Ondurenas: background tropical insect sounds receive respect

Frédéric Nogray, Ondureñas, Belgium, Unfathomless, CD U52 (2018)

Until I heard this release by Frederic Nogray, I had never thought I could be held spellbound by the sounds of constant background insect chatter and the images they conjure up in the mind: scenes of tramping through thick forest; your face and neck oozing perspiration with your clothes soaked in it and sticking to your body in all the wrong places; your feet throbbing and sore in all the spots where they have practically fused to your socks and boots after wandering for what seems like hours in apparent circles. Yet here I am engrossed in this work, for the most part constructed from field recordings taken by the French artist in his travels through Honduras in Central America way back in 2012. (Meanwhile some distance outside my window, cicadas are rattling and throbbing quite noisily.) The rhythmic noises of the insects and other forest animals, for the most part instinctive and unplanned, yet in some ways predictable and for that reason comforting and hypnotic, dominate much of this recording. Occasionally birds of various species will intrude with their trilling calls and melodies. In a later track monkeys join the choir of insects and birds.

In addition to the field recordings, Nogray brings feedback, electronic instrumentation and acoustic sine waves created with crystal singing bowls: these sounds are introduced into the work gradually and eventually come to take centre stage without pushing the ambient noise recordings into second place. The quiet droning (of which part may be coming from the crystal bowls singing as they are being brushed) has an air of peaceful serenity. For all its apparent tranquillity and quiet confidence, this CD is actually very busy: there is always something happening and the music is constantly changing even at imperceptible levels. Your brain knows something is definitely going on that wasn’t happening five minutes ago but is hard put to pinpoint exactly when the change occurred because the change is on-going.

This is a very beautiful and calming, perhaps even psychologically healing, work – and yet it is troubling at the same time, as the source material for this CD comes from a country with the unenviable reputation of being the most violent country in the world, with high levels of gang warfare and criminal activities stemming from drug trafficking and political corruption within its borders, outside a war zone. All the more reason perhaps to treasure the sounds and natural music on “Ondureñas” and the world to which these beckon us.