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Review: Tarab, “Strata” (Unfathomless)

Eamon Sprod records music in the field, but don’t mistake the product of his labor for a field recording. In some hands microphones and tapes are used to capture the buzz of insects or the sound of rain pelting the land—whatever the subject might be—with the intent of faithfully reproducing those sounds later in a living room or in a pair of headphones. Replication is the documentarian’s craft. Sprod’s is magnification. He singles out particular noises, brushes them off and, like a geologist or an archaeologist, excavates them from the sediment of ordinary commotion. His efforts yield an enlarged world of microscopic rhythms and porous surfaces, small remnants that point to the unbroken environments from which they were culled. But Sprod re-purposes those extractions as musical vehicles too, for both re-hearing and re-imagining the world.

Strata is a telling title. Maybe the perfect title for this album, because, in order to get what he wants, Sprod has to dig into the dirt. He trains his microphones on the gritty crunch of busted concrete and loose gravel, buries them in the ground to pick up the vibrations of subway trains, and lets them loose over a wide surface where dogs bark and the hum of cars, planes, and other machines mingle chaotically. Most public spaces are filled with sounds like these, but they pass by unnoticed for a variety of reasons: visual distractions pull our attention away from them or other sounds roar rudely into our ears masking the quieter noises that smolder in the dark. Some sounds require special equipment to hear and other times there is simply too much happening to catch it all at once. Whatever the case, our senses fail to report the entire scene. Sprod’s method of recording and composing brings those silenced sounds back to consciousness, with a twist.

Read more at Brainwashed (with sound samples)…


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On Field Recordings

photo by Jana Winderen

photo by Jana Winderen

Two great articles from Richard Pinnell and Patrick Farmer were recently published over at The Field Reporter, both concerning field recordings. They’re highly recommended for anyone interested in the Anne Guthrie album I reviewed over at Dusted, or in the Michael Pisaro records I’ve covered, or in any kind of experimental music whatsoever really. The Lambkin and Lescalleet trilogy on Erstwhile comes immediately to mind too.

Pinnell and Farmer start their discussion with the latest Tarab album on Unfathomless, which I’m in the middle of reviewing now. You can listen to a sample and read some more info about that release here, if only to get your feet wet before diving into the discussion.

Here are the links: Strata, Part I – Strata, Part II

A couple of key quotes follow, but I highly recommended taking the time to read both posts thoroughly. There are some great insights there:

Eamon [Tarab] here seems to do so much more than take a couple of nice sounding field recordings and see how they sound juxtaposed over one another. He seems to begin with a sense of structure and then applies the material to it, rather than the reverse. Certainly I wouldn’t say that this is the only way a composer can successfully work in this field, but currently, and I think increasingly, it seems to be the most likely to be successful, to my ears at least. All too often the structure of releases in this area seems to be shaped by the found material. Sometimes, such as for instance in the work of Vanessa Rossetto, or parts of your own Pictures of Men album with David Lacey this can work simply because the field recordings used are so original or striking in themselves, but then all too often we are also presented with perfectly pleasant but quickly forgotten collages of pretty textures. Harsh generalisations perhaps, but it really does begin to feel that way. It takes a strong compositional voice to stand out from what is currently an overcrowded but underdeveloped corner of the musical world, and I think to a large degree Tarab achieves that with Strata.

Material is often synonymous with structure, indeed it becomes structure, just as structure can become material, for a time. The important thing to remember, for me, is that it is indeed material, I don’t consider my recordings to be representative, I don’t consider them to say something poignant about a location, not on their own anyway. I think that unedited, whatever, field recordings, can be wonderful, just look at Marc and Olivier Namblard’s new release, and I think that, timed correctly (again, whatever that means at the time) a field recording can be utilised wonderfully during a live performance – I’m thinking of Pisaro in particular here. But this takes me back to my previous point, about so much of the responsibility lying in the camp of the one listening to the CD – which is not something the person who made the release has much, if any, say over.

