Scott Sherk | NEW YORK GLYPTIC
The sound artist's shaping hand is more conspicuously felt in Scott Sherk's New York Glyptic—the word “glyptic” does, after all, refer to the art of carving and by extension shaping. Familiar NYC street sounds inaugurate the forty-minute audio portrait—sirens, traffic noise, voices, et al.—but even before the first minute has passed, those natural elements are replaced by a warbling ambient drone that does a pretty good imitation of a mid-‘70s Tangerine Dream sequence (for the record, Sherk created the work exclusively from field recordings made in numerous locales within New York). The city sounds then re-appear but soon enough are again supplanted by a plunge into deep space. Real-world sounds capture the life of the city—children playing baseball, a jet drowning out all other sounds, a construction worker's drill, crowd noise—while the abstract material, which often resembles burbling synthetic sounds, operates as a radical contrast throughout. For the most part, transitions between the two sides don't happen abruptly but fluidly with one dissolving into the other. What explanation might there be for Sherk's approach? In liner notes, he refers to the city's pulsating sound and states, “I have come to understand this sound as a constantly shifting form with many evolving facets and shapes… As a sculptor it is my inclination to reveal these strata and expose the inner edges and planes of sound that create this elusive state.” Perhaps his goal is not only to document the city as it exists as a turbulent physical mass but also to provide a series of inner states that develop as a response to it—to translate the sum-total of sound data into a portrait that in some measure captures the spirit of the city and the individual's experience of it. No matter the intent, Sherk's piece proves to be a fascinating listen that at times verges on hallucinatory, and his destabilizing approach keeps the listener on his/her toes, never knowing what turn the material might take next.
Frédéric Nogray | BUITI BINAFIN (déambulation à la lisière du monde)
Some field recordings releases gradually draw the listener into their worlds; Nogray's, by comparison, drenches the listener from the first moment with the relentless downpour of a thunderstorm, prompting one to visualize the tropical setting covered in rain and the colours of its mangroves illuminated even more strongly as a result (it's worth noting that the field recordings were gathered in May, 2012 during the area's rainy season). His sound diary captures the natural setting—Punta Izopo, a mangrove forest on the north coast of Honduras near the Caribbean Sea—in all its glorious detail: following the storm's cessation, birds twitter, insects stridulate, a toucan caws, and flies buzz, with all of it arising alongside a persistent ambient hum of water-related sounds. Though rustlings and splashes do appear, evidence of a human presence is modest for much of the recording, until, that is, what appears to be a vehicle of some kind barrels into view at the forty-seven-minute mark before just as quickly morphing into the violent rainfall and thunderstorms with which the recording closes. That transformation is the one moment where Nogray's manipulation of the source material is most clearly evident, even if it's likely that his hand has shaped the other sounds as much if less noticeably. An ecological-environmental dimension subtly shadows the project, and highlights the fragility of the setting and the omnipresent threat of human invasion. Consequently, some small undercurrent of anxiety pervades the listening experience, as one luxuriates in the sounds populating the realm while also mindful that the recording might possibly be heard at some future time as a historical document of a land that no longer exists. Even so, the impression generally established is of a peaceful, even paradisiacal, natural setting not yet spoiled by industrialization—a development that might be seen as transformative or desecrating, depending on the point of view taken.
Scott Sherk | NEW YORK GLYPTIC
On the cover of Scott Sherk’s New York Glyptic, sound artist Annea Lockwood describes how the work has awakened in her the ability to walk through the city with fresh ears. She has an advantage here because the only New York I know is the version absorbed from 70s and 80s TV cop shows and Woody Allen films. The sort of films that start with an aerial view of the sea, the Statue of Liberty and then the city beyond with its mythical skyscrapers around the green oasis of Central Park.
Then once the titles have finished rolling, we are suddenly on the street: Yellow cabs, police cars, endless traffic and people speaking in a plethora of dialects and languages. Something is always on the edge of happening and there is a charge in the air. A tension hangs there that could go either way. This is the New York of Taxi Driver, Bad Lieutenant and When Harry Met Sally.
The only photograph on the front of this characteristically well presented 3LEAVES release shows a variety of people from the legs down standing on a metal grill. Their footwear indicates a mixed grouping. The metal grill accentuates the liminality of the city. They are not on solid ground. Whatever is beneath could rise up. A dropped key or coin would certainly be lost. This is Scott Sherk’s New York: A permeable membrane through which things ebb and flow.
Sherk approaches sound in a physical way, like a sculptor. He describes breaking pieces off, often revealing new shapes and textures underneath. Glyptics are carved stones, so the allusion is particularly apt. I would argue that he also interacts with the raw material like a painter, throwing washes of colour and texture across the canvas to blur the focus in an impressionistic way, yet never losing the core image.
To begin with we hear traffic noise, the very things Sherk couldn’t hear past when he first began recording the city. Sirens, cars, footsteps and voices: Then a synthetic sheen of processed sound washes through and over the street’s tumult. These metallic vapours act like a bridge, perhaps a wormhole through the time and space of New York’s soul, and we are transported to another vignette, another living, breathing soundscape. A skateboard trundles by. They’re playing basketball here. Maybe on a hard court fenced off with wire netting: Graffiti and children’s voices. We visit new scenes, new people and new localities throughout.
The whole thing dissolves again into processed sheets of drifting, ringing tones like the glint of sunlight reflected in the gleaming glass windows of tall buildings. Visually New York is a city of angles and concrete, metal and glass. Hard materials that in themselves seem alienating, but the human city, the people, their lives and their stories are another layer, another system. In fact in this sense every city is an interaction of systems. New York Glyptic allows this flow between layers and systems, hardness and humanity to become an aural entity.
As the forty minute composition progresses the synthetic tones that permeate the piece gradually become more complex, more insistent and eventually that is all there is. As if all the television transmissions, all the mobile phone signals and all the digital information trails in the air are coalescing into a palpable sonic cloud. It chatters and bleeps away with its various signals and pulses.
For me this works as a warning of the constant tension between ourselves and the threat of the dehumanising urban environment. However this is an extremely stimulating, enjoyable, warm sound work with many musical elements and a beautiful compositional focus. The sound sketches of the various localities touched here are vibrant and colourful. From hearing Glyptic I would guess Scott Sherk loves New York.
