Tristan Louth-Robins | THE PATH DESCRIBED

Review by Nathan Thomas on 2nd Dec 2013

"Tristan Louth-Robins spent much of his childhood on South Australia’s Fleurieu Peninsula, a coastal area far from the region’s main population centres. Although he has been working as a sound artist since 2005, it is only recently that he has turned to the environment he grew up in as a starting point for new work: he began a sound map of the peninsula in 2011, and created two sound installations, “The Roil” and “Echocline” (both 2012), from field recordings made there. Now this re-acquaintance with home territory has led to an album entitled “The Path Described”, consisting of three compositions weaving together Fleurieu-made field recordings. The sounds presented are familiar fare for coastal phonographic works: waves breaking on the shore, birds and insects, hydrophonic interludes, babbling streams, and the occasional echo of distant human activity.

When reviewing music I usually don’t read the provided press release or liner notes until I’ve heard the work a couple of times, and such was the case here. The album’s title seemed to imply a strict sense of narrative, yet upon listening I struggled to discern a clear linear path from one sound to the next; there are no sounds of human movement, and despite crossfades between each auditory ‘scene’ I didn’t catch a sense of travel. Rather, each of the three tracks seemed to develop in a distinctly musical way, an impression heightened by the formal device of beginning each track by the shore: I heard the sound of breaking waves as the album’s leitmotif, and it never seemed far away, quietly shushing in the background or mimicked by the wind in the reeds. Though clearly not an attempt at sonata form, I came to hear Louth-Robins’ treatment of the waves as a very loose example of thematic statement, development, and recapitulation.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I finally read the liner notes and realised that the title of the album was no loose metaphor, and that each track set out to document a very specific path between particular locations, the latitudes and longitudes of which were provided. The gap I heard between what sounds and what it sounds like — the gap that opens a sound up to mediation through and as form — was perhaps in this case self-discovered, or even projected, rather than being prised open by the artist; or at least, it was not intended to take the form I thought it took. Well, I suppose that what you hear is what you hear, to extend Frank Stella’s soundbyte. And however one hears it, “The Path Described” is doubtlessly a very enjoyable album, full of interesting and engaging sounds that neither rush by in a hurry nor overstay their welcome, that lull and transport without receding into sonic wallpaper. These paths may be a little worn, but they are well worth following."

 

Tristan Louth-Robins | THE PATH DESCRIBED

Review by Richard Allen on 25th Nov 2013

"It’s only recently that I have begun to recognize and appreciate the environment that I grew up (in) and its role in (my) development”, writes Tristan Louth-Robins, whose field recordings seek to preserve the memories of his youth. The statement is true for most of us. As children, we enjoy the outdoors, a source of discovery, entertainment and escape. Then we tend to find indoor employment and begin to idealize beaches, rivers, mountains and parks as places we would visit if we only had the time. Louth-Robins seems to be saying, these things are right next to you. Go.

This sad state of affairs is present in my own coastal town. A common comment is, “I haven’t been to the beach all year.” Such a statement has as much to say about time management as it does with nature, and either way, it’s sad. Those who grow estranged from the earth begin to view it as other: a political cause, a bothersome neighbor, and may even begin to prefer The Discovery Channel to discovery.

Louth-Robins is rediscovering sounds the sounds of his childhood: local crows, rising winds, crashing surf. These sounds are still there, relatively unchanged; but now he’s listening with new ears. One of the pleasures of youth is finding a hidden sound, such as that of pebbles withdrawing in a wave; one needs to be underwater to hear their crispness. This sound is beautifully captured in the sixth minute of “Fleurieu W. (Across Two Bays)”. As the centerpiece of the selection, the segment also demonstrates the beauty of waiting. The piece begins and ends with human intrusion – the sound of distant traffic. The further one ventures, the greater the chance to hear the sublime.

The similarly titled “Fleurieu E. (Across Two Islands)” further explores the sound of the sea, flipping the script from the preceding track. This time, the excitement lies at the beginning at end, while the center is placid. As the track begins, waves collide with Granite Island. As the artist moves into the bay, he encounters frogs and finches, finishing with a flourish of natural activity. In so doing, he echoes the wonder of a child stumbling upon creatures in crevasses and treasures in tide pools. ”Alexandrina Flux” adds the sound of evening insects, displaying the trajectory of the day.

The Path Described is a sonic souvenir of a specific Australian peninsula, an evocative recreation of aural memory, and a universal invitation. The world beckons. An open window is not enough."

 

MUfi.re | THESE WALLS RESEMBLE ABSENCE

Review by Jack Chuter on 24th Nov 2013

"These Walls Resemble Absence was recorded in an old abandoned factory, and everything started to make sense when I realised this. There is a very slight infiltration of the outside — a muffed sea of public conversation, eerily distinct droplets of birdsong, a slight wind rippling and crackling across the ceiling — and yet the reverb that kicks up around these noises is bright and thick; a sort of reactive puff of dust and concrete, juxtaposing the sound of the exterior leaking inward with a acoustic response of a very dense, hard, fortified material. I imagine the gaping holes of natural erosion and curtailed, unauthorised demolition attempts perforating the grey surfaces, through which sunlight and external soundscape gush in generous streams.

And then there’s the objects themselves, all of which are thoroughly wrung for all of their acoustic secrets. The factory setting seems to instil Almeida with a very visceral, muscular treatment of the materials — unknown structures of metal and wood are dragged across a floor that moans under a blanket of collected dust and rubble, while other items are twisted and scraped so that their rasping tones modulate and bend as their shape and axis undergo a laboured, exertive skew. While Almeida’s palette here appears to be exclusively artificial material — emitting a very dry and stubborn array of clangs and knocks, or the vacuous gush of air con units or industrial machinery motor — he gifts them a sense of organic life by inducing vocal nuance and the illusion of independent behaviour. Groaning chairs sound like the roars of junkyard lions, wavering in pitch as physical energy and emotion embark on a fluctuation of surges and wanes, while the creak of an unoiled door feels like the declarative hum of an armoured whale."

 

Tristan Louth-Robins | THE PATH DESCRIBED

Review by Brian Olewnick on 18th Nov 2013

"I remain at a loss how to quantify many a field recording, especially those (like this one) which form what are often called "sound maps" of a particular area. Though they're constructed in a similar manner, they strike me as fundamentally different from, for example, early Luc Ferrari, wherein various elements from around a given location were sewn together to, somehow, miraculously, form something akin to a musical composition. Louth-Robins' pieces here represent what I hear as something other. He puts together a kind of sonic walking tour of regions that resonate with him,, areas he experienced earlier in life. He records sounds along a "path described" (described down to six decimal-place latitude and longitude measurements, all in southern Australia) and melds them into an aural environment that one would experience, possibly, whilst traversing it. In the first, "Fleurieu W. (Across Two Bays)", water sounds are prominent, in very high relief, rushing and burbling in the foreground, roaring distantly. There's a narrative element, described in Louth-Robins' notes, all designed to place the listener in the spot, which of course he/she isn't, making for a sense of displacement that a little bit uncomfortable, though that's not necessarily a bad thing. You *know* the construct is artificial but it resolutely attempts to achieve a trompe l'oreille effect. I vacillate between being sucked in and being put off. Water also plays a large role in "Fleurieu E. (Across Two Islands)", though the space in which it resonates feels larger, more empty; perhaps I'm unduly influenced by the accompanying photograph. It migrates to avian and amphibious fauna, not so surprising, but something about this track moves me more than the prior one. I'm guessing it's the implied space, the air that's felt around the sounds. Finally, "Alexandrina Flux" is once again replete with water (Lake Alexandrina) though it serves more as a bed for a multitude of insect sounds and rhythms. The latter are fairly impressive and, while I've had some amount of problems with the isolating of insect sounds before, these by and large manage to transcend their origins and exist as unanchored sounds--I'm actually not sure whether that's a "good" or "bad" thing. Sometimes, as I said, I fall into it entirely, other times I feel there's been too much aestheticization (if that's a word) of the sound, preferring to appreciate it in a more naturally embedded way.

So, as is often the case, a recording like this presents me with certain problems, not a bad thing. It's recorded beautifully and I can only assume that listeners engaged in the art of field recordings will enjoy it quite a bit. I did as well, even if aspects of it (not of Louth-Robins' devising, necessarily, but of the genre as a whole) continue to nag at me."

 

Mathieu Ruhlmann | THIS STAR TEACHES BENDING

Review by Richard Pinnell on 8th Nov 2013

"Following on from my vague pondering from a couple of nights ago, here’s another CD that raises the issue of CD liner notes and their value to the listener. In 2012, the mother of the Canadian musician Mathieu Ruhlmann was diagnosed with a rare lung condition and given six months to live. Ruhlmann, I would imagine after a period of some reflection, recorded the sounds of the medical apparatus used to help treat his mother, and coupled with other recordings made in the environment and surroundings pertaining to her illness he sculpted these together to make the five tracks here. The album title, and each track title reference various Paul Klee paintings created in the last year of the artist’s life after the too was diagnosed with a terminal illness. Listening to the music with this knowledge firmly in place, the stark, often very quiet music here feels powerfully moving. It seems impossible to separate the sounds from your knowledge of what created them. The question I find myself asking however, is would I think differently of Ruhlmann’s work here if I didn’t know the context they are borne out of?

The five tracks are mostly made up of buzzing sounds, electronic interference of one kind of another or across much of the album short little interruptions, often unidentifiable, spread around a lot of silence. There are also recordings of footsteps, that sound like they were made in a long hospital corridor, and, really quite incredibly, a recording of a stomach, one assumes Rhulmann’s mother’s, rumbling away after three days of fasting. The way these quiet, sometimes quite jarringly sudden sounds are placed, in a seemingly quite matter-of-fact manner around the empty spaces of the CD makes for music that is quite harsh in its brutally abrupt form, and yet also very slow, subtle and seeping in intense anticipation. It is of course impossible for me to separate the music from its context. Try as I might, I cannot listen to this album purely as a set of sounds linked together here and there. This is powerful, heavily emotional music, but how much feelings towards it have been altered by what I read in the liner notes I will never be able to tell. I had read about the release online somewhere before it arrived here, so there was no chance of a “blind” first experience of the music before I read the liners, as I usually try and achieve.

What I do know here, is that understanding this album fully, given the context it was recorded in, I find this an exceptional, really very powerful and (excuse the patronisation here) brave piece of work. Whether I would have felt the same about it without knowledge of that context ultimately doesn’t matter. The album presents itself to be understood in a particular way, and so that is how we hear it, and we respond to it accordingly. Like any form of abstract art, some explanation is required to apply meaning, or sentiment to the work itself. Clearly, without knowing the background, this is still a bleak, harsh listen. With the addition of the back story This Star Teaches Bending takes on a deeply affecting, often quite troubling character, but spending time with it is also a highly moving and extremely rewarding experience."

