con richard (por la adversidad a las estrellas): a work about memory and how sounds bridge the present and the past

Gil Sansón, con richard (por la adversidad a las estrellas), Belgium, Unfathomless, U80 CD (2023)

A very, very quiet recording, this album from Caracas-based sound artist Gil Sansón really does force you to stop and drop whatever you’re doing, concentrate on its sounds and follow them wherever they go. From what Sansón says about this album on Unfathomless’s Bandcamp page, and the album title itself referencing an earlier work of his “Por la Adversidad a las Estrellas” (“From Adversity to the Stars”, I think it means in English) which he released back in 2009, “con richard …” is a work about memory and how sounds and music can bridge the present and the past, making events long distant in time seem as if they just occurred a few moments ago. On this recording, Sansón mixes the current sounds of his home city Caracas at its quietest with samples from his archives and reconstructs memories of past sensations that may have been long dormant in his mind. Some of these memories revolve around an old friend, Uruguayan-born multimedia artist Richard Garet, who lives and works in the United States and to whom the album is dedicated.

It does start very quietly and then builds up in volume from there but the album isn’t always steady going: some parts can be suddenly loud and abrupt, and when you have picked yourself up from the floor and set the chair right again, the album has gone quiet and unassuming again. There are spooky moments where it seems we are stuck in some metallic vacuum, and odd rubbery crumbly sounds like ants racing over a tyre flit by. Field recordings used include birdsong and the sound of running or rushing water as well as urban ambient sounds recorded in Caracas and New York. Of course, the majority of sounds here will be unfamiliar to a lot of people and many of these sounds can be innocuous or downright sinister depending on where your own past experiences with them or the objects or events they represent.

On the whole, in spite of sudden explosions of noise and machinery in different parts of the recording, this one-track album is actually quite a pleasant listening experience. If you close your eyes, you can imagine yourself on a long-distance train travelling from one city to the next and passing through many different places with their own distinct sounds and sound environments. At one point in the journey, you might be passing through a park reserved for wild chirping birds; at another point you are watching cars passing by on motorways running parallel with the train line; at yet another point, you might be observing factories and refineries with their particular sound environments. Just watch out for an army of ants passing over a pile of old discarded tyres …


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