Pierre Gerard | ENVIRONMENT & gesture
ENVIRONMENT and gesture is the new release from Pierre Gerard, a Frenchman who is making a form of very gentle intervention in our daily surroundings with his near-imperceptible sonic actions, a strategy which to some extent aligns him with Jeph Jerman. His two main objectives are (a) to produce improvisations using common objects, not in the sense that he "dominates" the object like an imperialist invader seizing handfuls of sand, but rather to arrive at an integrated and harmonious situation where man and nature are brought one step closer to happy co-existence. As to (b), this concerns the more metaphysical ambition where he hopes his work will have an effect on time itself, causing a "soft impression" on the listener such that time starts to slide past in a more gentle and manageable manner, presumably a welcome antidote to the pressures of modern urban life where time has been sliced and parcelled into rigid divisions that suit the capitalist agenda. Gerard attempts the above by situating himself in a determinedly rural setting (water, stone and air are his materials) and creating gentle sounds which may involve dropping stones into a pond or engaging with a stream of water in some sympathetic way. The long 20-minute track contains such sounds occurring in sproadic intervals with lots of silence, and it feels isolated, stark, minimal beyond belief. However by the end of the album the external sounds of the environment also begin to appear, and help to put the work into context. I have reproduced the exact typographical rendering of the title of this release, which clearly stresses the element which Gerard regards as the more important of the two in his symbiotic relationship. 250 copies in hand-made chipboard package with a nice photo of a cairn built by the artist.
Hiroki Sasajima & Takahisa Hirao | HIDDEN BIRD'S NEST
“A film is – or should be – more like music than like fiction. It should be a progression of moods and feelings. The theme, what’s behind the emotion, the meaning, all that comes later.”- Stanley Kubrick
“…the significant thing is feeling, as such, quite apart from the environment in which it is called forth.” - Kazimir Malevich
On the liner notes of Hidden Bird’s Nest -written by Daniel Crokaert- reads “…and one gets the feeling that suddenly the whole Cosmos is almost enclosed in a single resonance just in front of your ears…”
There is no available information about the recordings used in this release, although it can be inferred that they were captured in some sort of forest. They are also recordings from a musical performance with drums and voices.
Although there are plenty of works using field recordings from the forest, this release has a very unique approach to them. The tactile qualities of the recordings in this release ara quite powerful: the listener gets to feel very close to every sound creating this microscopic effect that develops an aura of intimacy that strongly affects the sensible experience of the listener keeping him amused, surprised and immersed. The great detail and the subtle polyphony occurring after the variety and multitude of sounds happening in the recordings creates a feeling of deep immersion and strong awareness that sets the emotional tone for the full 44 minutes.
Although most of the release is based on field recordings, on Woodland there is a long grave sound that opens the piece. This 5-minute segment establishes an emotional narrative structure of great depth and contrast that creates the emotional context where the whole release will develop.
When Daniel Crokaert writes “…Cosmos is almost enclosed in a single resonance” he couldn’t be closer from the truth: there is loads of scientific and artistic research around the sounds from the big bang roaring across the universe. Artist and philosopher Johnaton Keats has worked on the subject for some time and scientist Mark Whittle published this very interesting paper “Big Bang acoustics” where he tries to understand certain universe processes through the sounds occurring in of the universe. The microscopic effect works as a telescopic effect as well. Seemingly every sound occurring in the cosmos becomes part of this big resonance we experience on every sound we listen.
Hidden Bird’s Nest is a great example of how the sounds of nature offer an infinite universe for the artists that they are ought to explore and inhabit with their emotions. Very effective artistic work that offers a deep, intimate and emotional perceptual journey into sound.
