Tagged: field recordings

Zo Del Ro: a curious and intriguing mix of drone folk and electro-acoustic improv

Mohammad, Zo Rel Do, Antifrost, CD AFRO 2064 (2014)

Mohammad is a Greek trio employing cello, contrabass and electronics to create a curious fusion of drone folk and electro-acoustic improv. “Zo Rel Do” is the first part of a trilogy exploring the music and sounds of the musicians’ homeland and immediate neighbouring areas in western Turkey and parts of Bulgaria and Romania.

We start off with some field recordings dominated by a solo flute melody and conversations that might have been recorded in a market-place. These are swept aside by low booming scrapey string instruments, deep and rhythmic, with a very minimalist melody loop: the music is a bit like an acoustic doom folk version of Sunn0))) at times. A scratchy spitting drone accompanies the raw and sonorous dirge-like march. The track seems very serious and solemn although there are moments when it appears not to be taking itself too seriously and almost parodies itself.

“Kabilar Mace” takes up the repetitive circular structure, applying it to a drunken seesaw melody and torments it with a nagging grinding string accompaniment. The two opposed melodies can be very amusing to listen to as one tune insists on going its own sedate way and the other buzzes around it like a jumpy pooch. The music steadily escalates to an extreme intense and quite deranged level with the odd pause or two to let off steam.

Subsequent tracks stick to the minimalist template of repetition (with variation), building up to an almost hysterical climax, and the sound lurches about clumsily as if in an empty and dark room feeling for the light-switch. One later track gives the impression of nearly falling over in a heap. “Samarina” in particular sounds a bit like the aforementioned hooded ones playing unplugged after having gone on one or two too many benders; this is probably the most memorable track in spite of it not sounding quite as accessible melodically as the others – it does have a certain mournful grace. The album concludes with what could be a barely audible recording of night crickets that might be overlooking a secret nature ritual.

While this is a fairly short recording, “Zo Rel Do” has a massive sound and a clear ambience that emphasises the rough-hewn texture of the music. The mood alternates from bleary-eyed somnambulist slouch to solemn and serious to something suggesting a wry sense of humour at work building up the music to a near-insane, mind-transforming level. Though the music does not vary a great deal, the mood and humour behind it keep this listener transfixed, wondering what surprises these Hellenes might pull out next from within their instruments.

The thought has just occurred to me that Mohammad’s objective is to bring listeners deep into their world of native folk and other influences and to take their audiences right to the edge of infinity by mixing serious solemnity and playful teasing in equal measures. Beyond that edge, we become merged with the fabric of the cosmos itself and are at one with it.

Contact: Antifrost,  Mohammad

Polarlicht: giving us soothing low-key ambient electronic soundscapes

polar-digi-shop

Monolyth & Cobalt, Polarlicht, Time Released Sound, CD TRS041 (2014)

In spite of its name which translates from German into English as “Polar Light” and the artwork of cracking ice viewed from above, this recording is not really much of a cold and forbidding Ice Age ambient soundscape opus to be filed in among other Arctically or Antarctically inspired works; it turns out to be a slow, relaxing and gently immersive journey through glitch electronica worlds sculpted by one Mathias Van Eecloo, the man behind Monolyth & Cobalt. The recording was made in Brittany over a period of some 18 months from April 2012 to October 2013.

There may be allusions to maritime exploration on the album and the fact that the work was recorded in Brittany – an area with connections to the sea – might have some significance. “Blooming Stones” sets the tone releasing this listener to drift on gentle grey seas with rhythmic bell chimes and something of a slow undulating sea-shanty melody.  The tracks conjure up quiet landscapes of muted grey or light sandy colours where the sea raises barely more than a murmur of white wave froth and washes blue-grey up pale beaches. Even the skies are a restful pale blue colour. Not much happens and we are whisked from one track to the next to inspect new low-key soundscapes.

Track 4 promises to be a bit more interesting than previous pieces with a mechanical rhythm loop and some off-kilter noises suggesting all’s not quite calm and serene, and any moment we may run across some rusted toys or machines still able to play a melody after years of disuse and deterioration. Following after is a track where instruments seem to be more recognisable yet still unidentifiable – there could be a banjo in the music – and a sighing siren vocal is present as well. As the album progresses, the music broadens to include acoustic guitar, harmonica (or something very like it), violin and field recordings or found monologue in tracks like “Et Ces Arbres” and “Verhaal”.

