faux naturel: field recordings demonstrate the artifice inherent in natural world / human-made world polarity

João Castro Pinto, faux naturel, Belgium, Unfathomless, U77 CD (2022)

Most soundscape recordings that feature field recordings concentrate on one place as the source of these recordings but this recent work from Portuguese sound artist João Castro Pinto uses as its main source of sound field recordings taken in several locations in Portugal, the United Kingdom (Liverpool, Manchester) and Estonia (Tallinn), working them into eight tracks that end up in one long work of sound art. “Faux naturel” is based on the idea that the difference between what is “natural” (as in, born of nature) and what is “artificial” (as in, created by humans) is itself artificial, since humans themselves are of nature so what they create is also natural. Even the transformation of raw materials such as minerals or wood into objects with completely different uses from their sources must be regarded as natural, since every known human society engages in this activity.

Using and processing sounds derived from water environments (oceans, rivers, ponds), animals, human voices and noises derived from man-made environments or objects, Pinto constructs a smoothly flowing sonic tapestry that tells its own story, starting with the world of water and moving onto land through a transition zone of a boat (which turns into a train), a fence and docks. Having moved completely into a city environment from a water world, our sonic journey goes through various detours through urban and industrial (and possibly post-industrial) settings. No matter how familiar or unfamiliar these places may be for us, we observe them somewhat at a distance as technologies and their systems go about their business while in the background birds tweet and titter, and the sound of water lapping at piers is not far away.

In the last couple of tracks, the sounds become a mix of the abstract and spiritual (choral singing) and the personal and intimate in an isolated environment that may still be close to water but is equally close to the urban or industrial world. Bells toll in the distance and one may be reminded of the 16th-century English poet John Donne’s famous “For Whom The Bell Tolls” poem, itself an exploration of the individual’s link to humanity purely by being human, no matter how physically, psychologically or spiritually isolated the individual may be. At this point, the journey is taking us away from the environment built by humans and into another, altogether very different world of seemingly droning radiance where all is natural and any demarcations between “natural” and “artificial” are themselves unnatural. Though perhaps we should be glad that we are moving into a celestial realm, something about it seems quite ominous, like a dark maw rapidly rising to meet us and swallow us.

The album can drag a bit in its middle section where we seem to hang around the dock areas a bit too long perhaps but once the album is onto its last two pieces, the action quickens and becomes for focused as a church over water beckons for our attention. The album becomes riveting at this point and our attention is held as if in a trance while the recording continues, as though mesmerised and itself mesmerising its followers, to its inevitable – and possibly devastating – conclusion, leaving us high and dry and wondering where we are.