Friche Improvisation

Last heard Parisian sound artist Éric La Casa with his Paris Quotidien in 2018, a quite extraordinary record that managed to make profound and quasi-philosophical sound art from the most banal and tedious recordings imaginable. With that release, he took the moribund genre of “field recording” and didn’t so much re-inject it with fresh energy as wheel it out to the cemetery in a hand-cart and dig it a grave. He also strived to help us perceive our urban surroundings in a different audio context.

Well, he’s carrying on this line of investigation with today’s record, FRICHE: transition (SWARMING 011), which he did through collaboration with Eamon Sprod. Australian Sprod, as Tarab, has done a lot with garbage – by which I mean working directly with trash, spoil-heaps, waste ground, contaminated land and many other similar areas, all symptoms of our wasteful consumer culture, and made a virtue of recycling what he finds into sound art. Not just recording dumps of old tin cans and plastic; he collects such detritus too, hoards it, makes noises with it, and like La Casa, evolves his own home-spun practical philosophy about it. If ever committed to paper and published, his dicta would make a good update on the Whole Earth Catalogue, and act as a guidebook (or at least a footnote) to the radicals of Extinction Rebellion.

On FRICHE, the pair of them spent one week in the north-east of Paris in a fertile, juicy area of waste ground, teeming with gigantic mutant cockroaches and evil rats the size of horses. The canal Ourcq was nearby, and it gurgled in appreciation of their actions in its typical watery fashion. The recordings are now published in ten digestible segments here, some of them quite short and easy to assimilate, others posing deep questions about the what and the how of this rubble, the hidden meaning of this discarded matter. Sonically, there may have been some editing and layering taking place, but the general sense of messy chaos and rumbly friable patterns is certainly conveyed. There’s an inchoate nature to garbage which makes it hard to delineate, tidy away; where does it start or begin? Today’s banana skins are tomorrow’s vacuum flasks, if you believe the recycling policies we currently live by.

This recording captures that chaos and flings it back in our face; Sprod in particular is very adept at doing this capture somehow. He’s drawn to the fulcrum of a gravel pit like dust-specks to a hollow log. But La Casa adds another dimension, echoing in many ways the spirit of Debord, the dérive, the Situationists, and all those who persistently explored the City’s byways on foot to discern its secret face. “Spaces which are somehow both inside yet apart from the city,” are what this French poet seeks, following in the footsteps of Apollinaire; “waiting spaces from which to listen to the threshold of the city”. To put it more plainly, he expects to find a wild truth hidden in this wasteland, and he’s prepared to keep applying his microphones of clarity until that truth reveals itself. Once it’s found, the true boundaries of the city – not those expressed on any civic map, or stated in whichever municipal department of Paris determines the exact limits of the Arrondissements – will appear in the inner eye of the enlightened listener, as surely as a trail of lights in the sky.

For further clues, please scan and study the photos in the booklet enclosed with this release, particularly the found pages torn from the notebook of some hapless scribbler…”This week is a learning situation for me” is one of the more palatable sentiments expressed in these random jottings. In fine, a necessary document of urban reality for our times. From 28th February 2019.