Pierre Gerard | ENVIRONMENT & gesture
In the moment when silence and its weak ruptures become unbearable for a man to sustain, a music based on those very characteristics is equally problematic. When an artist works with micro-elements such as Belgian Pierre Gerard, the challenge is that of pushing a listener to find new implications within acoustic milieus exploited to the bone. ENVIRONMENT & gesture is a three-part piece whose linearity is somewhat displacing; even more puzzling is the positive reaction of this reviewer in front of natural components – mostly water and faraway environmental whispers, with the addition of an unspecified “instrument” – that have been used thousands of times before by other practitioners of the same area, with increasingly ho-hum results. However, I have come to trust Gerard pretty much throughout the recent past. His method cancels the ego completely, privileging the macrocosmic aspects of an introspective solitude. Accordingly, the work manages to involve to a point of complete participation “inside” the rarefied messages coming from the speakers. Despite the absence of surprises, this record is characterized by a wealth of recondite signals – wrapped in an awful lot of implicit meanings – transforming the hush that follows the end of the album into a deafening dearth of questions, as if all what we needed to know was already printed somewhere in the countryside’s scents.
Mathieu Ruhlmann & Banks Bailey | ANÁÁDIIH
Navajos were able to measure the months by the phases of the moon.
The Moon is referred to as “waning” when, in the northern hemisphere, the right side is dark and the light part is shrinking, when it is moving towards a new moon.
The phase in which the moon is “disappearing again” is called Waning Crescent or Anáádiih in Navajo’s language.
Navajo’s culture, habits and beliefs were profoundly attached to the natural environment, and the presence of “solemn” rituals in their culture was accompanied by a mystic relation with the nature in all its forms: animals, plants, water, light, wind, and every natural phenomenon known by them.
“Anáádiih” is also a sound work by Mathieu Ruhlmann & Banks Bailey released by the label 3LEAVES, inspired by a Native American Navajo writing.
The two artists have assembled a sonic collage of rare beauty and effectiveness. Using only concrete sounds and field recordings they’ve gathered all the colors and nuances of the Navajo’s beloved nature.
With its running time clocking in just below 40min, “Anáádiih” is a perfect condensed journey of sonic events. Unlike some other field recording based compositions, in this work there is a concrete and constant sense of motion, as if we were traveling across mountains and canyons, experiencing the heat of the day or feeling the strong wind in our faces, living in complete symbiosis with the nature and feeling ourselves alive for being part of such complex and somewhat mysterious system.
The audio material here presented is a multilayered composition that consists of various overlapped recordings that allow the listener to become highly involved with the sense of space and time. In fact the attention rapidly shifts from what we can consider “environmental recordings”, in which the sense of space is present by definition, to amplified sounds of “objects, gestures and materials” that recreate to our ears the sense of being really close to the audio source. This constant dilatation / contraction of the distances, makes way for another particular, maybe subtler feeling, the feeling of experiencing the pace of time. Day, night, and day again, season after season, year after year.
Time has passed, everything has changed: cultures, landscapes, beliefs.
But “Anáádiih” seems to tell us: “Just listen”.
The Navajo’s moon is still there.
BARGES & FLOWS | CONNECTION
Two dramatically different approaches to field recordings-based soundsculpting are captured on these CD-R releases from the 3LEAVES imprint (both available in 100-copy totals and presented in the attractive Arigato format): the “purer” one of the two, Barges & Flows, is by label overseer Ákos Garai, and the second, Simon Whetham's Connection, weaves its field recording elements into a striking long-form composition of arresting musical character.
Garai's unprocessed field recordings document sounds collected along the Danube River during the autumn of 2010 in Budapest, Hungary. His recording immediately corrects any thought that there might be little sonic activity in play during even the earliest hours of the day, as the air is filled with the rhythmic creak and groan of moored ships rocking against the docks and water splashing against the heaving vessels' sides. The scrapes and groans of the ships at times seem almost violent as they convey the immense weight of the boats. Burbling water, garbled voices, and the hum and clatter of nearby traffic intermingle to form detailed sound paintings that bring the locale to life in aural form, and lest anyone doubt the musical dimension of such source material, the eight minutes of to-and-fro creaks heard during “U-10134-30” suggest nothing less than the primitive, high-pitched sawing of a novice cello player. A comprehensive portrait of the geographical area emerges over the course of the recording's forty-four minutes, with the six tracks documenting different settings along the river. Some areas appear congested with people, ships, and traffic noises, while others seem almost devoid of human activity altogether, the primary sound the rusty song of a single ship. As one listens to Barges & Flows, a clear contrast comes into focus (during the closing piece most directly in its pairing of bridge-related noises and splashing water) as the recording spotlights both the industrial sounds associated with human production and activity and the unadulterated nature sounds that exist in a realm unto themselves and do so regardless of whether humans are present or not.
