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.