Hold The Phone

Another unusual conceptual release from Corvo Records, the German label devoted to producing full-on art productions with a lot of attention paid to packaging and quality pressings…Ringing Still Life (CORVO RECORDS core 014) is a seven-inch single by Laura Mello, and is themed around something to do with mobile phones, a topic I believe she’s been exploring for some time now – at any rate I found evidence of a piece called ‘On The Phone’ from 2005, described as an “intermedia performance”, of which an excerpt appeared on her Está Verde! album in 2018.

What we hear on today’s record is a strange jumble of sounds, including delicate guitar music, field recordings, and recordings of ringtones from mobile phones. The musical information is pretty scrambled to begin with – she packs a lot of micro-blips into these extremely short tracks – but the experience is further enlivened by the decision to release this as a double-grooved record. This means that you never know what you’ll be getting when you drop the stylus on the platter. It’s good to know this specific bit of vinyl-production technology is still with us, and I’ve sometimes wondered why more people don’t use it for those occasions when a little dose of confusion is called for. Like many of my generation, I first heard it on that Monty Python record, where they did it deliberately as a conceptual prank to undermine listener expectations. Mello describes this aspect of her work as a form of hörspiel, that handy German word to which our nearest English equivalent might be “radio play”. She traces it back to her earliest days, when she grew up with a collection of children’s stories pressed as seven-inch singles, artefacts which clearly got a lot of love; she liked the voice narration, and she liked the musical arrangements too.

Ringing Still Life could thus be read as an attempt to bring her own past into the present by “yoking” it with that most modern of sonic phenomena, the ringtone. The connective tissue holding all the parts together is drawn from her collection of field recordings, all of which are personal to her. Two observations we might make on the whole; the Smartphone itself might indeed be considered a modern day form of “story-teller”, depending on which side of the conversation you are privileged to hear as you sit on the bus trying to read a book, and not just with its audible voices but with its personalised ringtones too. It might not be too far-fetched to suggest Mello is aiming to help us “read” the modern world as a gigantic story-book, pages unfolding live in real time, with their own random musical outbursts.

My second observation is to do with the formal aspects of Ringing Still Life: truncated, abrupt, compressed, and almost nonsensical in their transient, fleeting appearance…all of these pretty much match up to the delivery of so-called “data” on modern Smartphones, which serve up small digestible tidbits to the bored reader / listener at tremendous speed. The difference is that Mello’s work is actually aesthetically pleasing, and I have the sense that it contains many interesting compacted truths and ideas under the surface. From 24th October 2018.