Scott Sherk | NEW YORK GLYPTIC
What are the soundmarks of a modern city? Walking through crowded streets do we only hear the constant presence of traffic, some raised voices above the low-fi drone? Is it possible to listen to field recordings of one city and identify it through its own unique sonic peculiarities? These are some of the questions that spring to mind whilst listening to Scott Sherk’s “New York Glyptic”, a new release on the 3LEAVES label.
“New York Glyptic” opens with the sound of police sirens as they move along a distant street. The sirens establish a sense of spatial distance as they wail from a block in the background while other traffic drives much closer to the microphone in the foreground. Shortly afterwards we hear basketballs bouncing in an inner-city court, skateboards gliding past and helicopters flying overhead. Sherk’s decision to mix these field recordings in the first moments of the release establish a sense of place; we are listening to New York post September 11, where the act of surveillance blends with the daily existence of the city’s inhabitants.
Scott Sherk has come to field recording and sound design as a natural progression from his daily practise as a visual artist. Working as a sculptor Sherk states that he is used to working with solid materials such as metal, wood, paper and clay. Sherk’s background in sculpture has informed his approach to listening and sound design in a way that reveals sensitivity to his environment. In his artist statement Sherk says, “I began to realise that the city pulsates with many different kinds of sounds. Individually, each sound is its own object with a shape and texture … As a sculptor it is my inclination to reveal these strata and expose the inner edges and planes of sound that create this elusive shape”. Understanding sound as a form with layers to be revealed has allowed Sherk to present the sonic mass of New York in a spatially complex way. In turn we are privy to the individual elements which constitute the city’s soundscape.
A strong sense of movement is experienced while listening to “New York Glyptic”; it feels as if the sounds that stem from above and below the streets are swirling past us in a dizzying and hallucinatory state. Untouched field recordings are mixed with those that have been heavily processed, adding to the disorientation. Nearing the end of the release unrecognisable sounds bubble to the surface at an increasing rate, perhaps reflecting the overwhelming experience that living in a modern metropolis can have on our senses.
The 3LEAVES label must be commended on its commitment to supporting a wide variety of works in the field-recording genre. Since it began in 2009 3LEAVES has continued to present works that examine a diverse range of sounds, places and recording practises. 3LEAVES also continues the tradition of the physical release in an era when the mp3 shuffle-mode has disrupted the careful sequencing of ideas by musicians and sound designers alike. We hope that this will inspire other label owners and curators so that works such as “New York Glyptic” will continue to be supported in the future.
Frédéric Nogray | BUITI BINAFIN (déambulation à la lisière du monde)
Some times I want to listen to the sounds of the rain forest. Sometimes it’s be the best I can do to be fully or acousmatically transported away from the quotidian sounds that just potentialize the often boring and stressful character of my every day existence.
The cars, my house, people talking, the TV, the telephone…
Through the last three months I visited forest areas near my city way more often than usual. It becomes an incredible experience to be by yourself in the middle of all this nature, quietly listening to this multitude of sounds forcing the perception to multiple focus and finding some pleasure and meaning on that.
On the quest to visit the rain forest while in my house in the middle of a concrete jungle I found ’Buiti Binafin’ which immediately managed to transport me there. This is truly one of the potentials of field recording based music, the potential to transport the listener somewhere else whether it’s to the Antartica or to a shoes factory.
By recording the rain forest and the vast bio-diversity found there, the artist is addressing the power of nature in terms of is complexity. By playing back this recordings he plays the role of a distorting medium, a messenger of an ever- fading message. In a way the artist always mimics the nature but he is only successful when he ‘becomes’ the nature, when he finds ways to mimic the nature as a power, as a vector of strength and magnitude.
Why would the artist try to act as he was the nature?
Because only the nature and its forces helps establishing the sense of immeasurable magnitude and incompressible complexity that derive in an emotion we can refer to as the sublime.
The sublime seems to be an emotion that triggers many phonographic based works. This contact with the magnitude and power of the nature leaves a track, a void that the sound artist fills with his memory imprinted on the tape or the memory card.
In despite of its phonographic character the listener could ponder the artist’s craft in ‘Buiti Binafin’ at least through the fact that there is a rational and emotional structure throughout the work: the pice starts with loud sound of waves that later return through the end. All across the lengthy middle the listener enters a long fragment where he could hear mostly sounds made by animals. The artist’s craft can also be sensed on what seems like juxtaposition of sounds on some fragments of the release.
The formal results in ‘Buiti Binafin’ are quite compelling, the sounds are fully believable and the whole emotional atmosphere he manages to build has this ‘sublime’ character that sets up a scenario for sensible and intellectual craving.
In regard of the question ‘to edit and juxtapose or not to’ in phonographic based composition some can say who cares, but for some artists it can be a puzzling question.
The line that divides documental phonography and music concrete can be rather blur for the listener. Anyway the intention to document and the intention to manipulate material are very different.
Frédéric Nogray seems to have found a balanced point here: the listener can sense the derive and natural order of things. But when the edition is visible we can tell there is something he wants to say or point out to. Personally I think he is interested in the power of nature depicted in contrast: movement and the stillness, violence and the calm, harmony and the noise.
When one reads the ‘Buiti Binafin’ liner notes one can tell Frédéric Nogray spend long hours in the the jungle probably being very quiet while watching the nature do its thing. His role here exemplifies the role of the artist who feels that being a medium is ethically his only choice.
Then when he returned home, the forest stopped being the subject, now his experience, his memories of the forest became the subject, and in this process he also turns from being a quiet observer to be the action himself. He becomes ‘the creator’, he becomes a force in the universe.
‘Buiti Binafin’ puts on the table the metaphoric character of recording sounds as a way to capture time. Recordings sounds is a useless and yet essential exercise in order to poetically deal with the ineffable character of the universe and the emotional meaning we get when we have an experience with it.