 

THESE WALLS RESEMBLE ABSENCE | PROCESSES & POTENTIALS

Review by Ron Schepper on 1st Nov 2013

"Field recordings releases often fall into one of two categories: those whose programmatic dimension is fully clarified versus those whose sounds are severed from context. Rui Almeida's MUfi.re release, These Walls Resemble Absence, clearly belongs to the former group in rooting itself in sounds associated with an abandoned textile factory located in northern Portugal on the banks of the Vizela River. Closed since 2001, the site has undergone a significant degree of degradation, as evidenced by a pronounced accumulation of debris, unstable roof and beam structures, and a feeling of emptiness that left a powerful impression upon Almeida during his visits. It was during his second tour that he became uncomfortably aware of just how unsafe the factory had become when strong winds made the roof's creaking and the door's hinges so audible he felt as if the building might collapse at any moment.

In a sense, These Walls Resemble Absence is intended as a memory work, one designed to commemorate sounds destined to vanish in the not-too-distant future. With that in mind, Almeida moved through the setting, recording materials as he encountered them and attempting to distill their essence into the two long-form settings featured on the recording. As one listens to the forty-three-minute set, the space becomes alive, sometimes creepily so, and one is able to visualize, even if at times tentatively, the objects recorded. Against an industrial thrum of hiss, creaks and rustlings appear, as do percussive strikes that resemble muffled tom-toms and scrapes that suggest a bow being dragged across a violin string. Other elements likewise suggest musical connections, such as the playful kalimba-like noises with which the second piece begins. Perhaps the thing one notices most, however, is the barrenness of the space, something the field recordist often accentuates by zeroing in on the sounds of a single object, such as the tinklings that crackle halfway through the second piece.

Titles for the six pieces on Gunnarsson's Processes & Potentials are included, as are six square inserts displaying nature-based photos by Cedric Dupire. But while both are allusive, the material is otherwise free of informational context, and one thus engages with the album more at the level of pure listening. The product of three years work, Processes & Potentials is a combustible affair of fluid, mutating sounds that, as astutely noted by its creator, “consists not of things, but of events, and as such is best understood as being a process.” Compared to the MUfi.re release, Gunnarsson's is considerably denser and often suggests an accelerated transformational flow of geological design. The hardness of certain sounds draws a connection to earth materials, whereas the rapid changes are more suggestive of liquids. Restless and dynamic, the six settings are volatile constructions that can induce some degree of delirium in the listener attending closely to their rapid-fire fluctuations. Sensitive to the benefits of contrast, Gunnarsson follows the aggressive pitch of the opening two settings with an initially quieter excursion (the woozy “Momentaries”), even if blasts and cavernous rumblings eventually surface. Interestingly, as the recording progresses, one comes to realize that the wealth of micro-detail packed into its pieces makes Processes & Potentials as much resemble a computer-based collection (by someone such as Florian Hecker or Francisco Lopez) as a field recordings-based one. Finally, on presentation grounds, both releases are packaged in 3LEAVES' by now standard but nevertheless distinctive black case design."

 

Stephen Cornford | MUSIC FOR EARBUDS

Review by Nathan Thomas on 24th Oct 2013

“Having recently reviewed Yann Leguay’s excellent “Quasi Static Crack Propagation” on UK label Consumer Waste, I was initially inclined to approach label co-curator Stephen Cornford’s new solo release “Music for Earbuds” in much the same way. After all, both works consist of music composed using re-purposed electronics (Leguay’s from various CD, tape and DAT machines, Cornford’s from the feedback between those cheap little earpieces you get free with iPods and a single cassette head), and in a recent interview Cornford had written eloquently about putting consumer electronics to uses that their original designers had never dreamed of. It took me a little while to hit upon the idea that maybe, perhaps, something more was going on.
The most obvious ‘clue’ is the middle track — in typical Cornford style, the title of each track is simply its track number, so this is “03”. Upon first listen, I needed several moments to convince myself that I wasn’t hearing recordings of bird song. The veracity with which Cornford has mimicked the individual sounds of a diverse rainforest full of birds using nothing but a cassette head and earbud is nothing short of astounding. However, it was only when I started thinking about how to describe the album’s other four tracks, the harsh insect-like buzzing of which I had up to this point considered quite abstract, and when I noted these tracks’ relative lack of any sort of compositional development when compared with the record from Leguay, that an impression began to form that I soon found unable to shake.

That impression was that what I was listening to was in fact a collection of nature recordings. The more I listened, the more I recognised all the familiar characteristics of the nature recording as a type or genre: the ‘metallic’, droning timbres that sound so like microphone captures of insect activity; the aforementioned chirruping and screaming of birds; the apparent absence of imposed structure or of compositional devices, any variations seeming undirected and stochastic; even the continuation, in true nature recording tradition, of the rainforest recording long past the point by which I’d gotten the idea. An album of nature recordings: ‘earbudus bristolianus’. I’m still not sure whether this uncanny mimicry is intentional on Cornford’s part, or is merely the product of my own overheated imagination. But perhaps the fact that such a resemblance is perceivable is enough to set a question itching at the back of one’s mind: what is actually the difference between ‘Music for Earbuds’ and a ‘real’ nature recording? Could any act of making an earbud or a speaker or any kind of manufactured sounding device sound like a bird or an insect be considered, at its core, an act of semblance? After all, at the end of the day it’s all current through a wire.

There’s another possibility here, of course, and that’s that I’m completely misreading what Cornford is trying to achieve with “Music for Earbuds”, and that the only one plagued by such doubts regarding the possible animal life of consumer electronics (or the mechanical lives of birds and insects) is me. After all, those earbuds only sound like birds because there are real birds, right? Exactly. In which case, you should absolutely sit back and enjoy this album as another fine example of the interesting abstract sounds to be derived from mistreating consumer electronics, and assume that any resemblance between the sudden ending of the last track and the abrupt cuts used in nature recordings to signify the pressing of a field recorder’s ‘stop’ button are entirely accidental."

 

Bjarni Gunnarsson | PROCESSES & POTENTIALS

Review by James Wyness on 21st Oct 2013

“Bjarni Gunnarsson’s Processes & Potentials isunderpinned by a series of beliefs about the nature of processes, transformations and events. Although the sleeve notes explain some of what is supposed to be going on I should really say something about the composer’s mission statement. It’s possible that the simulation of chemical or biological processes is an attempt to defy linearity (or the perception of linearity), in which case gestural activity and its behaviour will be crucial, as will the complexity of relationships between different layers, their interpenetration and miscibility. This is a bold mission. On a different tack Gunnarrson would also seem to be advocating a compositional approach which is guided by the qualities and attributes of the materials to hand, allowing them to inform the work as it unfolds, instead of working from a preconceived plan or score. This much is usually expected within the contemporary electroacoustic idiom. Plenty is said then about process, some of which I don’t understand fully, but it would seem as if a process is made of events as opposed to things, which I also don’t understand because an event can also be a thing. You could of course take the view that none of this is particularly relevant to the music which has its own measure of complexity without the subtext.

As first impressions go Aukera is a dense piece, and harsh on the ears at times. It is also very loud, as are all the individual pieces in terms of high average levels and reduced dynamic range, which places the album in the same mastering domain as pop music or some electronic noise forms from the look of the squared-off waveforms. The overall impression is of a very involved and dense totality but on closer listening there’s less activity going on between the different levels of composition and more in the way of crossfading between enveloped layers. Some of the electronic blips are rather hackneyed as are some moments where the whoosh of panned broadband sound come straight out of the academic acousmatica handbook, though in the second wave of this particular piece some interesting sounds begin to develop.

Portholes offers a crackly and noisy hiss with a cacophony of metallic sounds and electronic squiggles, all somewhat familiar from the core of the concert electroacoustic idiom. The music becomes well-paced with the introduction of tonal passages and machine-like sounds. There follows a somewhat predictable return to the first sounds, then to a more static interlude which at least gives the piece a feeling of an evolving linear structure. What I don’t hear is any great effort at creating inner dynamic morphological investigation across the various micro-, meso- and macro- levels of the work, which would have convinced me that processes were indeed being investigated in depth. The piece ends with a return to the more tonal passage which then morphs slowly into machine-like sound with crackly textures.

Momentaries is even more tonal, almost orchestral as a nascent chord emerges and then recedes in different inversions. Eventually the hissy bits return, as expected, though less forcefully than in the previous pieces. Here Gunnarsson is still working with simple polyphony in crossfaded layers and, again somewhat predictably, something of the alien movie begins to creep in. More whooshing sounds reappear– is this the consistency across the work that we read about in the sleeve notes – similarity in timbres appearing and reappearing throughout? I still haven’t heard much transformation in the liquid sense – perhaps what he means is the representation of these processes as in perhaps a film score accompanying a visual presentation of the various processes. There is certainly something of the mad-scientist-in-his-lab going on and indeed there is plenty of this kind of music currently doing doing the rounds. The bump and fizzle of the ending once again presents us with a fine textbook acousmatic gesture to end the piece.

Signac – more crackle and hiss with a fine low end. If it wasn’t for the hissy crackly stuff then something more recognisably ‘musical’ might be heard to develop. The condiments run the risk of overpowering the main dish. There are some effective efforts at creating variety in the flow of the piece, with some harsh cuts and even a synthy sweep, again very sci-fi and filmic. The listener will inevitably come away with the feeling that a lot of compositional attention has gone into producing these pieces, in a conventional sense: change of pace, flow, some effort at varying dynamic range, contrast and so on, and, if this is a compositional virtue, a recurrence of similar sounds in different combinations. Many of the foregrounded sounds could be machines or simulated machine sounds. I’d guess that these are not field recordings – if they are then they are heavily processed and would benefit from having retained some of the rough edge that field recordings can offer. Again the overall structure is a fairly simple 2 – 4 part polyphony.

If one listens carefully Concomitance is not too different from the others. This leaves you, depending on your interpretation, with either a very tight sound world or lack of variety. A justifiable reason for the introductory compositional mission statement might be that Gunnarsson wants the listener to lean towards the first interpretation. Some well-shaped dynamics in the helicopter sounds take us again into the realm of solid film sound design, which (with all due respect) is where I think Gunnarsson would excel. The world of robotics, space flight, phasers, the take-off and landing envelopes, the timbres themselves, all beefed up with a good measure of well crafted reverberation where necessary to spread out the elements of the soundworld – it’s all classic stuff. Technically there are some cleverly wrought passages, for example the use of bandpass filtering to foreground low and high sounds at the expense of the the midrange. There is certainly a lot of attention given to varying the frequency range. On the downside the hiss by this point is becoming pervasive and even slightly intrusive.

