AMN Reviews: New Recordings from Marsha Fisher and Jen Kutler

Marsha Fisher – New Ruins (2021; Full Spectrum Records)

Minneapolis-based Marsha Fisher has put together a set of ambient tracks that combine modular synths with tape loops of old Christian preachings and worship music. The latter are so heavily processed that their source material is not initially apparent. The result is a set of breathy, shimmering, lo-fi drones and distorted voices with occasional departures into patterns of subtlely crackling elements. These four tracks exhibit moments of tranquility that are juxtaposed with an overridden sense that something is wrong – not exactly horror, but an ominous feel just beneath the surface. The transformation of religious source material into such a duality is perhaps the point that Fisher is trying to make. But even without that extra layer of consideration, her art stands out as being an inspired collection of manipulations.

Jen Kutler – Sonified Physiological Indicators of Empathy (2021; Cacophonous Revival Recordings)

Jen Kutler also has an interesting and unusual origin of her material – human physiological data representing empathetic responses to audio recordings of violence. In experiments, subjects were exposed to short intervals of sounds depicting violence and silence. Galvanic skin response, breath, and heart rates were measured. The resulting patterns were used as parameters for modifying pre-recorded and processed piano, voice, and time-stretched field recordings. What does this all sound like? Mostly slow-moving ambient washes and drones of varying frequencies with rattling background elements or sparse percussiveness. The pieces using voices as the source can be twisted and haunting. But for the most part, Kutler’s processed audio does not directly represent the jarring feelings of anxiety and fear that the subjects no doubt experienced. Instead, she has transformed them into an otherworldly combination of beauty and dread. The latter perhaps serves as a warning to the listener regarding the consequences of engaging in or encouraging violence.