Frédéric Nogray | BUITI BINAFIN (déambulation à la lisière du monde)
Buiti Binafin may be a field recording, but it’s also an attempt to drive home a deeper message: that Earth’s natural soundscapes are disappearing by the minute, and the world’s chroniclers may need to step up their pace. At the same time, it’s a message to the whole of humanity: there’s something worth saving here, and while it’s nice to have pleasant recordings of the outdoors, it would be even betterto have the outdoors. This is not a new message (see Silent Spring, The Lorax), but it has gained added traction in the modern era.
Frédéric Nogray travelled throughout Honduras to procure these recordings. The press release states, “we know it since Claude Lévy-Strauss hammered it into us: tropics are sad, and each time we come, we pare down their territory”. But this is not altogether true. Some visitors tear down trees, and others plant them. Some disrupt natural environments, while others seek to preserve them. A tropic is neither sad nor happy; it just is (or isn’t). And so while listening to Buiti Binafin, one might treasure the sounds of birds in the trees or wonder if they are about to become extinct; one might accept the human intrusions or rail against them. But one will probably never think, “oh, what a shame that the river is drying or the weather systems have been disrupted”, because no matter what we do, there will always be rivers somewhere, and rain. As sonically thrilling as the opening thunderstorm may be, it’s not this soundscape’s most unique facet: the recording of indigenous avian species, twittering throughout the bulk of the hour-long track. In its latter quadrant, the piece shifts to night: insects appear, nightbirds emerge, the former cries recede.
When eight minutes remain, a loud vehicle enters, swiftly folding into the sounds of crashing water. While normally such an appearance would shatter the reverie, it’s the most active sound since the thunderstorm, and as such, it draws the attention in a pleasant way. The locals seem frightened, but the recording grows more interesting. One of the (unidentified) birds even sounds like a synthesizer. Hearing such a sound, one wonders what a flock of such birds might sound like if used in the manner of a cat piano (although we do not condone such behavior). In the end, the listener is left to ponder the sounds, to enjoy them, or both. Nogray’s intentions are laudable, but whether the album makes one want to save habitats or simply visit them will vary according to the audience.
Frédéric Nogray | BUITI BINAFIN (déambulation à la lisière du monde)
A ten-minute tropical downpour greets the listener in Frédéric Nogray’s “Buiti Binafin”, a sonic exploration into the Punta Izopo mangroves of northern Honduras. Home to the Garifuna people, descendants of African slaves brought to Honduras in the 1600s, this is an area whose once pristine environment is now threatened by the activities of economic development. It was with this knowledge that Frédéric Nogray visited the region with his recorder, capturing the sounds endemic to Punta Izopo before they are silenced.
“Buiti Binafin” is a composition divided into three parts. Following the density of the tropical storm Nogray moves us into a more spacious domain further downstream in “Buiti Binafin’s” second section. As the rain eases a chorus of life emerges. Birds call from our left and right, trees sway gently in a breeze, cicadas pulsate, a woodpecker vigorously pecks into a tree trunk. Considering the amount of wildlife that moves around the microphones it is interesting that each birdcall or cry from a monkey finds its own clear space. At no time does the biophony become blurred or overpowering.
“Buiti Binafin’s” final section is preceded by the calls of a Howler Monkey warning of an approaching motorboat. As the boat sweeps past we move from the depths of the mangroves to the coastline. The familiar crashing of waves is placed against the exotic Montezuma Oropendolas, a bird whose exceptionally unique call is achieved by swinging upside down from tree branches. It is a fitting place to end the composition, with Nogray having taken the listener through the twisted trajectory of mangroves to the river mouth.
Aside from the motorboat a lack of industrial sounds distinguishes Nogray’s recordings. Listening to the plethora of bird and insect life that characterises the local biophony it is difficult to believe that mangroves around the world are under threat. A sense of urgency overwhelms Buiti Binafin’s listening experience with the awareness that such places are becoming increasingly rare. We are reminded of questions that have so often been posed in the past decades: what have we lost, what will remain, what great silence might one day pervade these areas? In this context “Buiti Binafin” is a powerful work, the value of field recording confronting the listener with sounds from the precipice.
Michael Trommer | HTO
Michael Trommer’s latest release from 3LEAVES, ‘HTO’, really caught me by surprise. From the title and description I was anticipating a collection of conventional water recordings made at various locations along Toronto’s waterfront, possibly above and below the water line, but something fairly standard nonetheless. What I encountered however, was something much more complex and layered.
As the liner notes explain, ‘HTO’ has its roots in field recordings made along the city’s waterfront, as well as at the sites of buried rivers and extinct shorelines. The notes also point out that significant layering has been used in order to bring together sonic variations in both the recording techniques and the recording locations themselves. The end result is an abstract representation of Toronto’s water-related history.
At times, the overarching theme of water is clearly evident – hydrophone recordings, boat rigging clinking in the wind and calling gulls help with this – while at others, a more imaginative attitude is required. Given the variety of recording methods employed – contact, hydrophone, binaural, induction and boundary microphones – it seems only natural that ‘HTO’ should possess a more ethereal nature.
Some tracks were arranged ‘live’ in the field, thereby adding another layer of interest to the publication. The concept of mixing tracks at the place of recording, inevitably drawing inspiration from both the visual and acoustic environments, is an interesting one. I would have liked to know which tracks were created in this fashion but we are left guessing.
The aesthetics of a publication is of course important and ‘HTO’ definitely succeeds here. A lovely touch is the inclusion of 3 images taken, presumably, during Trommer’s recording journey. This is a very simple addition, yet it’s these little things that make a publication really shine. There is also an accompanying video that can be accessed through the 3LEAVES website.
For me, ‘HTO’ creates a feeling of the ephemeral; of something momentary and fluid that cannot be completely grasped or anchored down. Much like the recording location itself, with the faded memories of buried waterways and vanished shorelines, this collection of manipulated field recordings explores the everchanging nature of a place and allows us to experience one facet of Toronto’s rich sonic history.