Pedicel offers us more of the same which makes me wonder why Gunnarsson chose to present this album as six smaller pieces instead of one long piece. Waves of hiss and crackle play over a low drone. The restricted range of timbres forbid any deeper level morphological development which to me is the essence of progressive electroacoustic music, otherwise there’s a risk that you are simply producing linear and/or simple contrapuntal orchestral music with computers. The panoramic activity, as with all the pieces, is excellent. There is some unpredictability in a sudden break to a less frenetic and more tonal episode at around 3 ½ minutes which risks confusing the listener – is the next bit a new piece or is it a contrast as in a slow/fast or loud/soft classical movement?

A lot of hard work has gone into this album and despite my seemingly critical stance, I think that it stands a good bit above many similar works, though largely in terms of compositional craftsmanship as opposed to invention or originality. One element or quality that seems to be lacking is the incisive edge which the use of concrète sounds can bring  to the textures.

Finally processes, in the sense that I think the composer wishes to have us understand them, are chemical reactions or other events that result in a transformation. One might listen to the music and imagine such events taking place, though this will depend on the individual’s imagination. For music to act as some kind of analogue to the workings of biological or chemical processes, a much higher degree of complexity would be required in the use of the sonic materials to hand."

 

MUfi.re | THESE WALLS RESEMBLE ABSENCE

Review by David Velez on 16th Oct 2013

“There is a special quality to the work of Rui Almedia that makes his compositions particularly appealing and intriguing. I think this quality has something to do with the timing of events and their sonic magnitude. The sounds are subtle and detailed in their form and the timing is slow but eventful.

But ‘These walls resemble absence’ has a very specific unique and personal emotional character. There is always a tension. Acoustic instrumental sounds blending with the incidental sounds of the location. The friction of worn out materials. Percussive acoustic instrumental sounds; contact and rhythm. A sheer drone that builds a distant wall that stands tall and still. Objects being manipulated by either incidental or deliberated forces. Distant crackling. A drone that rumbles like a doom metal riff. Objects barely and subtly resonating but still appearing audible. The tension grows and grows… The drone is gone, the tension imploded. We have now all these small and metallic objects moving in the foreground with an apparent absence of sound on the background. The drums then emerge, the physical modulation. The harshness of movement, the dry imprinting sound of friction. And the end.

From the liner notes:

‘The recordings took place in an abandoned textile factory; one of the largest in Europe, having employed 3000 people in the 50’s. It is located in northern Portugal, on the banks of the Vizela River. The extension of the whole complex has always impressed me when passing by train just a few yards away. The hydroelectric power station is the only thing that still remains working.

Closed since 2001, the factory’s pavilions are in a visible state of degradation: debris gathered in heaps; partially destroyed roofs with wooden beams and other loose materials on the verge of collapse; small parts of missing machinery spread around; cans and tissues on the floor; but, despite all that, a strong feeling of emptiness. The emptiness of a place that had a different purpose of the one I was witnessing.

During my second foray into the factory, I became aware it was not a safe place. The wind was strong that day, and the constant creaking of the roof and the hinges of the flimsy doors were so audible that it seemed the entire structure could collapse at any time. This tension enhanced my experience of the place and become one of the primary conditions for the exploratory process.’

The experience of Rui Almeida on this abandoned factory relates with a term I recently heard, ‘landscape re-interpretation’. The artist takes the objects from the location and makes his own interpretation of them and their relation with the space as opposite to a natural incidental given interpretation of them.

‘These walls resemble absence’ adds to the list of great works by Rui Almeida but there is something new here: maybe is the sinister tension. Maybe it is the fact that the location became an actual physical threat to the artist; this situation probably gave to this work something special that I would define as the emotional core of the work. A sinister beautiful core."

 

Bjarni Gunnarsson | PROCESSES & POTENTIALS

Review by Richard Allen on 16th Oct 2013

“3LEAVES is known for their experimental leanings, but their latest release is one of their most abrasive yet, a far cry from the field recordings that have been their bread and butter.  It’s also one of the label’s finest releases to date.

Fans of Icelandic musician Bjarni Gunnarsson have been waiting a long time for Processes & Potentials to appear.  Some of these tracks have been percolating on Soundcloud for months, tantalizingly close but just out of reach.  The album forms a perfect bookend to Safn 2006-2009, as these new pieces were recorded in the ensuing years.  (A personal plea to Gunnarsson: we’re still missing “Samarin”, “Angst” and “Grey Seeds”; please consider an audiovisual release!)

Gunnarsson’s primary interest is in “process-based ideas … sounds based on internal activity and motion”.  This is a perfect description for his solo work, although he also applies this approach to collaborative projects including mgbg (electronic / vocal improvisation) and Einóma (IDM).  It’s easy to see where the line has been drawn, as beats and vocals would seem out of place on Processes & Potentials.  On this album, drone is the home base from which every sound is free to wander.  And wander they do.  Whether crunch or warble, pierce or ping, these electronic sounds travel the full length of the spectrum, loud to soft, high to low, thick to thin.  Glitch is involved, but not in IDM fashion; the pops provide impressions of spark plugs and static surges.  The music often reboots, allowing new patterns to emerge from silence.  While no linear narrative is apparent, the use of related tones ties the album together.  The collection’s best asset is its refusal to play by the rules.  Melodies can be gleaned where no melodies have been written.  A mind in search of clarity may perceive a sense of order, but even Gunnarsson admits that these pieces began as half-maps and mazes.  To listen is to be lost on a small island; one knows that one will always find the shore. "

 

Bjarni Gunnarsson | PROCESSES & POTENTIALS

Review by Jay-Dea López on 8th Oct 2013

“Processes and Potentials” is the latest work by Icelandic composer Bjarni Gunnarsson. Meticulously presented by the 3LEAVES label “Processes and Potentials” is Gunnarsson’s attempt to explore theories of compositional practise within the realm of computer-generated sound. Over the course of 6-tracks we hear minimalist clicks, airy drones, rumbles and scratches panning from left to right. Elements that would normally create cohesion, such as rhythms and melodic structures, are missing. Instead continuity is achieved through the sounds themselves, all of which are heavily dependent upon computer synthesis. A relationship exists between their timbre and tone unifying what could otherwise have been a muddle of disparate sound.

In 2012 Gunnarsson completed his Masters Thesis titled “Processes and Potentials: composing through objects, networks and interactions” at the Institute of Sonology in The Hague. The tracks on Processes and Potentials were composed to support Gunnarsson’s thesis. Although Gunnarsson’s work can be enjoyed as a stand-alone project, a more informed listening experience can be gained by reading the thoughts that influenced his creative process. Gunnarsson writes about the need to change his compositional process from one that is “goal-oriented” to one which allows musical moments to unfold more naturally. One of the first steps in this process is to acknowledge the ways in which material elements should instruct the compositional process. In addition Gunnarsson questions the relationship between the psychological perception of time and music. What creates the feeling of “now”? Does music hold a single “now”? Do we understand music through a series of non-linear memories? Just as we construct memory Gunnarsson believes that music can be experienced as “being like a chain of musical events. How these chains are formed and how the links between elements are made is what makes the whole for a piece of music”. This theory guides Gunnarsson’s compositional process in “Processes and Potentials”.

Theories aside, the success of “Processes and Potentials” is that it exists as its own entity independent from Gunnarsson’s academic realm of production. A dark, almost claustrophobic, world of miniatures crackles from beneath the surface of walls and earth. The mood continues from one piece to another without ever rising to any dramatic moments of crescendos or diminuendos or noticeable melodic structures. This could be suspenseful or monotonous depending on your personal taste. For those who are interested in minimalist computer generated sounds this is one release that is definitely worth listening to."

 

Bjarni Gunnarsson | PROCESSES & POTENTIALS

Review by AmbientBlog on 5th Oct 2013

"Over three years since the release of his impressing debut album 'Safn 2006-2009' (which collected some of his earlier solo work), Bjarni Gunnarsson(from Reykjavik, also known as one half of Einóma) presents the second full album release under his own name.

The beautiful package of 'Processes & Potentials ' contains 7 colorful inlays, one for the cover and one for each of the six different tracks of this album.

Just like he did on 'Safn', Bjarni chooses his musical position wilfully, creating soundscapes that are remarkably different from most in current ambient/electronic music.

His sounds can be harsh and noisy but at the same time it moves calmly and slowly, to surround the listener into a totally immersive soundscape. 
It is impossible to determine if the sound particles originate from microscopicly detailed fieldrecordings, or from electronic signals from beyond the outermost range of space - or even both.

"Processes are defined by the way they do things instead of what they are. On this album, it is important how sound processes behave, how they relate and how they occur."

"We can think of the world as being made of actual 'occasions'. (...) The actual occasions are occurrences emerging from practical events, each of which comes into being and then disappears, only to be replaced by a successor. If these experiences form the basic realities of nature then in my opinion this is also a very realistic description of this album."

With this concept, the nature of its sounds and its unexpected dynamics,"Processes & Potentials " can not simply be labelled as 'ambient' in its strict sense. ("Sound Art" would be a better description).
But the "liquid and intuitive development" (Tobias Fischer) of the sounds definitely feels natural in a somewhat paradoxical way. Just go with the process flow...!"

 

Camilla Hannan | STRANGELANDS

Review by Jim Haynes on 1st Oct 2013

"In the right hands, a field recording can be terrifying. Francisco López, Marc Zeier/G*Park and Chris Watson have all contextualised environmental sounds in ways that could evoke a profoundly disturbing psychological terror; and we should add the under-recognised Australian artist Camilla Hannan into this pantheon. Hitchcock’s birds burst into the auditory scene out of nowhere, and her take on Lovecraftian ogre is found in the lurching plod of a wheezing diesel-powered engine.

The formidable rumbles and toxic hums that she extracts from the urban landscape shadow the foregrounding elements of those birds, bees and machines, all of whom are out to fucking get us humans for doing such a bad job of running the planet. Yeah, we probably deserve it."

