise, and that’s on the final track ‘ochiesi’ which takes the sounds of the interior of a church (murmuring, whispering voices), and a choir singing a holy tune, then juxtaposes them with the bleats of a flock of sheep. A fairly obvious bit of collaging, in some ways, almost making a visual pun in sound. The chap who calls himself Iritur’aràrcamu is in fact Francesco Calandrino, whom we have heard in these pages on the Idi Di Marzo record he made with the French guitarist Jean-Marc Montera. Ben Presto is another luminary known to the world in the groups Cement Teddies, Larsen Lombriki, and Tofubibles; the duo’s common ground is that both have had works released by the Italian avant-garde label Setola Di Maiale. Matter of fact, I see they released Decidere A Te… for that label working under this same project name. It’d be nice to know who does what on this tape, given that both are clearly all-rounders when it comes to instrument performances, use of tapes, samplers, field recordings and live electronics, but on the other hand it’s also nice not to know. This is another highly enjoyable collaged vision of life that takes a lot of simple delight in finding, hearing, playing and editing sounds, without the need for processing or filtering or any of the other over-familiar digital tricks. Nice cover sketch of a strong man in red trunks and boots, too. Great!

One of nine cassettes received 4th July 2016 from Ezio Piermattei.

Amateur Chromatics

Another slice from the Stille Post (BÔŁT RECORDS BR R010 / MONOTYPE RECORDS mono100) box set by Alessandro Bosetti. CD02 is Gesualdo Translations, Bosetti’s take on the amazing music of Carlo Gesualdo. This Italian renaissance composer was famed for his bold harmonies and use of chromatics in his madrigals, and although neglected for a long time in the history of serious music, was reclaimed by Robert Craft and others and came to be regarded as a kind of forerunner of modernism; indeed I’ve even read a fascinating book called The Gesualdo Hex (by Glenn Watkins) which makes a convincing case for seeing Gesualdo as a precursor to serial and 12-tone composition.

Gesualdo also continues to fascinate a modern audience because of certain sensational details in his private life, for details of which I refer you to your own research. I’m fairly sure Bosetti knows about all this, but here he’s chosen to push the music through a daring experiment involving non-professional singers, in a sort of serendipitous crowd-sourcing action…he passed through the streets of Napoli, a place where Gesualdo is known to have lived and composed, and asked random people he met on the streets (and in cafes, churches, and markets) to participate. They would sing along as best they could to a recording of a single voice played back to them on headphones. Since the madrigals – taken in this instance from the famed fifth and sixth books of Gesualdo, regarded as his best and most experimental works – are multi-voice compositions, this clearly involved a lot of hard work by Bosetti in disaggregating the individual voice parts, and then re-assembling the parts from the taped results gathered in from his street singers.

The rich and complicated results on this record, some 45 minutes of heavily-edited suites, expand the “original chromaticism” of Gesualdo… “microtonal shadings are brought into the mix”, is Bosetti’s enthused claim, because the untrained singers, though often spirited and giving it a real go, are not really managing to hit the right notes at all. “Approximate renderings” is how he politely describes it. Additionally, further contextual field recordings from the streets are thrown in – people simply talking, chatting, bartering…along with cars, car horns, and other bits of guitar and keyboard music sourced from I know not where. All of this produces a delirious mix of sounds, assembled to a logic only Bosetti understands, and creates something new which is both familiar and strange at the same time.

A Gesualdo purist would probably be dismayed at the “bad” singing and take exception to the utterly fragmented mosaic-like approach of Bosetti’s assemblage, but taken as a whole lump of stew it’s a totally compelling experience. He calls it “a meditation on the practice of screziatura”, and screziatura is an Italian word which approximates to “mottling” or “speckling”…he may be thinking of a particular painterly effect, because I think one of the other pursuits of this genius polymath is the study of certain renaissance painting techniques, and composing or discovering musical parallels for them…how ambitious can you get? He also of course enjoys the random essence to the work, saying something about “the erratic nature of musical pitch”; and like everyone’s favourite mentor, John Cage, he is to some degree is allowing chance to guide his odyssey around the pathways of Naples and the people he met to produce these musical statements. Highly original and striking sonic coup here…

Dream Caused By A Fly

Excellent 10-inch slice of absurdist noise and composition in the form of Oeil Céleste (DOUBTFUL SOUNDS)…it’s in clear vinyl, limited and numbered, and packaged in a clear sleeve with a thick piece of cardboard backing it up…printed on said cardboard is the name of the project “Astagrob” using old-fashioned block printing methods…there are postcard inserts, and some fabulous Dadaist poems printed on the labels, making plain their allegiance to the cut-up style and “Words in Freedom”…plus there’s an image of a fly hovering over a punched hole in the card. Said fly loses his wings on the flipside of this card. Be warned…a similar tragic fate awaits the unwary listener who will lose brain cells and tenuous hold on reality…

Astagrob is a team-up between Ogrob and Astatine. Ogrob (Sebastien Borgo) has been inflicting mental pain on this house with his diabolical, powerful aural spells for many years to the memory, while Astatine is an alias for Stéphane Recrosio, another French composer who has been unleashing his own strain of freakish ambient noise on his own Orgasm label in that country for at least five years, often in the form of eight-inch lathe-cuts. The A-side of Oeil Céleste may have the most immediate appeal to noise-addicts, and it’s a highly assured arrangement (some might call it a pile-up) of uncanny elements, fitted together with intent to maim and hurt. I’m very impressed at the confidence with which this violent agglomeration has been cemented together…would like to see more of this instead of the usual tentative “experiments” from other corners, which blight the world of music today.

The B-side is less of a slammeroo in the mush, but it’s an intoxicating mix of field recordings stirred together with lo-fi ambient junk, which includes shrieking birds which may be from Australia, and an overall ambience which can’t decide whether to be countryside or industrial factory, and settles in some mid-way no-man’s-land where the skies are purple and the atmosphere is at risk of pollution. Vivid, alien landscapes…that’s the way to arrange your field recordings if you want to make an impression these days. Apparently there are six separate compositions on this mind-blender of a record, though it all solidifies into a continuous collapsing ruin as you play it. A remarkable little gem of sound-art with surrealist undertones. From 19 April 2016.