Whetham's Connection, which draws upon sounds collected during a visit to Prague, effectively documents the artful way in which the producer weaves materials into a grand compositional design. Listening to the thirty-nine-minute piece, the image forms of Whetham reviewing and then selecting from the materials at hand, and then sequencing and arranging them into a piece that satisfies as both a field recordings-based work and as a musical composition that just happens to include within it a predominant number of real-world samples—in short, Connection presents Whetham as more full-fledged composer than sound diarist intent on capturing a literal transcription of a geographical locale, a difference that becomes all the more evident as the work escalates in intensity during its final five minutes. After a rather unassuming setting of low-level clinks and emissions initiates the piece, the material gradually grows in detail and stature via the gradual accumulation of natural, industrial, and interspersed musical sounds. Episodes quickly follow one after the other, with the listener exposed to an understated flow of whooshing winds, electrical tones, mechanical train noises, bird chirps, and industrial rumble with moments of silence occasionally providing rest stops. Though there are moments when associative aspects of the city appear (bell sounds, for example), the final result is less a specific portrait of Prague and more one that alludes to it by severing literal ties to the city through the creative manipulation of the source materials. That the recording is less literally an evocation of Prague doesn't make it less satisfying, however, as loosening that bond allows the piece to be experienced as a more open-ended work that can be experienced at the level of pure sound.
Mathieu Ruhlmann & Banks Bailey | ANÁÁDIIH
Inside an elaborate chip-board outsize wallet is housed Mathieu Ruhlmann‘s latest endeavour of subtlety "Anáádiih" (3LEAVES 3L006), a 40-minute meditation in six parts which contemplates the beauties of the forest, plant life, the skies and mountain-dwelling with an enraptured awe. Banks Bailey is co-credited with producing these recordings, which to my ears seem to include many choice fragments and selections from nature’s bounty – insects, birds, horses, fire, water, weather and air, and certain unseen activities that might cause the bark of an elm to creak in sympathy. There are at least two layers of recording in motion at any one time, and sumptuous overlaid beauties emerge like multiple exposure photographs. Our Hungarian friend Ákos Garai did the mastering for his 3LEAVES label on this, one of the clearest and most straightforward things I have heard from Ruhlmann’s catalogue (he can sometimes indulge in opaque murk and metaphysical conjecture). Comes with a tipped-in colour cover and a printed insert, and a paper band around the package. Arrived from British Columbia, home of the huge wooden log, on 04 April.
Ákos Garai | BARGES & FLOWS
"Songs of the river: Stunning confluences of chance and patience."
If, as Helmut Neidhardt of [multer] once suggested, the ocean is „the world's biggest drone musician“, then perhaps rivers are the planet's most inventive sound artists, moulding and bending water into a cornucopia of timbral variations and rhythmical patterns. To an artist like Ákos Garai, whose oeuvre inherently deals with the relationships and feedback processes between pure field recordings and carefully sculpted composition - his previous full-length Pilis, taped in a sacred mountainside in his native Hungary documented a mysterious inner journey through their spiritual intersection - the Danube must therefore by default constitute not just one of the world's historical, ecological, economical and cultural jugulars, but a creative lifeline as well. Along its almost three thousand kilometers, it both connects and, as a natural border, separates ten countries, growing from the confluence of two tiny streams into a panoramic waterway and offering a plethora of sonic impressions ranging from the pastoral and intimate to the industrial. Garai wasn't the only one to be impressed: In 2008, Australian composer Annea Lockwood released A Soundmap of the Danube and to this day, this triple-CD-set of acoustic impressions has remained the most extensive and in-depth portrait ever presented on the subject. And yet, Garai's Barges & Flows is never indebted to Lockwood's cross-breed between radio play and organic soundscape. Rather, it complements, comments on and occasionally counterpoints her perspective, further enriching an already colourful panopticum.