 

Bjarni Gunnarsson | PROCESSES & POTENTIALS

Review by Peter Wullen on 11rd Sept 2013

"Talking about Icelandic music. This is an excerpt from 'Processes and Potentials', the new Bjarni Gunnarsson album on 3Leaves. Bjarni is one half of the duo Einóma, who released some very distinctive yet quite obscure albums the last 10 years. Releases by Einóma have become a bit scarser lately, but the two members have been working on their solo projects for a while now. Bjarni did some great audiovisual stuff with Cedric Dupire lately. 'Processes and Potentials' could be the nonlinear & experimental core sound of Einóma, but unwilling to give in to anything you ever heard before. It's excellent: full of grainy textures & microsounds that flitter all over the place. The detailed meticulous sound reminded me a bit of Rashad Becker's recent, appraised album on PAN. It is maybe even more singleminded. Standout tracks are 'Momentaries', firmly held together by some kind of deep drone & 'Concomitance' with it's metallic dehumanized voices at the end. I still haven't absorbed everything. Have to listen again a couple of times. Bjarni's 'music' is demanding & extremely complicated. But for me this is definitely one of the best experimental albums of this year. Out on October 1rst."

 

Annea Lockwood | A SOUND MAP OF THE HOUSATONIC RIVER

Review by Cheryl Tipp on 7th of August 2013

‘A Sound Map of the Housatonic River’ is the latest instalment in Annea Lockwood’s river series. Four beautifully composed pieces trace the course of the Housatonic and in doing so reveal the subtle intricacies in the sonic flavour of this 224 km river that begins in the Berkshire Mountains of Western Massachusetts and terminates at Milford, Long Island Sound in Connecticut.

Lockwood’s first foray into charting the course of a river from source to mouth came about in 1981 when she was commissioned to create a sound map of the Hudson River. Then, in 2001, another river project emerged, this time in the form of the Danube. With ‘A Sound Map of the Danube’ (Lovely Music 2008), field recordings were mixed with interview excerpts. As Lockwood explains in ‘In the Field: the art of field recording’, developing the project made her realise that “we need to recognise how deeply integrated we are with our environment”. One way of recognising this was to include the thoughts of people who were connected with the river, either professionally or personally. This concept is mirrored in more recent works, such as Luis Antero’s ‘O Rio / The River’ (Impulsive Habitat 2012) and Virgilio Oliveira’s ‘Rio Douro’ series (Green Field Recordings 2012).

With ‘A Sound Map of the Housatonic River’, Lockwood returns to her original approach and focuses on the fluvial nature of this extensive body of water. Relationships with the river are not completely ignored however, as we see with track 2 which features the songs and calls of wildlife that make their homes along the waterside. The sounds of birds and amphibians always sit well against the gentle trickle of running water and for me this adds another welcomed dimension to the story of this river.

Looking at the accompanying insert, which includes a handy map pinpointing the various recording locations, we see that 20 individual field recordings have been used to create the four pieces. These carefully chosen recordings bring with them a level of variety that ranges from placid to gushing and at times even dips below the surface. If you’re a fan of field recordings dedicated to the many sounds of water then this one is definitely for you.

“Listening to the river and re-experiencing the river’s flow can bring it into your being and remind you of its nature and its being”
— Annea Lockwood

 

Interview with Annea Lockwood

Interview by Tobias Fischer on 23th July 2013

Annea Lockwood once called herself a 'river fanatic'. That, she now says, may have been too strong a word. For one, her oeuvre encompasses a lot more than just her work with water, extending from chamber- and vocal music to electro-acoustic compositions, installations and events. Nonetheless, she's happy to admit that she finds "rivers, their power, the way they carve through the landscape, change, sound, the way light plays on their surfaces, the ways they affect human history, endlessly interesting." You can hear this passion in her three Sound Maps of the Hudson, Danube and Housatonic rivers. Each of them is both acoustic representation and artistic interpretation at the same time, a creative, social, political, ecological and sonic discussion of the structures growing around it. This was clearest, perhaps, on the Sound Map of the Danube, on which expansive interviews in many different languages  and the turbulent run of the river from its humble beginnings to a wild release into the Black Sea added a strong sense of narrative and tension to the composition. Compared to the dynamics of the Danube, Lockwood's latest Sound Map of the Housatonic river, released on Ákos Garai's 3LEAVES label, is a far more quiet and subtle work, almost meditatively focused on tiny variations in water movement. But there's more behind this tranquil surface than meets the ear. Ecological and personal topics hide behind a veil of delicacy, opening up bigger questions the more one immerses oneself in it. A Sound Map of the Housatonic River demands time, patience and active emotional engagement from the listener. But once one is in knee-deep, there's no escape from its riveting rapids. 

If I understood correctly, the Sound Maps weren't your first pieces to deal with water. 

In the 1960s I started assembling a River Archive - recordings of rivers, streams, even springs, made by traveling friends and me, from which I composed installations which were collectively titled "Play the Ganges backwards one more time, Sam". For indoor presentations, I projected images of some of the included rivers, beautiful images taken from old postcards which I found in antique shops around London. For one presentation at The Kitchen in New York, I laid out foam pads on the floor and piped in ozone from a little ozone generator (now illegal of course), to evoke something of the atmosphere around rivers. People lay there for hours. In an outdoor version I placed polyplanar speakers up in trees in a public square in Hartford, Connecticut. People just casually passing through the square would find themselves under a waterfall suddenly – walking around with their heads up searching for the sound sources.

The Sound Maps really came from this work. It seemed natural that the next step would be to study an entire river and its evolution from source to delta.

You've lived in various river-cities over the years. Why you didn't choose one of these rivers for at least one of you sound map projects?

The Hudson, my first Sound Map, was indeed my local river – I still live near it in Peekskill in the Hudson Valley and go for walks along it frequently. In addition, I was commissioned to make that installation by the Hudson River Museum which is in Yonkers, on the river. It’s a curious story actually: I was applying for a job at the Museum and the very savvy personel director looked me over and said "You’re an artist, not an administrator. Why don’t you make us an art proposal?" and the idea of recording an entire river, the Hudson, popped into my head for the first time. I proposed it, they funded it, and I started hiking along the river – recording it was a beautiful way to learn my local river and one which is pivotal to US history. Part of my idea was that while New Yorkers are familiar with the Hudson visually, very few get to hear it or have a real sense of its power, and through a river’s sounds one can develope a feeling of immersion in its being, a sort of intimacy which, for me, is more powerful than its visual impact. 

The other two rivers were chosen for very different reasons: The most recent, the small Housatonic River, was proposed to me, then commissioned by Jenny Hersh, who lived at one of the river’s sources and planned to build a museum dedicated to it. The museum has not materialised but meanwhile the Sound Map was completed and I show it as an installation.

What about the Danube?

It came to mind in about 2001, when, having set aside working with water for some twenty years, I discovered that I very much wanted to be immersed in that process again. The Danube came to mind right away and no other river was considered, I think in part because it carves through such varied topographies – the Black Forest, several mountain ranges, the Kazan gorge, the plains of Wallachia etc. – and through so many cultures. It has been a major historical frontier, so its human history is fascinating to me, and is echoed in the communities along its banks. Its delta is one of the world’s great ornithological flyways. For such reasons it was going to be a rich exploration, I knew. And indeed, working down that river from 2001 to 2004 was one of the great journeys of my life. When I made my final recordings, in the Delta, I wanted to start all over again.

What were some of the things you changed and learned fom these first two river projects, would you say? 

The real change came between the Hudson (1982) and the Danube (2001 – 4) and it came through technology, not even a new technology – hydrophones, and a change in goal. On the Hudson, once I reached a long stretch above Albany which was extensively controlled by weirs and small dams, I found less surface sound to work with, and bypassed that area. I think I was intent upon capturing the physicality of the river, certainly the interviews I did with people living on the river focussed upon their physical encounters with its currents, rapids, ice jams etc. And then, significantly, I presented the interviews separately, through headphones, not through the main mix and speaker system which carried the river recordings. So you could choose to listen to the interviews, still hearing something of the river in the background, or to listen only to the river, but they weren’t integrated fully.

My focus was much broader when I came to the Danube. I started that work with a question, something I really wanted to explore: What is a river? i.e., what is the being of a river? So I needed to listen to, and record the entire river, not skipping any section. On the one hand, I was now using a hydrophone to record in quiet stretches, in pools and old arms of the river which were rich in aquatic insect life and fish; also in the area near Grein (Austria) where strong whirlpools and currents make the river dangerous and interesting to listen to, but are barely visible on the surface. On the other hand my ears were stretching out into the whole river environment, as happened in Backo Novo Selo (Serbia) where the river flowed slowly, lapping against a small metal boat pulled up on shore, and I walked slowly in among about 200 geese grazing down in a dry channel, relishing the way their calls echoed off the distant trees. As I moved downstream on the Danube, it became so clear to me that human lives, as with those birds, the aquatic insects, fish, animals, plants, are deeply entwined with the river, an integral part of its ecosystem.

Let's turn towards your latest sound map, of the Housatonic river. What's you relation to the river and what's your impression of it? 

That river is, on one level, a paradox to me. It’s very beautiful, small, only 150 miles approximately, and badly polluted but with substances such as PCBs which are invisible, so it never looks polluted. But a consequence of that pollution is that even now, some time after the paper mills, GE’s battery factories etc closed down, the local people tend not to use the river much, as if they have turned their backs to it. There’s some swimming, boating, canoing, fishing of course, but in general the human pleasures which rivers encourage seem missing. So human voices are also rather absent in the mix. I was delighted when, one day, I recorded kids’ voices echoing in the distance, cycling through woods near a pond where I was recording a spring.

The general environment of that river is forested, with small towns, meadows, lakes – much less varied than that of either the Hudson or the Danube.

Apart from that, for this work, the Housatonic, I felt that I would like to focus entirely on the changing textures of the water. I can become almost intoxicated with the complex beauty of water timbres, the layers, the hidden little pitch patterns, and wanted an extended period of listening just to those. So both these aspects lead me to concentrate largely on the river itself. Whereas with the Danube, I was aware of the whole environment of the river, and wanting to convey a sense of how much life such a river creates – in plant life, animal communities, human communities, all interdependent and generated by the river.

What was the time spent at the river like?

The Housatonic is only about three hours drive from my home, so I had the luxury of being able to just pack my gear, hop into the car and go recording whenever I felt like it. As with the Hudson and the Danube, I recorded moving from the sources downstream, following the growth of the river itself that way, but being close to this river enabled me to backtrack to several sites, once I had borrowed a hydrophone (generously lent to me by the composer Maggi Payne), to search that other major dimension of a river, underwater – the dimension rarely heard by humans. The Housatonic was not nearly as rich as the Danube in this respect, which may have been a matter of the season, but I also wonder if the pollution present still in the water is a factor. 