The most interesting track on the whole album turns out to be “Birds (Are Some Holes in the Sky Through a Man can Pass)” which features some beautifully resonant string instruments, one of them possibly a harp or a zither, delicately trilling against a seesaw rhythm.

True, the general tone of the album rarely rises above mildly stimulating and the criticism could be made that the whole recording is just too mild and placid to hold most people’s attention. Sooner or later, someone will start wishing for something pacey and exciting, like a great white shark lurking in the unassuming grey sea. Folks with short attention spans will drift away leaving a few willing to follow Van Eecloo and to let him take his own time describing the vistas before them.

It doesn’t really matter that I fail to see the polar connection this music makes: it’s very soothing, low-key and minimal, and there are some interesting acoustic surprises in later tracks that add individuality and a distinct folksy flavour.

Contact: Time Released Sound

Some of the World around us

The lovely Mark Vernon of Glasgow duo Vernon & Burns continues to supply us with audio goodies, including a recent-ish vinyl delight called Sounds Of The Modern Hospital which I have yet to catch up with. For now though here is Framework Seasonal Issue #5 (Summer 2013), an audio periodical accompanying the Framework radio show, this issue compiled by Mr Vernon and subtitled ‘Location recordings by East Midlands tape recording clubs (1959-1978)’. On it, we have an outline of an unusual UK phenomenon from a time when enthused amateurs would make their own tape recordings, armed with portable battery-operated tape recorders, and did it in a semi-organised way by joining local “tape clubs”. Two such clubs – I had no idea these things even existed – are represented here, the Leicester Tape Recording Club and the Derby Tape Recording Club, and hence we have 40 aural snapshots and field recordings of life in the UK as captured by their roving set-ups and questing microphones, and now lovingly preserved in Vernon’s personal collection.

Unlike today’s field recording types who are mostly self-styled artists in search of some sort of mystical or aesthetic experience, these tape recording club members were simply interested in documenting things around them, much like any 20th century Brit who owned a Polaroid or Instamatic camera. They taped fairgrounds, factories, zoos, markets, trips to the beach, sports events, dances, parties, and – since it’s probably fair to say this activity isn’t too far away from the harmless pursuit of the gentle trainspotter – railway stations and trains. Some of the recordings have added live commentary from the members, an unobtrusive audio caption just to put it in context. What we hear is like a low-key form of Radio Four, except all the material is generated by the public instead of by the so-called experts, and – despite the apparent banality you might expect – it’s absolutely fascinating and a compelling listen. Given the current interest in audio recordings of under-appreciated urban sounds previously held to be too “commonplace” for our attention (The London Sound Survey is the place to start with that), this release is a timely gem.

Another dimension which Vernon calls attention to is the sound quality itself: the tapes “bear many traces of their age and origin: tape hiss and distortion, harsh pause button edits, wow and flutter.” Vernon correctly identifies these characteristics as an inherent part of the integrity of the records, and, implying that we should appreciate and enjoy these aural qualities, has done nothing to correct them or clean up the tape quality. Come to that, there is nothing in the way of editorialising or commentary in his strictly factual description of the collection, nor in the arrangement of the tracks; he has adopted a correct archival approach of objectivity in the arrangement and the presentation. That said, the collection has obviously been curated with a lot of loving care; after all, the material comes from his personal collection, and he allows the warmth and idiosyncratic personalities of these tape clubbers to shine. This is an understated release, but also an unalloyed joy. From 3rd October 2013.

More detail on the Tape Club phenomenon

It’s a thin line…

DEVINDISANTO

Devin DiSanto
Tracing A Boundary
TASK RECORDS TR001 CD (2013)

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

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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.

IMG153

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

543

Adrian Shenton & Banks Bailey
Wrapped In Clover
UK PHONOSPHERIC FOUR CDR (2012)

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.

541

Main
Ablation
AUSTRIA EDITIONS MEGO 160CD (2013)

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

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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.

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@C
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.

007

Seattle Phonographers Union
Building 27 WNP-5
USA PREFECTURE MUSIC PREFECTURE 009 LP (2013)

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

ERM

Francisco López / Luca Sigurtà
Erm
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.

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Alberto Boccardi / Lawrence English
Split
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.