The main difference between the two approaches consists in their conceptual departure points. Lockwood, after all, regarded the Danube foremost as a cultural symbiosis between a natural resource and the people living along its shores. To her, this symbiosis expressed itself in the fine gradations of dialect and vocabulary of the manifold languages spoken on its trajectory from Germany to the Ukraine as well as the endless stories amassed through the centuries, from its days as an outer fortification of the Roman empire up until the 21st century. To Garai, on the other hand, the Danube is less a conjurer of stories, but a muse of song. His focal point is less on socio-political aspects, but pointed at the cohabitation between the river, as a biological habitat and natural reserve, and the ships and boats ploughing its waves. If there is a narrative to be sought here, it is to be found in the specialised constructions of these barges, gradually adapted to the Danube's particular qualities, as well as at its harbour sites, where the conflict between man and machine, between ecology and economics is brought to an acme. And if there's music in these conflicts, then its melodies are developed by heavy hulks of rusty steel, wind-torn riggings and the splashing of water along the ships' bodies, fascinatingly transformative metrums determined by the slight irregularities and subtle variations in wind strength and ship speed. And so Garai took to „areas filled with people and ships on a daily basis“ and „others only visited occasionally or never at all“ to record this symphony of nautical folk as an homage and analysis – and perhaps as a personal document of the sonic landscape influencing his personality as well.
The field recordings gathered from these trips are anything but the kind of sweetly bubbling and gently gurgling water sounds one has come to expect of similar endeavours. Quite on the contrary, Barges & Flows lends a particular ear to the noisy and the scraping, to the wildly fluttering and flapping, to the sudden outbursts, the momentous momentary releases of energy as well as the seminal silences following in their wake. At the same time, there is a degree of clarity and a love for the microscopic character traits of each location, as though these were acoustic portraits of the barges captured on them. The sheer musicality of the result is astounding. On one occasion, Garai documents an eight-minute long monody of rusty harmonics, a shifting trail of intervals coalescing into an endless theme. On another, he listens breathlessly, as the waterplay against a backdrop of crackling micro-noise textures creates a quiet oasis. In the background, one can clearly hear the surrounding environmental noises, including the din of distant cars, conversations of passers-by, bird song as well as the ceaseless hum of civilisation – clearly, the songs of the barges don't just submissively blend into the scenery, but urgently demand attention, both charming their audience with delicate arrangements and tearing at their nerves. But as one listens one's way through the album, it is becoming increasingly clear that these sonic signals are actually not intrusive, but constitute an integral and grown part of the Danube's organism - for better and worse, they belong together.
To drive his point home, Garai has gone for the moments when the confluence of chance and patience yields spinetinglingly stunning results. Already the first few seconds of the album, unfolding in front of the listener like the opening sequence of a movie, express its intent of communicating not just raw data but sonic events of poetic import: Water sounds slowly fade in, gradually enriched by dripping noises and the hiss of a close by motorway. Then human voices reach the ear and, finally, the heaving and sighing of the first barge – one has arrived at the heart of the narrative. The fifth episode, meanwhile, takes on the traits of a minutely constructed work of sound art, with rhythmical, chromatic and melodic impulses lovingly strewn across the canvas and a continuous ebb and flow of events creating a sense of what someone like Schoenberg might have called „developing variation“: The building of complex compositions from a tiny set of motives. On closing „U-10241-30 (2)“ (not much poetry in the highly functional track titles, admittedly), Garai hits his pinnacle: For eight and a half minutes, he catches what are presumably car wheels driving over a bridge made of metal rods, creating a grid of forever changing rhythmical patter. No drum machine in the world could have been programed with such a sequence and Garai carefully builds it into a spellbinding and hypnotic track. Towards the end, suddenly, tidal activity picks up, the carwheel-groove segueing with liquid splashings until, almost like a percussionist striking the timpani in a symphonic finale, three expressive thumps seem to suggest a natural conclusion.