The Housatonic river has notably inspired composers - like Ives, who wrote "The Housatonic at Stockbridge". Do you believe that there is a direct relationship between the music created close to a river and the 'sounds' created by the river itself? 

I love that Ives piece and was very conscious of the need to find some good sound to record at Stockbridge – I couldn’t omit that site! But it was a really quiet stretch, at least when I was there, so I anticipated that it would be a challenge, not least because the river is bordered on both banks by busy roads even early in the morning. But at 6 am traffic was minimal and I found a rock around which the flow created an eddy, a delicate sound, complemented by high energy bird action in the woods, so to my relief it worked.

But this story isn’t an illustration of what you’re asking, since my Sound Map is comprised of the river’s actual sounds. The question is sort of clouded by the fact that many pieces evoking rivers seem to set out to mimic, to some degree, the characteristic rhythms of flowing water, therefore another way to tackle the question might be for me to look at my own work; although I live close to the Hudson and on the bank of the Flathead River in the summers (Montana), unless I’m actually working with water sound, I couldn’t say that my other output is in some way related to those rivers’ soundscapes.

What are some of the most musically inspiring locations of the Housatonic river?

To take water - those complex mixes of small pitch patterns, layered rhythms, close/distant which comprise water textures are deeply musical, or rather, can be heard that way. On the Housatonic I found some of the most intricate and fascinating textures close to the head of the river, at the locations of the second and third sources, just after the Muddy Pond sequence, and could listen to those for a long time, sorting through their many component elements.

Working with a river is great ear-training. I find I need to take a significant amount of time at a site to settle my brain and body down and refocus all my attention on the soundscape. Gradually it comes into focus and I begin to pick up the softer sounds, then such aspects as the coincidental connections of one pitch in the river with the same pitch elsewhere in the environment. Then I start recording. Over time, as I work my way downstream (in many sessions, not in one long journey) I develop a memory of the characterising or outstanding aspects of the various locations’ sounds. That helps give me a sense of how the river is evolving or growing, and also helps to prevent me from recording soundscapes too similar to those I’ve already tapped into upstream. That’s an important aspect of composing the Maps, a vital variety.

And simply, the longer I listen in any one spot, the more I hear, as we all do.

I would, perhaps naively, assume, that a sound map would be subject to more changes than a conventional visual map.  How 'representative' are these recordings of the particular places you've recorded? 

That’s a fascinating question. Some broad aspects of a site recording might be taken as representational: rapids, for example, which change in intensity with the flow level and season but remain a characterising sound source; small lapping waves which tend to suggest flatter terrain, but the beauty of a site lies in its fine details, to my ears, and those shift constantly.

I remember finding a lovely resonant plopping one evening on the Danube, in Germany. I didn’t record it then and there, but planned to come back early the next morning and do so. It rained upstream during the night; the water level covered the roots and rocks which had created that sound, and I learned the value of "now". So I feel that the Sound Maps trace these rivers at specific times, each site in a specific moment which can’t be taken as "representative" of some whole, not even of the site itself.

When you're 'mapping' the river in sound for a CD release, how do you create a sense of dramaturgy?

In fact none of these sound maps were initially created for CD release. Each was designed as a sound installation, to be presented in public spaces: The Hudson is in two channels plus the headphone set-up for the interviews; the Danube is a 5.1 set-up, with the speakers arranged in a circle, equidistant so that there is no sense of front/back/side and the mix keeps moving amongst them; the Housatonic is a 4 channel set-up plus subwoofer. Each installation incorporates a large wall map, like the one Ákos included; the Danube installation also includes a hand-bound book of translations of the interviews into the language of the presenting institution’s location – German, Hungarian, Romanian, English etc.; for both the Danube and the Housatonic, listeners can see which site they are listening to by cross checking between a time display and the site listings on the map. So in each case the CDs came later and while I found mixing down from multi-channel to stereo not too tricky – a matter of spatial re-composition really - it was harder to grapple with the shift from a sample rate of 96K and 24 bits (for the Housatonic), to 44.1K and 16 bits, not so much technically as conceptually.

How do you see the balance between your personal, emotional and aesthetic input and your interest in documentation?

I don’t see these Sound Maps as documentation, which may sound surprising, so there’s no such dichotomy when I’m working on them, nor do I have any sense of balancing personal and aesthetic aspects because there is no separation between those aspects – they interact smoothly as a purely natural part of the process of composing. For example: With the terrible recent history of the little town of Vukovar, Croatia, the site of a siege and mass killings by Bosnian Serb forces, painfully on my mind, I found the Vuka Rijeka, a tributary of the Danube, pouring through the town centre fast, almost boiling. I recorded it in close focus, with a sense of its ferocity and when I mixed, brought it in abruptly at full volume, thinking to convey something of the violence which had devastated the town. The history directed the aesthetic decisions naturally.

Rivers are focal points for a wide range of topics, ecological issues included. How does one make them audible?

In the Maps which include interviews, sometimes these issues, both social and ecological, arise naturally when I’m talking with someone, as with János Horvát, the fisherman from Croatia, who described how the old arms of the Danube near his home had silted up once the area had become a national park and local fisherman had been stopped from fishing there and keeping them clear. At other times I know about events which have affected river communities and ask interviewees to focus on them, as with Gizela Beba Ivkovic, who described the NATO bombing of the bridges at Novi Sad. Speech of course can be explicit. But I haven’t yet found a way to evoke such concerns purely through sound and it’s something I am always curious about in others’ work. How can it be done without falling into a didactic mode – that’s the challenge?

I made several recordings at a pulp paper mill on the Housatonic because such mills were a major industry on the river and a major source of pollution, but when I came to select the sites I would use in the mix, once I took them all into the studio, I found those recordings just weren’t that interesting as sound, so they dropped out and with them, the implicit ecological reference. The sound, its quality and vitality, always has priority for me.

You once said: "I was interested in trying to discover why rivers are so magnetic to us, why people love to go to river banks, what their ears are reaching for as well as their eyes, and what our bodies respond to in rivers". After your trilogy of sound maps, what's your answer to these questions? 

This will sound evasive, but, truly, the sound maps themselves are my answer. 

 

Jay-Dea López | THE GREAT SILENCE

Review by Roger Batty on 19th July 2013

"The Great Silence” is a long form piece of subtle changing field recording composition, created purely by the use of nocturnal recordings made in forest of New South Wales Australian. Jay–Dea López is an Australian field-recordist and sound-designer. He originally trained in classical performance and composition, but he now works purely with field recordings both in raw and modified form. He also owns and writes for sound art and field recording Webzine soundslikenoise.org

The point/ focus of the work is to try & recreate the sounds heard by the first western settlers in Australia in the 18th century. So López has only recorded purely natural sounds, and used them to create a dense, often detailed, and subtle shifting piece with-in this CD-R.

The forty minute piece starts off with dense map of chattering insects, weaving & creaking bird or frog calls, random croaks, & building insect buzz- this is all under fed by the sound of trickling & bubbling water. As the track moves on from minute to minute, López adds in new sound elements, while slowly removing others. Clearly the elements here are composed & layered to keep ones mind interested & entrance in this shifting sort of natural noise/ drone like soup, yet it never sounds too synthetic or cut 'n' pasted in it’s intent- meaning that you feel like your taking a journey though the forest of New South Wales, and not Mr López’s field recording collection.

As the animal, insect & bird sounds subtle shift, also the watery undertones ebb & move in a very subtle manner too- yet unlike many of the other sounds they stay present (in one form or another) though most of the track. Also from time to time we get banks of distant thunder, rain & other subtle weather sounds added into the mix too. The animal/ insect/ bird/ sounds move between clearly layered dense patterns of tone, on & off drifting waves of tone, and almost rhythmic mats of sound. On the whole the piece is most satisfying & cleverly put together, with López designing the use of sounds so you get a nice mix of wonder, atmosphere, compositional progressing, and depth of sound detail.

The CD-R comes in a textured card folder, which includes a six page black & white glossy page booklet. This takes in blurred black & white night pictures, and text from López regarding the concept behind the piece, and the way the western settlers changed the sound of the Australia’s rich natural soundtrack forever . The CD-R comes in a edition of 200 copies, and is well worth tracking down if you enjoy sound-art that carefully treads the line between authentic field recording & composed soundscaping.

 

Exclusive interview with Ákos Garai

Interview by Miguel Isaza on 16th July 2013

Ákos Garai is a sound artist from Hungary well know for being owner and curator of the field recording label 3LEAVES where he published sound works by artists from all over the world. He has released material at his own label but also on other places like mAtter, Gruenrekorder, Impulsive Habitat, trente oiseaux, among others.

In this interview, Ákos tells us about his work with the label, his approaches on listening, recording and composing and also shares lots of interesting thoughts with us. Hope you enjoy the conversation!

So you started working with music by playing drums on Metal bands and listening to Grindcore for example, and over the last twelve years you’ve been working with field recordings and minimalist abstract compositions. Is there any relationship with your “old” listening taste and today’s interest? What do you think led you to look for the sounds you work with nowadays?

I have been thinking about this but have not found a reliable answer so far. That’s for sure that I saw music very one-sided in the way I was receiving/enjoying music at that time. I was thinking in categories for music and I thought if you listen to Carcass you cannot like Bach at the same time! Funny, is not it? Now I know that you can and how to use different reception with different music. This is a wonderful opportunity or ability which is available to me now. Anyway I still listen to a lot of metal, old and new, and started playing on guitar before I turn into the forth X. I am out of the line, not only with this, but it is very okay and it makes me happy when someone does not understand nothing:) Changes in tastes are pretty special, it is a little bit like when you re-read a book and find new details, new aspects in it. No real change I think since I was always interested in non-commercial, non-popular music and that’s not really going to change.

So you’re in charge of a very interesting field recording label, 3LEAVES. What led you to start with that project? What’s your approach on it and how you evaluate the releases you publish? Do you have any specific criteria on it?

First of all, I am glad you find the label interesting. Well, I started the label in 2009 with the basic idea to collect artists working with field recording into a small virtual creative group on my map. The idea was (and still is) to support not self-centered artists with a fine sensitivity towards their environment, our planet, research its deeper relationship with sound art and clearly present these composed consequences in their field recording based sound art. The need to offer something good to people through this music is also included. Positive moments, good listening experience and a little thought alarm. How much has it succeed? I do not think my place to judge. Anyhow, I think there is a kind of quality level which is pretty specific with 3LEAVES and I hope this not sounds uppish. Perhaps it says something about specific criteria the fact that we will release four new titles only from the dozens of demos we already received during this year. We are always trying to make a next step and diversifying releases within our lines.