Steve Roden | BERLIN FIELDS
When I was quite young I remember my mother taking me to the Science Centre that had a ’3D’ exhibit on. Essentially the idea was that you could go around with your own VHS and film yourself in various vignettes with accompanying backgrounds and scripts. I still remember the thrill of trying out as many scenarios as I could. Steve Roden’s new album Berlin Fields, has this same effect on me – that feeling of being artificially transported somewhere and getting to experience yourself in many quick scenarios, and then, just when all of your senses are getting comfortable with something – you get moved on to something else. Roden acts as the travel guide, with the album coming in the form of one forty minute-long piece that moves through some very varied sections.
Compiled from unprocessed field recordings from Roden’s most recent trips to Berlin, Helsinki and Paris – from, as he describes, public spaces, natural landscapes, airports and apartments – the album starts off at the ocean with birds and what sounds like a foghorn on loop, with echoing conversations in the background. Just before you can properly get accustomed to this space, Roden moves you quickly to some more sinister environments – its not long before we’re in a room with a creepy music box desperately trying to squeeze out a tune.
All of a sudden, you’re in a rainforest and hearing all types of human activity accompanied by a metallic tribal percussive beat. Demonstrating his skill, Roden follows this up with a section of an old man singing a gentle nursery rhyme; but rather than sound intimate, it sounds chillingly artificial when accompanied by the sound of people walking and cameras taking photos, like some artefact in a museum of some unknowable world. Although there will quite often be numerous sounds at any one time, Roden always puts a particular sound at the foreground which will be strongly contextualised by what’s going on in the background.
From there the record moves into more disorienting and unfamiliar – but no less thrilling – territory. We hear a plane coming in and wind chimes going wild, like there’s a storm coming. At other times we hear church bells that are being overtaken with a sea of ominous electronic static. It’s all pretty disparate, with unclear links; quite often a section will be cut off abruptly. This is all part of what makes it so fascinating; it’s great to listen to, and quite stunning in its visceral nature and intimacy.
Roden has created a playful and captivating travelogue; while it all feels unreal just like that 3D exhibit years ago, your senses are having too much fun to care and are just happy to go along for the ride.
Craig Vear | ESK
The latest album from Craig Vear – simply titled Esk – is a 40-minute piece compiled of recordings from 2008 of the River Esk, which begins in North Yorkshire National Park and ends in the North Sea. Initially using hydrophones and then air mics, Vear recorded in reverse order and then organised the recordings in order of the river’s flow.
The album starts off simply, with mosquito sounds and the gentle rippling of the titular river. Throughout the first twenty minutes, Vear captures anything that enters the environment: we hear planes, trucks, various fauna, and sections of strong wind which overpower his recording equipment to pretty interesting effect.
At the halfway point, Vear dives head first into the bottom of the river, with an edginess and grittiness lacking from the first half. With strong bass pulses and squeaking sounds that sound halfway between ice cracking and ducks quacking, this is the most interesting part of the album. As the piece comes to a close, recordings of what sounds like a bucket being filled up and poured into the river are played. Soon after we get sounds close up from a boat’s rudder that splashes around the water. These sections are beautifully circular, fluid and dynamic, but unfortunately they come after twenty-five minutes of stagnancy.
Whereas another recent 3Leaves release – Berlin Fields by Steve Roden – was thrilling in the way it allowed the listener to so vividly experience European cities, Vear’s effort seems one dimensional and motionless. Obviously this is the case when capturing only one location rather than three bustling cities as Roden did, but I couldn’t help but feel Vear’s piece was more enjoyable in the background when trying to concentrate on something else, rather than allowing the listener to go on their own thrilling – and extremely visual – trip. Esk never feels at all infinite or fluid; odd and especially disappointing given that you are essentially listening to a flowing river for forty minutes.
David Vélez | EL PÁJARO QUE ESCUCHA
El Pájaro Que Escucha, (the bird that listens), is the latest work from David Vélez. Using field recordings from the Colombian coastal town of Palomino Vélez has created a work which provokes an intense emotional response. For one hour Vélez presents a slow stream of sounds from Palomino’s forests and beaches. Central to the tone of this piece are the aircraft whose engines affect the location’s tranquility.
El Pájaro Que Escucha begins with an approaching plane, its low steady drone gradually merging with the intermittent calls of birds in the foreground. An ominous ambience is formed through the encroachment of the engine into the forest’s acoustic space, the tension between the two being clearly audible. The distant sound of the ocean features throughout the piece. During quiet moments in the forest the ocean can be heard in the background, its deep hostile roar eliciting a sensation of dread in the listener. Other sounds heard in El El Pájaro Que Escucha belong to the insect world. The flat-line stridulation of cicadas mirror the drone of the plane, their occasional changes in pitch adding a sense of musicality to the work.
El Pájaro Que Escucha exemplifies the way in which field recordings can be combined to create a particular narrative. Through the strategic sequencing of his recordings Vélez has created an environmentally dystopian work. The calls of the birds create an atmosphere of mournful isolation, as if stemming from earth’s last unspoilt pocket of nature. The plane’s intrusion upon this wilderness adds to the dystopian theme. For the listener it seems logical to connect the fading in and out of the plane with the echo of a past calamity or an impending catastrophe. In the world that Vélez presents even the tropical waves assert an element of menace, increasing the listener’s unease as they resound in the background.
In order to enhance the aural narrative Vélez provides two quotes on the sleeve of the release which are worth considering while listening to El Pájaro Que Escucha. From Sagan ‘For we are the local embodiment of a Cosmos grown to self awareness…Our obligation to survive is owed not just to ourselves but also to that Cosmos ancient and vast, from which we spring’. While from Lyotard ‘…after the sun’s death there won’t be a thought to know that its death took place…That is the sole serious question to face humanity today.’. The relationship between text and sound is clear.
As El Pájaro Que Escucha draws to a close the drone of the plane fades away. In its place Vélez amplifies the world of the forest floor. His exploration of its miniature draws attention to the forest’s complex biophony, reminding us of the fragility of this integrated system. Slowly the focus of the microphone moves upwards to the forest canopy. Here it captures a richer diversity of birdlife than at the beginning of the work. The recordings in this final section are suggestive of the planet’s soundscape before the intrusion of human industry or, conversely, after its demise.