Of course, Garai is never just a passive spectator here and it is his selection process which turns Barges & Flows into an immersive and cohesive experience. Still, his approach is neither academic nor particularly complicated: „I find a place and set up my recording equipment“, as he dryly explains in the liner notes. There is no hidden magic here: When you're dealing with the world's most inventive sound artist, all you have to do is record and listen.
Mathieu Ruhlmann & Banks Bailey | ANÁÁDIIH
Though 3LEAVES has issued a number of worthy field recordings-based releases to date, this latest one, a collaborative effort between Mathieu Ruhlmann and Banks Bailey that's available in a run of 100 numbered CD-R copies, is the first we've able to squeeze into our pages—a wrong finally righted. Based in Tucson, Arizona, Bailey is a sound recordist who collects material from remote wilderness areas within the southwestern deserts and mountains of the United States. The Vancouver, British Columbia-based Ruhlmann is a sound artist whose works have appeared on numerous labels as well as several compilations. The collaborators take their inspiration for the project from Native American Navajo writing, with the Anáádiih title itself a Navajo word that describes the phase of the moon disappearing. Not surprisingly, all of the sounds are nature-based and industrial environments are conspicuously absent.
Some of the standard outdoors sounds appear—birds chirping, the relentless churn of a river's flow, the rumble and rustle of wind, fire crackle, rain drizzle, the amplified clomp of someone walking through fields—but even when they do, they nevertheless strengthen the sense of place established by the album's material. That's helped by the sometimes exotic bird sounds that emerge—in the opening piece, “With Pollen / Beautiful in His Voice,” the unidentified call is so loud it verges on threatening—as well as the whinny of a horse and the anguished cries of coyotes. Track titles such as “Cactus Spine / The Trail Marked With” and “Where the Blue Kethawns Are / There I Return” strengthen the sense of immersion within the natural world that the project cultivates. Of course, things are not exactly as they might seem. The sound materials have not only been collected but also arranged, such that, even if a given piece simulates an undoctored field recording of a specific time and place, it's more likely the case that it's been stitched together from multiple parts gathered at different locales and times. Certainly the elements have been assembled in such a meticulous way that the illusion is maintained convincingly. That's never more the case than when ripples of thunder make the animals grow increasingly agitated during “This Very Day / Your Spell For Me / You Will Take Out.” The work is also presented in very appealing manner, with the CD housed in a tall cardboard case and the disc itself made to look like a 45 vinyl single.
John Kannenberg | A SOUND MAP OF THE EGYPTIAN MUSEUM, CAIRO
A Sound Map of the Egyptian Museum, Cairo is an hour long journey through Egypt’s grandest museum, an institution in the heart of downtown Cairo filled with some of the most important artifacts of world heritage ever assembled under one roof, ranging from objects like the five millennia-old Palette of King Narmer to the New Kingdom golden funerary mask of King Tutankhamun.
Meticulously edited from over eight hours of field recordings made on site at the museum in the spring of 2010, the composition takes listeners on an impossible journey through the museum’s senescent galleries, presenting a series of sonic objects many visitors might otherwise miss: the almost liquid reverb of the museum’s grand atrium, the hiss and rumble of the ventilation system that pumps controlled air into the chambers where the royal mummies lie, the buzz and crackle of aging fluorescent lights about to extinguish themselves, the bangs and rattles of carpenters making spot repairs to the galleries, and the laughter of museum employees gathered for a break to watch a local sitcom on a mobile phone.
With ongoing plans to move the contents of the Egyptian Museum to the new Grand Egyptian Museum building located near the Giza plateau, the soundscape of this century-old current museum has in recent years been destined for change. Yet even before this relocation could take place, the political revolution in Cairo during January and February of 2011 left an indelible mark on the Egyptian Museum’s sonic identity. Tahrir Square, the nexus of the revolution, is located just a block away from the museum. During the protests, a gang of looters used the growing unrest to their advantage and broke in to the museum, somehow managing to evade the human chain of brave citizens who formed a protective wall around the outside of the building. The looters stole or damaged over fifty objects, many of which are still missing. This breach of the museum’s security leaves a physical and sonic rupture, a blemish on the collection and its audience that may never heal.