Is there any specific thoughts you have regarding digital releases that make you decide to focus 3LEAVES releases on physical domain and not  too much on the virtual side?

Physical? What is beyond that? Actually you are probably right with the need to be recorded music non-physical… at least in some sense. However, a typical net label is the synonym of “no risk” attitude and undemanding thinking for me. I like to walk the old path as a label and to make as much effort into each release as possible. A 3LEAVES release is always a result of a collaboration and different considerations. In contrary, it is nothing easier than to put your music or others music online today. I feel nothing wrong with net labels, there are some really good, I just want to say this is not my way with 3LEAVES. Anyway each of our sold-out physical releases are available in digital format for free now. If I could, I would be very happy to work in the 80s when there was real interest in music and where record labels have made fantastic quality productions as a teamwork. The way as long as a song get pressed on vinyl or CD… how many people checked it, worked on it, added his/her opinion and skills in order to make the best and offer something that makes the audience happy and satisfied? The thing I still believe is quality in every sense and I am glad to see that listeners acknowledges this, wants this even in this era. Today’s revival of vinyl is a strong evidence of that real listeners wants real music and they not only yearns after the unbeatable audio media but they also hopes to get back something of quality of that Golden Age of Music. So, to tell a long story short, digital releases definitely doesn’t make anything good for music, for artist, for labels… so why?

Talking about your personal work, how is you approach towards it? How and what do you like to record and how you like to compose/process? How much improvisation and specific structuring is present on it?

Basically I like to work in an intuitive way. But I also like to work on concepts invented by others just like in the Audiotalaia project or a collaboration work with four others for Impulsive Habitat net label last year. Recording is always full of surprises simply because I record an ever-changing environment and it is very different from the studio work. Often, the thing is that if I have my recorder with me I cannot take anything interesting or what I planned to but if I leave my audio gear at home I will surely mind it and hear something that sure have been nice to record. Murphy. Sometimes I return to places I found inviting and press that red button and listen. I think improvisation somewhere starts here.

Let’s talk about that interesting text you include at one of my favorite of your releases, Three Shaded Leaves (MATTER10), a dedication you did to the great Bernhard Günter. In there, you share a lot of interesting points, but I really would like to talk about the way you refer to field recording as a kind of activity for personal development. Could you talk us how is that way of understanding field recording as a more personal way of perceiving and conceiving reality itself?

Well, it is no secret that sound has a large effect on the brain. Or better say: frequency has a large effect on the brain, no less than the ones you can not detect with your ears. This part I would say is the unconscious side of listening, the passive one if you like. If you live in a big and loud city like this where I am, you suffer from noise damage every hour which has its consequences mentally and physically. But if you ever tried active listening, and I am sure you did, you know how much good is that for the brain and so for the body. Religion and other speculative abstract philosophy tell you what to think and how to live. OK, good robots make no mistake. The activity of field recording work lets you turn inward without tales of gods and energies and the purple haze, so you get better on the way of perceiving your actual reality, your limits as a human and so on. You do not have to really care when you are in the city, you can be loud and rough there… nobody really cares. Now, this is not going to work when you go outside!

In that release specially, and in other works I’ve heard from you, I can notice a very interesting use of dynamics and contrast along the composition. Some times there are long spaces with pretty quiet sounds, contrasted with strong strikes such as those bell kind of sounds you feature at that release at mAtter. Is there any reason for that? How do you think those particular ways of designing and structuring sounds affect the listening experience?

Yes, it certainly do. But I am definitely not the composer/arranger who measure everything accurately while working with sound. It is not inattention or something but rather taking into account the freedom of field recording requires in my opinion. Of course there are universal rules to keep while making compositions but checking beats and bars in every second it is something really not my cup of tea. When I think of good singers or instrumentalists, interestingly, most of the really good talents are all played with a so to speak free interpretation, sometimes wrong and false but with a particular tone that music lovers rarely rejected. In my own work, I always prefer to give place for intuitions, associations and let structuring sounds itself.

Could you tell us about the work you did for “Espacio de Escucha” at Valencia, Spain with Audiotalaia? How the place influenced you for creating the piece/work you submitted and what kind of field recordings you featured in there?

It started with an enquiry of Audiotalaia net label in Spain. The project were specifically declared by them and since I live in a city where there is underground public transport, it was quite obvious to me where the “scene of the crime” will be happen. The metro lines I recorded here are mostly rundown places with vehicle wrecks kinda junkyard remaining from the 80s. This atmosphere was so to say unavoidable and I wanted to give back something of it with my composition. I used to add some audio samples from CD as well, in order to achieve the mood or something that is in the air of those locations.

And what about Vertikale Skift you published at Gruenrekorder? Could you tell us how was the collaboration with Terje Paulsen on recording and choosing the material and how was processing achieved? Did you guys used any particular approach on that particular work?

It was my idea to make a collaboration album with Terje Paulsen. We were in active contact at that time and it seemed that we found that common frequency I think is needed to achieve a collaboration like this. We both had compositions that we did, not decided about them and it seemed as a good idea to use them as a starting point for our collaboration album. For my part, I wanted to create somewhat interactive music with the tracks following each others and since I had my compositions based on water recordings, I made and sent a coil to Terje to record magnetic waves in the air at his place. I think we ended with something we both liked and something that successfully derived from the original idea of the collaboration.

I see you give some importance to the pictures you integrate on your publications. Do you find any relationship between photography and your work with field recording? In that text at mAtter you say photography is the art of movement, while field recording is more about the process, about time. So, how both integrate together?

Good question. Maybe “integrate” is not the best word to say but I cannot get any better here and now, alas. Both recording techniques, pictures and sound have their similarities to me. But even when I work with images and sound I use the same word “composition” so maybe this comes from here. There are overlaps but of course just like with other dimensions there are no perfect correspondences between them and that’s just right. When I am thinking about artwork for a CD, I try to find correspondences and things that fit with music, text and conception.

What do you think about the concept/experience of silence?

What silence? There are thousands…

Do you have any favorite recordings or places you’ve listened?

I cannot tell because every day is a new day. For me the best when I am in the forest or near to a living natural water. All seasons, with or without audio recorder.

What’s coming next? Are you currently cooking something for the upcoming days?

These days I am preparing next few releases for my label. This will include debut releases and new sound works by Camilla Hannan (Australia), Bjarni Gunnarsson (Iceland), Rui Almeida (Portugal) and Stephen Cornford (UK).

Finally, could you recommend us some sounds, places, field recording releases, labels, films, books and/or artists you personally think our community would enjoy?

Browse Sonic Terrain website and most likely you find many interests!

 

Ralph Koper | ANCIENT PULSATIONS

Review by Spencer Grady in RC Nr. 416, July 2013

‘North-Indian journals yield holy signs

In 2004, Dutch poet Ralph Koper arrived in Varanasi to document life in the spiritual capital of India. Navigating the banks and ghats of the River Ganges, he immersed himself in the palpable mysticism coursing through the environs’ narrow waterside streets and walkways, dodging ramshackle funeral processions and aggressive
guardian monkeys as he went about making his recordings.

Hindus believe death at Varanasi brings redemption, and followers of that faith are documented here seeking out
their celestial blessings alongside the more temporal noise of dogfights and beggary pleas.

Competing with the constant clamour for salvation, amid the celebratory blast of devotional bhajans and the
dutiful clamour of conch, cymbals and bells, comes noise from the natural world: cattle lowing, frogs cursing
and the high-pitched yip of a squadron of fruit bats. A tangible humidity serves only to ratchet up the (un)
holy racket. For a work so fixated on death, Ancient Pulsations is remarkably alive.

 

Mathieu Ruhlmann | THIS STAR TEACHES BENDING

Review by Brian Olewnick on 3rd July 2013

Every so often, in this general area, a work appears laden with strong personal emotion not normally associated with such abstract music. Jason Lescalleet's "The Pilgrim" was once such notable event and Ruhlmann's "This Star Teaches Bending" is another. Hear, a musical document is constructed from the various, often tiny sounds encountered during the treatment of Ruhlmann's mother, who had been diagnosed with a rare and terminal lung condition. He presents five pieces, listing the sources which include an oxygen tank, rubber gloves, room lights, a respirator and, notably, one track whose sounds derive entirely from "amplified stomach fasting for 3 days". How to quantify? If I attempt to listen 'disinterestedly", that is, simply as a sequence of sound, it's an engaging disc, very subtle and subdued, perhaps with an air of menace, very restrained, sounding more or less pretty close to what it is: items and machines operating indoors, machines not desgned for sound emission but emtting nonetheless. Of course, given the stated facts about the nature of the work, it's absurd not to think of the context and, for me, this only serves to strengthen the release. I know some may have trepidation about injecting such emotional content into what's essentially a set of field recordings but, for me, if it's done without sentimentality (or even, at times, with such, as is arguably the case with Lescalleet's daughter singing 'Molly Malone' on his album) I'm fine with it and Ruhlmann is nothing if not unsentimental. There's a clearheadedness here, a real examination of sounds and what, here, they truly mean that's bracing, up to an especially including the stomach sequence. Strong stuff, excellent work.

 

Mathieu Ruhlmann | THIS STAR TEACHES BENDING

Review by Ron Schepper on 1st July 2013

There's a real-world dimension to Vancouver-based sound artist Mathieu Ruhlmann's This Star Teaches Bending (available in 200 copies) that makes it especially affecting. In May of 2010, his mother Valerie Joy was diagnosed at the age of sixty-three with a rare lung disease for which there was no available cure; in a recording that acts as a requiem of sorts, all of the sounds on the five-track release were drawn from medical equipment used to treat her during the last six months of her life (sounds of location recordings and amplifications of the human body are also part of the sonic design). More specifically, the recordings were made over the course of that six-month period, not after it, and thus the work's creation came into being during the last stage of his mother's life.

The album title is actually one Paul Klee used for one of his paintings but the selection isn't arbitrary: not only was the painting completed in the year of his death, but he, in analogous manner to Ruhlmann's mother, lived out his life plagued by a rare skin disease, scleroderma, for which there was no cure or hope of improvement. Firming up the connection even more, each of the recording's tracks takes its title from a painting created in 1939-40, the last year of his life.

