Tether: everyday objects and sounds become messengers of profound spiritual lessons

Murmer, Tether, United States, Helen Scarsdale Agency, HMS071 vinyl LP (2023)

A project of long standing since 2002, when it released its first album, Murmer has been issuing new recordings on and off – there have been gaps of about 4 to 5 years between albums – and 2023 has proved to be no different with new album “Tether” released by the act after nearly five years of quiet since the last major recording “Raadio Mälu” back in 2018. For those not very familiar with Murmer (like me – though The Sound Projector did feature an interview with Murmer back in Issue #13 in 2005), the musician behind this project is Patrick McGinley, born in the US but resident in Europe since 1996 and in southeast Estonia since 2009. McGinley’s music is sourced from his collection of found objects and found sounds, with an emphasis on finding sounds that we would usually find ordinary and commonplace in their own environments, but which in different contexts and situations become alien, even astonishing and deeply profound.

Divided into two tracks of more or less equal length, “Tether” uses as its source material cables, fences, wires and vents, their sounds picked up by contact microphones. The resulting album turns out to be majestic and forbidding, a veritable soundscape of near-Arctic atmospheres and meteorological events. Track 1 “taevast” (in English, “from the sky”) starts slowly and imperceptibly but this little thing steadily builds up to a major rhythmic droning industrial monster, working its way to the point where it might take off and soar into the skies like a giant black pterosaur. From there the work becomes an airy serene pulsating piece – the source material used is thick high-tension wires subjected to winds from the Arctic – continuing for well over half the track’s length and becoming its linchpin for other sounds ranging from crackling rods to a loop-like background swish that sounds suspiciously like a shoot-’em videogame. The rest of the track proceeds quietly with a strange fizzle drone with another pulsating industrial rhythm close to the end.

“Maale” (“to the country”) initially seems a more assertive track of airy drone wash and a near-piercing siren tone that becomes frosty and chilling in its whirling texture. It becomes a very brooding track as rhythmic metallic sounds capture and hold your attention while the winds blow. As the track changes and becomes a bit ponderous with clunking beats, a windy atmosphere keeps it airy and spacious, and for a while the background drones seem to take on a rich, even spiritual timbre.

Even though the source materials are made obvious on the recordings, the sounds they generate and the way in which McGinley has arranged them turn these field recordings into works combining power and delicacy, in which the ordinary everyday things in life – unnoticed, perhaps throwaway and ephemeral – become the medium through which profound messages may be transmitted.