There is, on some level, little difference in many ways between what Tarab does on this album and what Luc Ferrari and the GRM required a room full of equipment and the privilege required to access it to achieve.

 


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Review: Anne Guthrie, “Codiaeum Variegatum” (Students of Decay)

Since about the time musical theory was first written down, musicians, scientists, mystics and philosophers have sought to discover and explain the presence of harmony in the natural world. One of the most famous products of that endeavor is Pythagoras’ music of the spheres, a theory that ascribes a constant tone to each of the planets based on the period of their transit through the sky.

For Pythagoras, the harmony wasn’t merely mathematical. It had an audible component even if humans couldn’t hear it. Johannes Kepler devised a more sophisticated picture of that heavenly music more than 2,000 years later when he calculated the differences in planetary motion at perihelion and aphelion. The ratios yielded by their combination produced musical intervals that he notated in hisHarmonices Mundi. Jupiter and Mars didn’t just hum as they plowed through the ether; they sang in major thirds and octaves.

Four hundred years later, we’re less interested in the metaphysical connotations of astronomical symphonies, but we’re still fascinated by the sounds of the universe. Interest in the sub-surface growl of geological events and in the sound of Saturn’s magnetic activity betrays a continued love affair with the idea that harmony persists in the cosmos despite all the terrestrial evidence to the contrary. Anne Guthrie knows that it persists, albeit in a form different than anything Kepler might have dreamed, and she gives us a strong example in Codiaeum Variegatum.

Read more…


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Review: Philippe Lamy, “Drop Diary”

Daniel Crokaert’s Mystery Sea label challenges artists to produce music inspired by and infused with the mystique of “liquid states,” whether that means using the sound of amplified water or catching the unpredictable flow of human perception on disc. French musician and painter Philippe Lamy comes at that challenge from both directions on Drop Diary, using the sound of water to focus on the way various environmental and synthetic sounds interconnect. Each piece is stacked with tiny sounds, but the way he weaves them all together gives the album a beautiful, supernatural quality, as open and as alive as the environments used to make it.

Lamy treats the sound of water like a constant in his otherwise stream-of- consciousness productions. In some instances it echoes nakedly, in others it drones on almost inaudibly, masked by waves of digital refuse and processed noise. But it’s always there. Philippe pours it into metal pans and glass cups. He captures its fall from branches and awnings during and after a storm, and he records its sibilant singing as it splashes and cuts down streams and over surfaces.

He combines these noises with other environmental and synthetic sounds, forcing his listeners to imagine each element as part of a larger web of events and motions. Those motions propel his music forward and reshape the rigid digital sounds into a less definite, more accommodating state. The crunch of broken glass mingles with a horse trotting down a brick road, which then rubs elbows with the sound of water trickling through pipes, which tumbles into a burst of digital noise before coming to rest in a still room, with a light storm passing by outside.

Lamy presumably took these sounds from places he knows well, and he uses the proximity of those places to arrange the music. He connects horse hooves to lawnmowers to throbbing, Badalamenti-esque synthesizers in a kind of four dimensional sound photo; not because there’s a secret narrative running between them, but because these things exist side by side somewhere in France, where the album was recorded. That continuity calls into question whether the spaces Lamy recorded are distinct and individual locations at all, and not artificially determined segments of one uninterrupted space. Is it the sound that flows or does the flowing come from the consciousness that connects all the dots?

As the album progresses Philippe removes many of his sound sources. Instead of tumbling over one another, events start to come one and two at a time. Birds sing in the far distance, insects chirp and buzz with them, the sound of water echoes ever clearer. By the time it’s over, Lamy has slowed time down and reduced the music to an almost meditative hum. As the field recordings intermingle, an exciting sense of scope materializes; a feeling that the very smallest things in the world are all connected, and that something much bigger is waiting just over the horizon.

Drop Diary is available on Mystery Sea
Sound samples available at Brainwashed.com