A Sound Map of the Egyptian Museum, Cairo collects and preserves the pre-revolution soundscape of one of the world’s greatest museums, a sonic relic blending the sounds of contemporary Cairo with the resonance of some of Egypt’s most famous ancient objects. The CD comes packaged with a booklet containing an essay by the composer as well as an annotated visual map illustrating the time code locations of the sound objects collected in the piece.
Mathieu Ruhlmann & Banks Bailey | ANÁÁDIIH
Anáádiih is the first collaboration between these two dedicated phonographers, consisting of six layered tracks for a total of forty minutes of immersive sound. The sounds in question consist of what was an ongoing additive process in which recordings from Arizona – courtesy of Bailey – were woven into/with recordings from BC – courtesy of Ruhlmann. I'm sure the two had an equal part in the process, but to me, the style sounds all Ruhlmann. Bailey's past albums, including the fairly recent – and fantastic – Upwelling on Mystery Sea, is consistent more so with the obfuscated field recording and dark ambient work of friend, collaborator, and contemporary, Ian Holloway – stemming from the Lustmord/Köner axis. Anáádiih, on the other hand, like Rhulmann's previous work, isn't hiding anything. These are straight field recordings, thoughtfully layered and arranged.
Anáádiih is teeming with life.
This album feels like a trek along an endless foothill of sound, along the way presenting animal calls, weather, and unnameable pockets of rustling activity. The strongest moments are when the tactile elements are layered with the sounds of animal life, and on several occasions – especially when the distant cries of wolves or birds of prey can be heard – are executed with utmost aplomb. I'll offer a piece of criticism that's becoming a bit of a blanket statement of mine for a lot of work in this genre, in that I would have liked to have seen more of an overall arc or sense of movement in the compositions. It becomes easy to focus only on individual sounds and how they work together in a track, but to forget the purpose of these sounds and the direction one has decided to take them.
Though still useful, maybe the above critique is perhaps irrelevant in this instance as I am still able to grasp, what I think is, the underlying idea at the album's conclusion. Personally, I hear Anáádiih as a cross section of an old growth tree, as if each tree ring captured the sound of a year of life in the wild, and these two artists were somehow able to tap into and unravel the history steeped within those rings. I believe Bailey and Ruhlmann set out to create an aural picture, a framing of the timelessness of sound as channeled through their own reconstructions of that sound. An anonymous Navajo poem in the liner notes helps to convey thoughts and ideas through an understanding of nature as a precious thing, and these sounds reflect that eternal idea. Edition of 100. Exquisitely packaged.
Interview with Mark Peter Wright
We're living in a material world, and yet our lives are constantly influenced by intangible forces. In 2006, on the first of what would become a series of field recording trips to the North East coast of England, London-based Mark Peter Wright was captivated by the grace and fluidity with which birds would make use of invisible thermals to sail through the air. Although wind, he suddenly realised, could not be seen, it nonetheless powerfully manifested itself in its interaction with the world around it. There was a philosophical side to the reflections which befell Wright that day, but most of all, unsurprisingly for a sound artist, there was a sonic aspect: The tempestuous winds of these regions made themselves heard by breaking at the dunes, roaring through the branches of trees and even by washing round the ears of those taking the trip out there to listen to them. It proved to be a decisive moment, for it would initiate a project entitled Inanimate Life, which was to become an audio catalogue of the coastal region and would continue to fascinate Wright until the present day. Part of this fascination originates in his longstanding interest in the all-important instances for any field recorder when one's own body seems to disappear and to merge with the environment like a drop of water falling into the ocean and one can literally feel the workings of the neverending cycle of life. It is a moment when it is becoming hard to say if one's senses really belong to one's own nervous system or whether they are, in fact, part of a far bigger, collective organism – and where exactly the border between the two is running. Clearly, it seems to relate to experiences, which many would describe as „spiritual“ and which congenially fit into the oeuvre of an artist who was awarded the British Composer of the Year Award distinction on the strength of his work A Quiet Reverie, which dealt with the spatial and architectural aspects of four ruined abbeys (again in North East England) – a firm insider tip among fans of drones, dark ambient and sound art alike. And yet, Wright emphasises that his quest always begins right here on earth and is directed at the unique qualities of a very particular place. Which is not to say that there is an intriguing kind of mystery to the sounds collected on Inanimate Life. After all, even an entirely material world is continuously enriched by the underlying influence of intangible forces.