El Pájaro Que Escucha is a profound work. It attains an emotional impact through Vélez’s careful selection of untreated field recordings. The subsequent sonic exploration Vélez takes us on is of a damaged world. Although the recordings were made in Colombia the sounds presented by Vélez are instantly recognisable. The localised recordings of birds, insects, planes and waves allow El Pájaro Que Escucha to reflect the current state of the planet, making the piece as haunting as it is powerful.
David Michael | SHANGRI-LA
‘Shangri-La is a fictional place described in the 1933 novel Lost Horizon by British author James Hilton. Hilton describes Shangri-La as a mystical, harmonious valley, gently guided from a lamasery, enclosed in the western end of the Kunlun Mountains. Shangri-La has become synonymous with any earthly paradise but particularly a mythical Himalayan utopia — a permanently happy land, isolated from the outside world. In the novel Lost Horizon, the people who live at Shangri-La are almost immortal, living years beyond the normal lifespan and only very slowly aging in appearance.’
[ Wikipedia ]
David Michael’s own Shangri-La is located in the Seney National Wildlife Refuge in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where he captured the sounds used on this work; ‘Shangri La’ comes in two versions both available under one release: a CD edit of almost an hour and twenty minutes long and a DVD edit of over ten hours and thirty minutes. The sounds depicted here are of wild life mostly birds and water; the listener can also hear insects and batrachians among other sounds.
Psychologist Eleanor Ratcliffe from the UK recently did a research on the effect of songbirds in the human brain, and the study concluded that:
“A great deal of anecdotal evidence suggests that we respond positively to birdsong.”
‘Shangri La’ is a great example of the joy, depth and meaning we get from listening to bird songs even on an acousmatic medium as the CD and the DVD: the removal from its context through a series of technological devices -microphones, pre-amps, recorders, computer, amps, speakers, headphones- doesn’t remove the apparent benefits of listening to the sounds of birds. Anyway ‘Shangri-La’ goes beyond any possible therapeutic aspect, but instead is charged with poetical and political content dealt with on a beautiful and effective formal way.
The artist becomes the finger pointing to the moon, where is the moon what matters and not the finger. He is showing a path that doesn’t necessarily lead somewhere but instead presents a escape of the man-made world that is harming our psyche, harming our world through the noise levels it creates.
Another sound that is very present in this work is the sound of running water: the white noise-like sonorities that water presents under certain circumstances are associated with meditation. White noise covers all the different frequencies of the spectrum and some say this helps the listener to “find” and depict sounds like it is mentioned on the book Siddhartha -by Herman Hesse- where the main character says that while listening to the sound of the river he could listen to a “many-voiced song’. An interesting fact about the white noise-like character of water is that each individual seems to hear different things, similar to what happens with the Rorschach test in psychiatry.
Probably what we are looking for on this mirroring / white noise-like water is indeed our own voice. On the movie ‘Solyaris’ by Andrei Tarkovsky there is a line of dialogue that can be of help here:
Dr. Snaut: ‘We don’t need other worlds. We need a mirror. We struggle to make contact, but we’ll never achieve it. We are in a ridiculous predicament of man pursuing a goal that he fears and that he really does not need. Man needs man!’
This also reminds me of the liner notes of the 3Leaves release “El Pájaro que Escucha” where anthropologist Trixi Alina speaks about an inner-search David Vélez does in the outside while creating his own tune through the bird songs.
Anyway in a wider sense I feel that ’Shangri La’ is actually about time, about the dramatic condition of man trapped between the time of nature and the time of machines. A drama that goes beyond the sound aspect that puts man in a world he built but that he doesn’t want to longer inhabit, a man escaping from himself to find himself…complex, metaphorical, poetical and most important, pertinent and necessarily.
David Michael presents here his own version of paradise through the way Seney National Wildlife Refuge sounds like, making emphasis -mostly on the DVD edit- in the way time lapses there, slowly, organically, naturally, away from the fast, rushing and artificial time outside.
‘Shangri La’ is a work of strong political implications, just like most of the wild nature based phonographic releases out there, as it puts the sound pollution issue on the table and it does it in the most poetical and subtle way, by addressing the time-space phenomena in a contemporary romantic way.
This is a very successful work poetically, politically and formally that I would advice to listen in its long version, to get a “paradisiac” experience in the loud polluted world we inhabit in the large cities.
David Vélez | EL PÁJARO QUE ESCUCHA
Three victories in a row for the 3LEAVES label (following releases by Craig Vear and Steve Roden) and a hat trick for David Vélez as well, following releases on Unfathomless and Impulsive Habitat. El Pájaro que Escucha (the bird that listens) is different from Vélez’ other recent works in that it is less a soundscape than a series of untreated recordings. The beauty is that it is only three months old; this is exactly what the outskirts of Palomino, Colombia sounded like in January.
The single, hour-long piece unfolds as a battle between sound and sound intrusion. Those who have read The Great Animal Orchestra or similar works are already well-versed in this topic. Very few “pure” sound environments remain, and even birds have been known to change their cries in imitation of or response to mechanized or “civilized” impositions. Vélez places the conflict front and center by opening the piece with the sound of an airplane passing overhead; instead of avoiding the distant roar, he acknowledges the problem by shining a spotlight upon it. This makes a crucial difference in the reception of the recording. We are used to hearing field recordings the other way around: the sounds, and then the intrusions “ruining” the moment. But since the intrusions come first – more than one plane in sequence – their disappearance fills the listener with awe. ”So this is what nature sounds like! I never would have known.”
In the natural spaces, additional species make their presence known. The bird that listens may be the one biding its time, waiting for an opening in the sonic field in order to sound its mating cry. Those familiar with the sounds of different species will have – pun intended – a field day. The fourteenth minute also introduces the sound of what seems to be a roaring waterfall – a nice break in the action for a different kind of action – but in the end, it’s all about the birds, the natural cries that few people outside of Columbia have ever heard. (And it’s a safe bet to say that many people inside Columbia have never listened.) From 21:48 to 35:17 we experience a period of near-uninterrupted beauty, during which Vélez must have been very, very still. The nocturnal tranquility of this segment is astonishing, a pocket of peace that stays in the listener’s mind even as things grow busy once again. The later segments add a welcome contrast, with even more birds, plus on at least one occasion the rustling of wings. (Kudos on that one!)
