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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.