The North East coast of England seems to be an alluring place in sonic terms.
The majority of the tracks are from that area but there are also recordings from other places including Herefordshire, Manchester and Poland. Many of the sounds presented are rich in natural timbre, depth and resonance. I am drawn to unorthodox structures and chance patterns that naturally sounding elements produce. One of the aesthetically ‘alluring’ things about these sounds is their inconspicuous nature. You walk past these ‘sound events’ everyday without noticing or paying much attention, but when you start listening to an environment attentively, these imperceptible elements suddenly start jumping out all around you. I grew up in the North East of England, so I am sure in some way it’s alluring for me to return and experience the things I walked past without noticing during childhood.
Would you say that the aim of the project is to provide listeners with a reference frame, so they can make up a catalogue of their own?
Absolutely. All I’m offering is 50% of the work, it’s really up to a listener to engage with that other 50%, to bring their experiences and listen. The tracks are not listed in numerical order so the listener has aural and imaginary autonomy on what they want to, or think they’re hearing. The catalogue really is an invitation to listen, to browse and settle on something you find interesting and to move on - if this auditory awareness carries through into everyday life then great, all the better.
You once mentioned that ‘you have to wait, gradually the environment comes back in and you become part of it’.
As far as I can recollect the project started with a personal experience of time passing. Dwelling, standing still - in this scenario things unfold around you, you become sensate, aware. Some of the recordings came from hours of listening in one place, but only two minutes of that is what I wanted to present. Time and change seem to be connected to place. Movement suggests change, but in this instance, by staying in one place, I really grasped a sense of change and of time passing. There’s one particular recording that did not make it onto this publication that I vividly remember. I was recording marram grass amongst howling sand dunes and a pulverizing coastal wind. I was totally transfixed whilst listening and when I finished I could barely move. I’m not sure how much time had passed but I became really aware that the act of listening, and the environment had imposed a type of physicality onto my body.
What kind of conclusions did you draw from these sensations?
In fact, I have arrived at more questions than conclusions! The marram grass experience keeps coming back to me, maybe the recording never made it onto the CD because it could not live up to my actual physical and mental experience of the event itself. I am not sure if this is a conclusion but it’s certainly opening other doors to what is essentially the same room of investigation. I want to explore listening in all its potential, from the object/phenomena of sound itself to the experiential, corporeal, and intertextual ways in which we listen to the world around us.
Does spirituality play into this?
Spirituality does not inform my work directly. A previous work, A Quiet Reverie was an exploration of four ruined abbeys, clearly these are places of spirituality but I was more interested in the use of silence within this belief system. Silence was part of a monastic daily ritual, actively observed with monks communicating through hand signals and gesture. For me this is another interesting allusion to the fact that listening does not have to be communicated through sound alone. Overall my work is informed by conceptual and site-specific art histories and is very much an incremental, process-based approach to practice and research. I believe listening can be an affirming, self-conscious, cultural and political act - a platform for social, historical and ecological endeavour. That’s really my starting point. In terms of spirituality influencing environmental sound, from my point of view its influence is more one of genius loci, or ‘spirit of place’. Using sound to capture and induce a sense of place or audible presence.
Part of the intrigue of Inanimate Life was to record something intangible. Why would you want to do that with audio?
I just like to make life difficult for myself really! To capture something as transitory and slippery as sound through a non-visual media is a great challenge. Overall though, my work focuses primarily on conveying the experience of listening rather than delivering a sound object per se. I have always worked with other media alongside sound - photography, film, text and want to continue exploring other inter-textual ways to mediate the experience of listening.
What happens once you take away the corresponding images?