When human sounds begin to intrude again (most obviously at 57:10), we are reminded of how fortunate we are to have this sonic artefact. As more of the world’s pure environments disappear, we’ll need recordings like this to tell us how the earth once sounded.
Steve Roden | BERLIN FIELDS
”And you, you want me not to stop
Looking, listening, seeing, hearing,
You even have words to offer
For me to see further and know more. “
Yves Bonnefoy, Voix sur le fleuve.
This is, above all, a story taking an epistolary form as the booklet contains a letter from Steve Roden to Ákos Garai, director of the label 3LEAVES who released this disc. As usual, the artist took the time to explain his approach, adding to his letter a list of recorded places and objects. Not so much to give us a ready-made concept of how to think about his work, but rather to remove this question entirely and make us completely present as we listen to his creation.
From this approach, Steve Roden offers us the fascinating sonic journey, sometimes stationary, sometimes moving, of his body amidst the recording of bystanders all around him. He alternates between contemplation and action while playing with and manipulating objects in his daily life. A feeling of serenity emerges from this approach, whith caresses, light touches, and subtle incarnations where the place becomes contextualized, where details and overall impressions are juxtaposed. The point, here, isn’t to disregard humanity within the soundscape. On the contrary, everything strives to live within the peace of objects found again, calling for the living and the dead in places loaded with memory (Walter Benjamin’s Archive Reading Room in Berlin, the Mémorial des Martyrs de la Déportation in Paris).
Listening to the album becomes intense, as an intimacy is created through the process of field recording. We go along with Steve Roden in his wanderings, and find the silence, bordering on loneliness (the same solitude that is necessary for the listening process), revealing a much more populated place than we first imagined.
And like a medieval alchemist, Steve Roden manages to deeply touch us as he brilliantly transforms the banality of everyday life into something infinitely precious; into sound images that will accompany us for a long time. A long time indeed.
* English translation by Rodolphe Gonzalès
Steve Roden | BERLIN FIELDS
Steve Roden is an American sound and visual artist from Los Angeles. He rose to prominence in 2001 with the release of Forms of Paper, a work commissioned by the Los Angeles public library featuring the manipulated sounds of books being handled. It was with this work that Roden became known for an extreme form of ambient minimalism termed lowercase.
In Berlin Fields Roden continues his exploration of the minute sounds which surround us in our global culture. Based on field recordings Roden made while travelling through Berlin, Paris, and Helsinki Berlin Fields presents a psychological account of what it is to feel displaced while travelling in foreign lands. The field recordings that Roden presents reflect the sense of dislocation we often feel when placed in an exotic environment, using our auditory faculties to while away the hours.
Roden’s sonic journey throughout Europe is largely one of interior sounds. His field recordings reflect the slow passage of time for someone alone/isolated in their hotel room: feet on a ceiling, the drone in a bedroom, birds outside a window.
At times Roden participates with the soundscape of these interior spaces through his manipulation of objects found within them: he moves jars on a table, he audibly touches a radiator with his hands, he plays a sardine tin.
Whenever exterior sounds are presented, such as the bells of Notre Dame, they are often overshadowed through the amplification of the sonic miniature that surrounds him. Roden’s exploration of the lowercase aesthetic ensures that peripheral sound events become central to our experience.
Roden’s interest in the sonic possibilities of domestic objects and spaces seems contrary to the expansive idea of travel. For the audience these recordings become as much about domestic and liminal interiors as they do an exploration of Roden’s own mind. It is here that Berlin Fields finds its subtle tension. We are moved to question if the subject choice of these recordings is the result of someone who has retreated inwards, someone unable to find a tangible connection with the foreign world outside. In this sense Roden’s field recordings reflect the reality of international travel for many of us.
Berlin Fields is packaged beautifully by the 3LEAVES label. In a world of digital downloads it was refreshing to insert Roden’s CD into the CD-player and read the accompanying text on the inner sleeve. Here’s hoping that more labels will follow suit.
Steve Roden | BERLIN FIELDS
Berlin may be the lucky city that graces the title, but Berlin Fields was also recorded in Paris and Helsinki. It’s an odd travelogue, 19 sonic vignettes captured as often by happenstance as by intention. One imagines the artist wandering through vast fields, or even city dumps, alone and intrigued. Oh look, a jam jar! I wonder what it would sound like on this broken tabletop. Hey now, a sardine tin! Jeepers, who would ever discard a perfectly good radiator? Birds, traffic and conversation provide a natural backdrop to his explorations.
Roden’s childlike curiosity is akin to that of Diego Stocco, but without multi-tracking. In his hands, every object possesses an intrinsic appeal, a sound waiting to be coaxed out through interaction. In this sense, Roden becomes the “jar whisperer”, the artist who posseses the patience to woo the inanimate. As a child, it’s likely he filled glasses with different levels of water and tapped them with spoons, or used icicles as drumsticks on frozen ponds. The passive traveler asks, “What does this sound like?” The active traveler asks, “What could this sound like?”, and makes an effort to find out. A deep bass thump on an empty cylinder is the best example: an object noticed, engaged in conversation, and respectfully left intact.
While the album is a solo production, it makes one wonder what a group of sonic strollers might produce: an improvised, site-specific concert of found sounds. Post-processing might accomplish the same thing, as would the blending of these vignettes into a single, break-free piece. But as appealing as these suggestions might sound, they would interfere with the purity of the recording, as well as with its purpose: to demonstrate the potential of hidden auditory sources. Those bottles might be worth tapping before recycling. The old muffler might sound better when removed from the car. The walls of one’s house may be richer sonic environments than one can imagine. Best of all, these noises are free. This egalitarian approach to music reminds us that sound art is not the territory of sound artists alone. As the prophet declares, listen, then, if you have ears.
Craig Vear | ESK
As pretty as a postcard, the river Esk is shown on the cover of Craig Vear's sound poem recording in all its wintry glory. Though the work as presented documents the flow of the river from its North Yorkshire National Park source to the North Sea, Vear himself recorded the material in reverse order by starting at the harbour in Whitby and gradually making his way towards the river's source where a series of Esklets merge to form the river. After compiling the recordings he would use within the piece, Vear then re-arranged them so as to suggest the movement of a river flowing to the sea.