The listening experience is enhanced by Ruhlmann's listing of the sound sources for each track. This means that the listener isn't left to puzzle over a particular sound but knows instead that the clicks and static noises in “Captive, This World/Next World” come from a coil pickup on medical equipment, for example, and that the whooshing sounds originate from an oxygen tank. One is thus able to visualize the kind of activity going on in the hospital room when such details are provided. It's a move that can be unsettling, too, such as when the low-level gurglings coursing through “Stilleben” solely originate from three days of amplified stomach fasting.

Speckled with passages of microsound crackle, creaks, rustlings, and other squirrely noises (a raccoon even finds its way into the ten-minute piece) “Eidola: Erstwhile Cannibal Man-eater” is as striking a setting as its title. “The Hour Before One Night” assumes an almost sci-fi quality when the rippling and shimmering sounds of an amplified room light and electronic heart rate monitor are conjoined. Fittingly, given a title that implicitly questions the soul's fate upon the physical termination of life, “Whence? Where? Whither?” comes last. Interestingly, though, it's the one track that incorporates outside sounds, specifically traffic noises and footsteps from the hospital car park.

Rather than cluttering up the sound field with multiple layers, Ruhlmann generally leaves a lot of space in the tracks, which not only allows the component sounds to be heard clearly but also imbues the material on This Star Teaches Bending with a barren and thus lonely character that feels appropriate to the subject matter. It's the connections between the recorded and real-world sounds that most distinguish the recording, however.

 

Scott Sherk | NEW YORK GLYPTIC

Review by Roger Batty on 29th May 2013

“New York Glyptic” is a long form piece of sound art which utilizes field recordings from in & around New York City- sometimes the recordings are left fairly untouched, but at other times their morphed into atmospheric ambient textures & drone currents. Scott Sherk is an American sound artistic who resides in rural Pennsylvania, and for several years now he’s been building sound sculptors from his various walks around New York City, Los Angeles, and rural Pennsylvania.

This CDR release features a single just under forty minute track which finds Sherk taking you on a intriguing, moody & captivating sound journey. It all starts off with your typical sound of NYC streets with honking horns, people chatter ect, but pretty soon Sherk has morphed the piece into undefined yet moodily enchanting ambience, which utilizes blurred & of-focus field recording elements. From time to time things clear up a bit & we return to more bare field recordings of park lands, stations, street sounds, ect. Before once more going back into dreamy & drifting ambient structures which merge together slowed shapes of textural sound that take in clanking, droning, shimmering, and at times almost ominous ambient shapes- from time to time you can make out vague edges of original sounds/ field recordings, but for the most part Sherk creates this drifting & hazed surreal ambient fog. Yet this never becomes aim-less, or uninviting, as all the time Sherk is slowly twisting & bending the track into new sonic landscapes. The untreated field recordings do become less & less as the track progresses, as if your slow but surely getting sucked deeper into Sherk hazed sonic dream of this great city.

Over the years I’ve heard many city based field recording albums, and I must say Mr Sherk take on this type of recording is rather distinctive & original. It real does feel like your inside a sonic dream picking up snippets of the city’s sonic shape, yet often ( like dreams) the shapes & textures are blurred, & seemingly logic/sense is often un-defined too. All told “New York Glyptic” is a most enjoyable piece of sound art, and I look forward to hearing more of Mr Sherk’s work.

 

Annea Lockwood | A SOUND MAP OF THE HOUSATONIC RIVER

Review by Tobias Fischer in Beat Magazine, June 2013

Die Neuseeländerin Annea Lockwood ist eine vielseitige Komponistin, doch ihre wohl auffälligsten Arbeiten sind ihre Soundmaps von Flüssen. Nach einem Drei-CD-Set über die Donau, einem der besten Field-Recording-Werke aller Zeiten, legt sie nun eine amerikanische Studie vor. Es ist ein stilles, intimes, geradezu weltvergessenes Werk geworden, das fast ausschließlich von Vogel- und Wassergeräuschen getragen wird. Nur gelegentlich wird man von wilden Strömungen mitgerissen oder mit Hydrophonen unter Wasser gedrückt. Lockwood ist nicht nur akustische Geografin, sie ist immer auch eine Geschichtenerzählerin — was ihre Musik zu einer Art Klang-Folk macht.

 

Simon Whetham | UN AÑO TRANQUILO

Review by Spencer Grady in RC Nr. 415, June 2013

‘A year in the life of a globetrotting sound artist

Simon Whetham's sonic travelogue — documenting a year spent circumventing the globe, including stays in Mexico, China, Japan and Argentina — shares less in common with Chris Watson's artfully–arranged field narratives or, for that matter, Jana Winderen's quasi–scientific focus, than it does the gonzo journalism of the Sublime Frequencies label.

While Un Año Tranquilo is unquestionable a more sober work than anything appearing on that renegade imprint, its seemingly random locational overlapping, connective non–sequiturs and lack of accompanying text renders it fundamentally a mood piece for those suffering from a mild attention deficit. Listeners are encouraged to make quick–fire correlations between the audio and their own expeditionary memories, while Whetham reflects his own experiences through audial selection.

Segues splice between the bustling brouhaha of modernity and solemn signifiers of eternity; phones ring, monks chant, machines whirr, birds chirrup, people chatter, and then the ominous rumble of an advancing storm silences it all. Toward the album's beginning a discomforting series of bestial squelches provoke intensive bouts of aural inquisition, but they remain of distinctly enigmatic provenance. In this age of easily won answers, a little mystery can go a long, long way.

 

Jay-Dea López | THE GREAT SILENCE

Review by David Vélez on 8th May 2013

‘…deathlikedismalgloomy and appalling…’

These are words used by British colonialists to describe the sounds of Australia in the 18th century as it can be read on the release’s liner notes. ‘The great silence’ is a composition by Jay-Dea López based on sounds he captured on Australia -where he lives- and that is published by 3LEAVES.

After some listening I could guess that Jay-Dea López did some substantial editing and layering to his untreated recordings but I might be wrong. Anyway sometimes I care more about the environment I perceptually create rather that about the environments he might have originally recorded. At certain point point with phonographic-based composition I formally treasure the myth over the fact.

‘The great silence’ is of one of the most fortunate releases of its kind of the year and one of the reasons of its success is how it manages to create a really strong and effective emotional sense of tension in every moment and throughout the entire piece. I refereed to this once as ‘compositional coordinates’: one established by the illusion of depth and another established by the illusion of change that links punctual events on a timeline; in this composition Jay-Dea López exhibits a very complete understanding of both coordinates making this work not only deep in the singularity of every moment but deep as an emotional universal structure.

Time -just like sound- is intangible: we can’t grab it or even see it…all we can see or grab is its imprint, the emptiness it leaves. From skin wrinkles to metal rust we only can see what time does to objectual visible things, but time itself is nowhere to be seen.

But why I talk about time while reviewing ‘The great silence’?

Because I believe that acousmatic composition (in this particular case phonographic composition) is the essential art / musical practice when we are creatively and objectively interested in the emotional aspect of time perception. The invisible, intangible and mysterious nature of sound reflects like no other media the equally mysterious nature of time because it reflects it in its own invisibility and mystery; in this regard Jay-Dea López presents us a time that is dark and somber, a time of doom where the presence of a future catastrophe is subjacent on every single moment as it happens on nature.

‘Anything in history or nature that can be described as changing steadily can be seen as heading toward catastrophe.’
-Susan Sontag

Phonographic composition that includes edition, layering but no treatment makes use of documentation (of traces from reality) to create a fictional narrative, a fictional story that is strongly believable because its ‘pitch’ is natural and is perceived as real. To pitch up/down or not to is a very important decision that have strong repercussions on the finalized work; in this case the use of a natural pitch puts the composition on a context where the sound object that the listener could perceptually create is still subtly linked to its causality which helps creating a stronger emotional sense of location.

The deathlike, dismal, gloomy and appalling aspects that the colonialists described is present throughout the release and it also can be found in other Jay-Dea works that by no coincidence were also composed with environmental sounds from wildlife Australia. In a way his work reminds me of Werner Herzog’s movies ‘Aguirre, the wrath of God’ and ‘Fitzcarraldo’ where nature is seen as something menacing, haunting and merciless. On Lopez’ work the environmentalist moral discourse presented by many phonographic releases where nature is seen as weak and vulnerable when confronted by men is replaced by an actual sense of respect and fear imposed by the way nature sounds like. This is a nature that not only resists human progress, but a nature that eventually could prevail and corrode the structures of human progress.

‘The great silence’ is a work to be reckoned with in the crowded world of phonographic composition.

 

THE GREAT SILENCE | UN AÑO TRANQUILO

Review by Ron Schepper on 1st April 2013

While they're both, of course, field recordings-based projects, 3LEAVES's latest releases offer dramatic studies in contrast. Whetham's seventy-four-minute recording presents a constantly mutating kaleidoscope of natural and man-made sounds, whereas López's piece attempts to indelibly capture one particular context. It must also needs be said, however, that said difference is, as it should be, rooted in the concepts underpinning the respective works.

In Simon Whetham's own words, Un Año Tranquilo aims to present the listener with an aural diary of sorts, with the work a documentation of various locations Whetham visited during a 2012 global tour. As a travelogue, it effectively captures the diversity of experiences any traveler would have during such an adventure. Un Año Tranquilo is also about as collage-like as a field records-based recording could possibly be, though purposefully so as it's designed to capture chronologically the locations Whetham visited during that year. A formal list of the countries he visited isn't included, however (the intent being to emphasize the blurring together of experiences wrought by memory), though it appears that Argentina, Mexico, China, Japan, and the United States formed part of the itinerary.

Episodes last for only minutes at a time, sometimes mere seconds, before a transition occurs. Near the outset, a nocturnal mass of crickets and bird species segues into a brief sampling of a folk singer-guitarist's song, which in turn leads into a campfire crackling under stormy skies and multi-layered conversational babble. Over the course of the recording, snippets of traditional Chinese music, Gamelan bells, chanting, and both saloon- and conservatory-styled piano playing surface. Segments of natural and industrial character appear, with Whetham by turns contrasting the heavily populated activity of city life and the purer sounds of natural settings where no human presence save his own attends. Though some of the sounds are by now common fodder for the field recordings genre—buzzing flies, water drizzle, bird chirps, animal grunts, boat creaks, et al.—, the travelogue concept lends Whetham's material a structural coherence that makes Un Año Tranquilo register as something more than a mere patchwork of contrasting sounds.