A sound can be a terrifying thing without its visual location. The amount of times I’ve woken up in the middle of the night looking out of the window, trying to locate a sound and being in this heightened state of confusion, the imagination running wild. It would be nice to think some of this comes across in the recordings, a sense of projection and engagement from a listener’s point of view. So, without the image it seems to be more about processing absence, filling in the gaps when perceptual and cognitive support mechanisms are disturbed. I’m talking from the perspective of somebody who has a good level of sight and hearing, so it’s a different experience for every individual.
To you, listening is a durational experience. Does that play into how you'll organise an album?
Many of the longer tracks on the record simply demand more listening time in order gain a fuller understanding of the complexity of sound. The wire fences and trees in particular reveal so much complexity over time. The shorter tracks - between two and three minutes - intend to act as bridges for the longer pieces and to ultimately create a diverse temporal sense of journey for the listener.
As the track listing evolved it became clear that certain pieces I had recorded just did not fit in. There were a lot of domestic sounds that did not make it onto this publication, for example window frames and doors banging in the wind. This was not due to the sound itself, but a consideration of the overall composition of tracks. The only criteria I imposed for selection in this case was how/if a recording contributed to the overall journey of the listener.
Next to your work in the field, you're also maintaining the ‘Ear room’ interview site. What are you finding out about sound by talking about it?
With Ear Room I want to create a space where discussions can take place and an archive can be built for others to engage with. The fundamental idea is that anybody with an interest in exploring sound can access a whole catalogue of voices, all under ‘one roof’. I’m lucky to have met and been in conversation with some truly fascinating people, and hope their contributions can evolve discussions of how we talk about sound, what vocabulary exists and what can be built. One of the strongest points of revelation to arrive from Ear Room is the complex philosophical, social, cultural, political and ecological borders that sound constantly spills between and disturbs.
Two new releases on 3LEAVES
The first thing to say about these two new releases on 3LEAVES is that they look great! Packaged in environmentally friendly brown card slipcases, complete with obi and a photographic print attached to the front. This attention to detail is also present in the choices the label has made in terms of the material it issues.
I have to say that the write up on the 3LEAVES website for the CD by Mathieu & Banks doesn't (for me anyway) capture what one will find on this release & that is why I haven't included that here. My advice would be to buy it & lets it's sounds capture your attention without referring back to those words. Here we have both straight field recordings & the sounds created by the artist from natural objects. This is music of detail & whilst the pieces occasionally become very active indeed there is always a sense of space & forward movement. I confess that the hydrophone recordings of water born insects & plant life sound like they were recorded with the hydrophones I make (correct me if i'm wrong) & if so then it's great to hear them put to such use.
This music sounds like ones ears have been placed on the living ground, twigs pushed aside & leaves crumpled by ones breath. All around nature is moving, waiting & speaking not to the human but amongst itself & we are listening in on some form of bio-acoustic radio signal, complete with static. A disc well worth checking out - but grab it fast as there's only 100 of them out there !
Next up we have a new CD of work by the labels owner, Akos Garai which focuses on untreated field recordings of, as the title suggests, barges & river flows. Capturing these types of sounds is a well documented area these days. I have 35 CD's on my shelves by different artists featuring the creaks & groans of barges, jetties & other structures floatings on rivers & lakes. However, what is interesting is the way the sheer number of discs featuring these sounds illustrate that even though they all use unprocessed field recordings it is in the choices made by the artist involved that the success of the release is decided. I'd guess that around half of those discs are 'ok' - more documentary than anything else & of the others there are only a handful that really stand out. So far, I think this one by Akos can be added to that handful. When I made my first jetty recordings back in the 1990's I was fascinated by the range of sounds & the way things moved from incredible subtly to ear-pounding force. I would listen for hours to a single structure & become transfixed by its voices. The way Akos has put this CD together, by recording in autumn 2010 & deciding on the choices by October does manage to capture something of a sense of his immediate fascination with these sounds. I think with sound worlds that have been well explored it's always best to keep things simple, as if saying '& this is what my ears liked, simply presented to you'
I'm glad to have this cd & to add it to the handful of dics in this area that I will listen to many times. Again, I recommend you get hold of this pronto - 100 copies only!