The single-track journey begins with subdued water sounds accompanied by an abundance of nature sounds - flies buzzing, birds chirping, and cows mooing - before the river sounds move to the forefront, becoming more aggressive and volatile as they do so. The range of water sounds alone is arresting, with everything from burbling to crystalline flow captured in glorious clarity by Vear's hydrophones and air mics. He amplifies that material by augmenting it with sounds from the different sites visited along the way. Ducks seem to fly close by during one sequence whereas during others they're heard far off in the distance, and as far removed from the industrial world as this nature-intensive work might at times seem to be, traffic noise appears, too, a reminder perhaps of the industrial world's ineradicable presence within seemingly every natural environment (of course, let's not forget that the recording technology used by Vear also ties him to that industrial world). Creaks, rumbles, clatter, engine hum, and even a jarring wail emerge, too, all of which likewise remind the listener that, even though the work is faithfully presented from the river's perspective, the source recordings were captured by a human being making his painstaking way down the river by boat.
In essence, the work plays like an audio diary that's distilled a journey that conceivably might have stretched across many days, even weeks, into an incident-packed, forty-one-minute affair. Multiple episodes of contrasting character follow quickly upon one another, with bucolic and restful scenes shifting rapidly to moments of greater volume and intensity - the changes rather analogous to a ride down a rapids-filled river that alternates moments of calm with those of danger. It all adds up to a rich soundtrack of constant stimulation and rapid scene changes, and consequently the listener's attention never flags.
Craig Vear | ESK
Business as usual for the next month, it would appear, means 6 hour days in the studio, sifting through recorded material to arrive at something cohesive, all the while battling ear fatigue as sounds from the inside of giant mechanical ships eject from studio monitors. Things are coming along swimmingly.
The River Esk is a 45km body of water that stretches through North Yorkshire, England, and empties into the North Sea. A quick scan of the internet reveals much on the river's vitality: a bearer of fish and other wildlife and at one time providing support for small villages that peppered its banks. In 2008 the field recordist Craig Vear turned his attention to the Esk river, and with a little help of a research grant from the Leverhulme Trust, he began gathering audio for what would become his "sound poem" tracing the flow of the Esk from source to sea (only Vear actually recorded it backwards, from sea to source, and then worked in reverse).
Vear's portrait is steeped in all of the sounds one might expect to hear from a river, a good portion of the first half cycling through numerous recorded segments of bird song and water flow, fading in and then fading out predictably. The honesty of Vear's recordings are undermined by how utterly bland they are, unfolding in an elementary one-after-the-next fashion. However, as we get into the more hydrophone dominated back half, Vear slows the pace down and introduces more grit, which, in the grand scheme of his poetic vision makes good sense: more activity and cleaner, quicker transitions corresponding to the source, or "young river", while more languid, longer and grittier sections corresponding to the body and estuary, or "old river".
The "grittiness" of sound herein stems not only from the hydrophone's unique and recognizable conversion of pressure waves and underwater vibration into sound (I think of it as very trebly though I'm not sure how accurate that is), but also from occasional wind distortion and handling noise. These accidental sounds are typically unwanted and can slow a work down, though I believe Vear's choice to include them was a finer deliberation than had he decided to smooth out all the rough edges. Again, this speaks to the honesty of Vear's portrait. That said, when working to create a single, unified piece of music – that Esk strives to be – it becomes the job of the field composer to take the sounds they've gathered and create something that extends beyond any one given recording. In the case of Esk, I hear little more than a line-up of individual pleasant river sounds.
Craig Vear | ESK
"River Esk, Frozen”, recorded at the North Yorkshire Coast, was one of the highlights of Aud Ralph Roas’le. Craig Vear‘s follow-up moves further up the coastline, tracing the river “from source to sea”. The result is a sound sculpture with a clear focus and a literal sense of direction, one that demands multiple listens yet retains its allure no matter how many times it’s played. (Okay, that’s probably an exaggeration; I can vouch for the first dozen plays.)
In order to capture these recordings, Vear traveled upriver, beginning at the harbour and ending at the Esklets. He then merged and re-arranged his recordings so that the piece would reflect a river flowing to the sea. Ironically, this causes ESK to flow backward in time from spring to winter, but the seasonal changes are less obvious than the gradual shift from the natural to the manmade. This aspect of the recording is as inescapable as the fact that it is produced by a human being; there’s really no way to capture something like this without the intrusion of the human element. This also applies to unplanned sound – passersby, workers, transport systems. As Gordon Hempton complains in One Square Inch of Silence, there’s little escape from the presence of technology, whether chronic noise or air traffic. By contrast, each bird, cow, duck and even domesticated dog comes as a welcome surprise; while they are not made out of water, they are part of the river’s extended environment and as such deserve their inclusion. There is one sound here that is totally unwelcome, although it doesn’t arrive until 36:11: an over-miked creak that sounds a bit like a drunk logger. Since it arrives at the tail end of a section containing the woodpecker repetitions of unidentified machinery, it’s not a total startler; but the piece would have been better without it. This being said, the contrast leads one to meditate on the intersection between the land and its inhabitants, so perhaps it has a purpose after all.
The sound of water is obviously this recording’s raison d’être, and Vear’s equipment is extremely effective in capturing not only crispness, but depth. As a sound sculpture, as opposed to an untreated field recording, ESK moves through various phases, retaining a busyness that is not often found in real life. Listening is not entirely like walking downriver; instead, it’s like pulling over every once in a while to take in the sonic field. This provides for great contrast between loud sounds (the waterfall-like tendencies of the Esklets) and the quiet (the river’s flatter, slower rest stops). At times, the apparent sources change as rapidly as pages in a book; for example, the rush that turns into a trickle in the 19th minute, followed by what sounds like breaking ice in the 20th and a deluge in the 21st. These same sounds tumble and return in the ensuing two minutes. If one were to stride beside the Esk, one would not encounter such sudden changes in timbre, but they lend the recording a sense of excitement that is not often found in the field. A close cousin might be Cedric Peyronnet’s Taurion River project, in that Peyronnet’s recordings arrive in both static and redacted forms.
