AMN Reviews: Various Artists – Tymbal (2021; Fuzzy Panda Recording Company)

One of the beneficial side effects of the pandemic was that I developed a habit of going for a walk once or twice a day for exercise or just to get out of the house and away from the computer. Starting in June, I began to notice that the cicadas were rather loud this year. Noisy cicadas are not uncommon in this part of the Midwestern U.S. each summer, but the 2021 swarm (officially and ominously referred to as Brood X) was unusually thunderous.

Walking through the neighborhoods, I could often pick out up to half a dozen distinct songs, all distorted white noise but with different tones, rates of oscillation, and textures. As I wandered, some would fade away into the distance while new songs would gradually become more audible. This created a form of sound installation where I could vary the constituent voices based on the route I took and my pace.

Did I mention that they were LOUD? The cicadas drowned out most background sounds, such as traffic, construction, lawnmowers, barking dogs, and screaming children. While my family, neighbors, and friends did not appreciate this aural assault, I was enamored. When I was out, it was just me and the cicadas. Every day they sang me a different song.

Tymbal is the result of challenging 20 experimental musicians to use Brood X field recordings to create sound art of their own. Four hours of these recordings were made in Baltimore and Washington DC, and the only rule was that the musicians could only use these recordings as source material. But they could manipulate them to their heart’s content.

This 100-minute compilation features pieces by Patrick McMinn, Chester Hawkins, Joo Won Park, and others from a variety of backgrounds. The pieces are mostly true to their origins with static-laden, crackling sound walls and ambient, droning atmospheres. Some tracks add percussive elements and patterns of beats while others mainly pulse and throb. Birdsong (or something reminiscent thereof) can be heard from time to time. On certain tracks, the layering resembles that of a synthesizer while at least some are not unlike the musique concrete experimentations of Tod Dockstader.

The interesting and compelling aspect of this compilation is how each artist pulled apart and put together the amalgam of sounds to create something different. While listening to the album end to end can be dense and overwhelming, it does provide a way to enjoy the cicada song that I now find that I miss.

Tymbal will be released on September 28 by Fuzzy Panda Recording Company.

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