The focal point of Jay-Dea López's The Great Silence is more precisely The Great Australian Silence, the idea being that when the country was colonized in 1788, “its soundscape was so unfamiliar to the foreign British ear that it was deemed inferior and unworthy”—an attitude that consequently evolved into a characterization of the landscape as silent and a corresponding imperialistic belief that prior to colonization the country lacked a civilization of any significance. López's corrective intent is to re-capture that past in such a way as to present the kind of soundscape the first colonialists would have encountered, one which, needless to say, is anything but silent. A nocturnal recording, The Great Silence thus presents a forty-minute sound portrait of crickets, cicadas, frogs, and fruit-bats that sees their individuating voices coalescing into a vibrant mosaic of natural richness. If ever a field recordings project were meant to be heard in a state of total darkness and at peak volume, it's this one, as doing so will make one feel as if one's been airlifted to Australia and dropped into the very storm-drenched setting those colonialists would have found themselves within hundreds of years ago. As mentioned, López's recording is unlike Whetham's in that the former fixates on a single setting whereas the latter takes the listener on a global excursion. While that makes for a lesser degree of episodic variety in the case of The Great Silence, there's still an ample degree of stimulation on offer—it's just that one must attend more closely in order to notice it. The multi-layered thrum of bird and insect sounds cumulatively present a dazzling web of detail that can't help but be engrossing for the active listener.

On a final note, mention should be made of the presentation of the artists' recordings, with 3LEAVES packaging the CDs in black cases that also house miniature full-colour booklets featuring generous amounts of photos and text. The manner of presentation in this case significantly enhances the impact the recordings make.

 

Jay-Dea López | THE GREAT SILENCE

Review by Stephen Fruitman on 1st April 2013

Imagining what Australia sounded like when the first Europeans arrived in 1788 – and presumably so far out in the bush that no indigenous peoples are heard to tread either – Jay-Dea López presents a pristine field recording of the ”great silence” that reigned and that provoked such a negative reaction from the colonists, leading to a cultural contempt for the land and the civilization of its habitants, to whom the land spoke and sang. Of course it is anything but silent, as a brook burbles and choruses of frogs croak and cicadas whirr and crickets chirp and halfway through, thunder rolls off in the distance. Otherwise untreated, it is López´ intention to protest the quashing of the aboriginals and the encylopedic knowledge of a land that would soon no longer be theirs. A simple but effective act, beautiful to hear.

 

Jay-Dea López | THE GREAT SILENCE

Review by Richard Allen on 29th March 2013

This album begins with an insult: the 1788 declaration of British colonists that the Australian soundscape was “silent”.  This insulting statement inspired the phrase, “The Great Australian Silence”.  Even worse, the evil attitude that it exposed led to the mass eradication of indigenous people and landscapes.  If something isn’t there, it can’t be slaughtered, or so the colonists told themselves while attempting to remake a continent in their own image.  The same story has been repeated from continent to continent, country to country, with history written (or re-written) by conquerors.  Yet even though many people believe things just because they’ve always heard them, repetition doesn’t make everything true.  The danger to truth is the threat that every dissenting voice will be silenced as well.

As John Cage once famously observed in an anechoic chamber, there is “no such thing as silence”, at least on earth.  (In space, according to the famous tagline for Alien, “no one can hear you scream”.)  Either the early colonists were deaf in more than a metaphorical sense or they considered what they heard akin to silence: unimportant and thus disposable.  On this album, Jay-Dea López attempts to reflect what these colonists might have heard by recording the sounds of a rain forest at night.  The 3leaves label did miss a grand opportunity to present the release as a two-disc effort, including a second, blank disc, which would come across as silent in the manner of 4’33″; but perhaps that would have been too much effort for an inside jab.

The Great Silence builds as it progresses, in the same manner that one’s awareness of one’s aural environment builds with time, attention, and one’s own silence (so as not to spook the natives).  The 40-minute piece begins with the familiar sounds of crickets and cicadas, soon joined by frogs and fruit bats.  But when the thunder begins to roll midway through the recording, unidentified wildlife coos and cries.  Were these creatures hidden in the forest the whole time?  One suspects that even Lopez might not be able to name every source, and therein lies both the triumph and tragedy of the recording.  Other sounds were once here as well: now-extinct flora and fauna, original resonances, Aboriginal languages.  The colonists robbed history of its stories and sounds, first labeling them as silence and then creating the silence themselves, fulfilling their own dark prophecy.  Lopez’ profound statement returns a fragment of their voice: The Great Australian Silence, silent no more. 

 

Annea Lockwood | A SOUND MAP OF THE HOUSATONIC RIVER

Review by Ron Schepper on 28th February 2013

It's not so much the Housatonic River sounds that make this recording by Annea Lockwood (born 1939, New Zealand) worth investigating, as it's hardly the first field recordings-based project to document water-related phenomena (in fact, it's Lockwood's third river study, having been preceded by 1982's A Sound Map of the Hudson River and 2005's A Sound Map of the Danube). What recommends the release (available in 200 copies) is that instead of presenting a generalized representation of a particular site, Lockwood's is a sound map that's accompanied by a cartographic display that enables the listener to identify the precise locations of the recorded sounds while listening to the seventy-three-minute recording. So while the dribbling water sounds under other presentation circumstances might have originated from any number of places, we know that Lockwood recorded them at Richmond Pond on May 17, 2008. Enabling the listener to participate more fully in the project as a north-to-south travelogue and imagine the scene in visual and aural terms makes The Sound Map of the Housatonic River an absorbing experience.

Springs, streams, ponds, and tributaries along the 224 km-long Housatonic River (from the Berkshire mountains of Western Massachusetts to the river's mouth at Milford Point, Long Island Sound in Connecticut) are included, and, in addition to the varying water sounds, one also hears birds (loons, woodpeckers), insects, and even a nearby train. Using both microphone and hydrophone devices, Lockwood recorded water sounds at the surface level and underwater along the riverbank at multiple sites, and the listener is consequently brought as close to the river, sometimes rapidly flowing and other times peaceful and still, as possible.

Episodes of violent intensity are heard (such as when an old dam at Lenox Avenue, Pittsfield and The Great Falls are visited), but the general mood is one of pastoral calm. The sonic impression left is of a verdant and unsoiled setting home to numerous bird and insect species—an impression that turns out to be fairly accurate: though the river was industrialized and polluted (with PCBs and other toxic substances) during the late-19th and 20th centuries, the river environment and its water quality have improved since a Wetlands Protection Act (Massachusetts) went into effect in 1972.

 

Annea Lockwood | A SOUND MAP OF THE HOUSATONIC RIVER

Review by Richard Allen on 18th February 2013

A certain irony rests in the fact that I’m listening to the work of a New Zealand artist who traveled across the sea to record the sounds of a river near the home where I was raised.  Even as a child in Connecticut, I used to love spending time by the riverbank, listening to the sounds of running water, the plopping of frogs, the twittering of birds and the rustling of the wind in the wheat around me.  Knowing that this is the same river lends listening a strange nostalgia; we never cross the same river twice, but thanks to Annea Lockwood, we can listen to it multiple times.

A Sound Map of the Housatonic River began as a quadraphonic installation and has recently become Lockwood’s third river study to be released for public enjoyment.  A real map is enclosed so that listeners can trace her path – and the path of the sounds – from the Massachusettes Berkshires to the river’s end in Milford.  But Lockwood doesn’t just record from the banks; her microphones are often submerged.  This lends the recording three-dimensional depth, echoing the work of Jana Winderen and Craig Vear.  We’d have to have one ear in the river and one ear out to hear in person what we hear on this disc.  The construction of the recording honors the overall sound of the river, not just its surface.

Apart from its crisp mastering, the album’s strength is its sense of propulsion.  The recording unfolds in settings and chapters, the aquatic equivalent of a Bond film.  This album doesn’t just sound like a river; it sounds like a river going somewhere, which of course it is.  Along the way the protagonist – the Housatonic – experiences roaring adventures and peaceful interludes, rising tensions and hidden turns.  Guest stars appear without warning: a train, a frog, a group of tourists.  But nothing stops this river from its single-minded quest to reach the sea.  When at last the moment arrives, the sound map seems more like a story; the grand finale is the happy ending for which every molecule yearns.

When I was a child, I used to make paper boats and set them free in various rivers, following them as far as I could before they vanished from sight.  I imagined them one day reaching the ocean, where they would finally be free.  This recording is that paper boat: the dangers dissolved, the journey completed, the sails lowered and the child at last asleep in his bed. 

 

Annea Lockwood | A SOUND MAP OF THE HOUSATONIC RIVER

Review by Jay-Dea López on 8th February 2013

The Housatonic River is a 224 km long stretch of water flowing southward from the mountainous region of Pittsfield to Long Island Sound. From 1932-1977 a General Electric facility discharged PCBs and other forms of chemical waste into the Housatonic River at Pittsfield. Decades later the situation is still so dire that the Environmental Protection Agency is considering the dredging of 688,089 cubic metres of sediment from parts of the river in order to remove the contaminants. A coalition of local residents has already begun the process of cleaning up the damage to restore affected sections to a less toxic state.

It was with this knowledge that the composer Annea Lockwood travelled to Massachusetts to record the sounds of the Housatonic River. Starting at the river’s source points Lockwood recorded the sounds of water and wildlife at 18 different locations along the river - her journey ended where the river enters Long Island Sound.

Although the bubble and gurgle of water dominates Lockwood’s recordings on her Sound Map of the Housatonic River it is not the only sound that she presents. We hear birdlife from trees overhead, a locomotive passing by, vehicles crossing a bridge, crickets, frogs, and hydrophonic recordings of water bugs. The inclusion of human industrial sounds in the recordings is a nice touch, reminding the listener that the health of the Housatonic River is vital to the existence of communities along its course.

Considering the extent that the Housatonic River is polluted it is surprising to hear the presence of so much life in Lockwood’s recordings. It would be reasonable to assume that an area affected by an ecological disaster would be rendered silent yet even in Muddy Pond, the most polluted section of the Housatonic River, it is still possible to hear life above and below the surface of the water. This could demonstrate the resilience of the natural world however we have no way of knowing what the river once sounded like - before the onslaught of chemical waste into its waters the Housatonic River might have sounded much different to the recordings presented here. It will be interesting to listen to recordings of these same locations in years to come.

Originally Lockwood’s sound map was composed as a quadraphonic installation piece; the multifarious sounds of water could be heard splashing, flowing and gurgling within different areas of the exhibition space. The recordings were also accompanied by a map which contextualised the Housatonic River into its broader geographic setting. The 3leaves label has reproduced the map as part of this release. We are able to trace the movement of the river from its source points along the 224-kilometre stretch to Long Island Sound. We listen to A Sound Map of the Housatonic River with mixed emotions; feeling sadness at the damage done to this once pristine wilderness, and a sense of wonder at what has survived.

top