Vear’s Antarctica and Summerhouses were both effective (especially the former in its multi-media presentation), but Vear shines in the extended format like a good short story writer who suddenly discovers he’s a great novelist. ESK is easily Vear’s best work to date: concentrated yet versatile, speechless yet profound. The snowy greeting card packaging makes the release seem like a communication from a friend. After hearing and seeing the Esk, one yearns to visit it as well; no greater compliment can be given.
Terje Paulsen & Ákos Garai | VERTIKALE SKIFT
An initial look at the digital download implies that the tracks are out of order: five “Skisse” tracks from Norway’s Terje Paulsen interspersed with four “Waterworks” tracks from Hungary’s Ákos Garai, founder of the 3leaves label. And yet to separate the two is the dim the light of the entire project. Paulsen and Garai were onto something with their game plan, because the album works best with the current track sequencing. Skisse is the Norwegian word for sketch or study, and Paulsen’s quieter contributions do at first seem like outlines: the impressionistic borders to Garai’s glistening sheets. A puzzle needs a frame, and the contrast between the thick and the thin helps the listener to appreciate both. In “Waterworks I”, the water sounds like a burst pipe; in the second segment, the deluge has slowed to a trickle, but wanders speaker-to-speaker like an unidentifiable leak. Paulsen surrounds these entries with his own studies of static and silence, guaranteeing that the white noise and whirl of “Waterworks III” will be welcomed when they arrive. But by the end of this piece, Garai seems to have turned contemplative as well; perhaps the two are not so far apart as they initially seemed. As each composer presents his final piece, Vertikale Skift morphs into a single tale.
Ákos Garai | Interview for The Field Reporter
Ákos Garai is a sound artist who also runs the label 3LEAVES. His works "Barges and Flows" and "Vertikale Skift" (with Terje Paulsen) and the releases published by 3LEAVES during 2011 all were positively welcomed by the press and the listeners and were featured by many artists, curators and journalists among the most important works of the year. We invited him to answer a few questions about his work, his label and their line of work, that we hope serves our readers to have an insight to Ákos' work and to his label 3LEAVES.
We would like to thank him for his words and in general for his supportive attitude with The Field Reporter through our first five months.
Do you have a particular memory about how you started to get intrigued by sound?
Yes. It started when I was a young child, long before I started to listen to any music from vinyl or cassettes. I think I had a kind of sensitivity to observe, in fact, to enjoy the sounds of the world were around me at that time. Of course, it was not a conscious thing but it was enough to capture my attention for hours. When I think back now, I still have something somewhere from these sound experiences (even in its degraded form) in my memory, and it is a good and interesting thing for me.
Is there a specific subject, issue or question or that you feel you are trying to articulate through your work with sound?
Yes, definitely. There is always a starting idea or premise of what I would like to achieve with my sound. But these are not narrow limits to me, because when I am working in the fields life often overrides these ideas which I never stand against. So it is also the case to find out more or something completely different. I could compare this a little to when you walk in an open meadow and the rain suddenly starts falling, you will adapt to this changed environment and you will go to do something differently than before the event. Of course, I do not think it would be possible to create something, anything with "no footprint"; however, I also try to subordinate and to skip myself and placed into the background. With field recording, this attitude is more than expected; when working with processed sound it is a little bit different where a different kind of creativity is required.
How important is the action of capturing sounds in your work nowadays?
Important to me out there – as far as possible. Practically, I like to care about every detail when I go to make recordings. I think the technical stuff and everything that entails. Field work is always interesting even if I return with an empty card or something useless.
What disciplines other than sound art and music (Ex. fine arts, science, political science-journalism, philosophy, literature, film, architecture-design,…) have had influence on your sound work and how?
In fact, it is hard to tell. Mainly I could specify time i.e. events I spend with active observation. I cannot emphasize or get rid of anything from it. Obviously, we record all that we can hear or see or above our senses. But film certainly is something that is very far from me. Not interested at all.
What lead you to start a label? How you articulate the label manager work with your process as an artist?
The motivation of starting 3LEAVES was a bit complex. Around years 2007-2008, I did not see a label other than the highly respected Gruenrekorder which, clearly committed itself to field recordings and operated as a traditional label and also represented high artistic value. It seemed to me, there is a little "white hole" between the labels to fill so I decided to begin to create a creative publishing forum for artist who are committed to nature & environment and works primarily as a recordist. On the other hand, I wrote a little history with my label because this is the first label which deals and releases phonography works in Hungary. But the greatest pleasure is that I can manage new recordings from all over the world and to transmit them to others through my releases. I really like to give something good to people, and I cannot imagine a better way than with music!
How would you measure the balance between intuition and knowledge in your work as a 3LEAVES curator?
Both are equally important to me. Something like the left and right.
What are your thoughts about the importance of the figure of the "label" and the physical release in a world that sometimes turns to more DIY and digital dynamics?
Perhaps because of my age, I think a label that releases in physical formats is still important. The good thing with vinyl and compact disc and its artwork not only that you can hand something lasting to your listeners, in addition, to listen to music on CDs, LPs is assuming a quiet environment paired with at least a good-quality stereo playback system in an acoustic space; plus a comfortable sofa or seat where is a good thing to lay down and listening to music. Perhaps all this is just an anachronistic romantic approach now… but it works; Many people including me do like to have a release on their shelf; others prefer a digital copy only – but that is alright. Yes, it is widely believed that everyone can be their own publisher today, since only two clicks – and you are done. Despite of this, I know a lot of artist who never would do so rather find a label that they appreciate and like to have a release on. Maybe this is a strange paradox: to have something invisible (music) on something visible (physical release) but I definitely believe in this.
How relevant and useful have been the reviews and press in general written on regard of 3LEAVES and its published releases?
It is always a pleasure to me to get to know someone's impressions, opinions regarding any of 3LEAVES releases. Yes, it is important, relevant and can be useful too. It is a wonderful thing to imagine that someone is listening to your music, maybe on the other side of the world, and something happens to him or her which, then reacts back to the entire world. It is like dropping a small stone into the ocean and watching feedback circles created by. Wonderful.