AMN Reviews: Nat Evans – The Tortoise [Bandcamp]

The Tortoise is the record of Seattle composer/sound artist Nat Evans’ five-month-long walk up the Pacific Crest Trail, a 2600 mile north-south track that runs the length of the US west coast from the Canadian border to the Mexican border. Starting at the southern end and finishing at the northern end, Evans took field recordings during the journey and sent the files to eight composer/performers along the route. These latter in turn used the recordings as basis for their own compositions, which they then recorded and sent to Evans. This release is the collection of their pieces as well as Evans’ own work.

Five of the thirteen tracks are Evans’, performed by Neil Welch on saxophone, John Teske on double bass, Evan Smith on bass clarinet, and Evans himself on percussion and shruti box. For the most part, Evans’ compositions seem to imagine the music as an integral component of the landscape’s ambient sounds. His choice of sparse textures and restricted pitch material, often presented as long tones interspersed with long pauses, preserves open spaces for the field recordings to sound through. The musicians’ judicious use of dynamics and of microtones and multiphonics helps situate the music within the world of raw, untempered sounds as well.

The other tracks present diverse interpretations of the interrelationships between the field recordings and the individual composers’ own sensibilities. These range from Andrew Tholl’s serene, discreetly droning piece to Brenna Noonan’s aggressive work for saxophone and electronics. Also notable are Scott Worthington’s bowed open strings and harmonics for double basses in slow harmonic motion, Carolyn Chen’s piece in which zither and birdsong meet on equal terms, John Teske’s well-spaced drone notes for double bass and Hanna Benn’s tone poem for intermittently Satiesque piano.

Daniel Barbiero

AMN Reviews: Paco Rossique – Collages & Dispersions [Linear Obsessional LOR063]

a3524355926_16Collages & Dispersions, a solo recording by Canary Islands pianist and sound artist Paco Rossique, is an atmospheric recording that presents the sonic portrait of an invented, artificially resonant space in which small metal objects are tossed about in a humming wind.

For Rossique, a soundscape is above all a work of imagination midwifed by technological means at the service of a sensitive ear. He deftly layers field recordings, prepared piano and electronic treatments into eight interconnected, timbral compositions that emphasize the contrasts between an intermittent low drone and the sharper-edged sounds of prepared piano and objects. The pieces often feature a counterpoint of electronic washes and clanging metal occasionally giving way to recognizable pitches and tone clusters. The voices of birds and humans appear sporadically, grounding this otherwise otherworldly audio landscape in the concrete sounds of the everyday as filtered through Rossique’s unique sensibility.

This is a sensibility that doesn’t limit itself to the manipulation of sound. The eight tracks are held together in a kind of anti-narrative by virtue of a series of prose poems and visual images, all by Rossique, each one of which is associated with an individual track. These verbal and pictorial tableaux, like their audio counterparts, display a dreamlike logic rooted in the juxtaposition of unlikely elements—a convulsive beauty, as the Surrealists would have it.

Daniel Barbiero

AMN Reviews: Longstone – Risaikaru [linear obsessional LOr056]

a1933464258_2The title of this new release by the UK electronic group Longstone is Japanese for “recycling.” Recycling here carries many different meanings. First is the impetus behind the recording—the recycling and reconstruction taking place in Japan’s Miyagi prefecture in the wake of the highly destructive tsunami that hit there in 2011. In 2013 Longstone’s Mike Ward visited Onagawa and Enoshima in Miyagi prefecture, taking photographs of post-tsunami rebuilding and making field recordings. Two of these photographs, one from each of the towns Ward visited, served as the inspiration for the two long tracks named for them.

Recycling—of instrumental and sound materials—is at the heart of the resulting music. The instruments include junk percussion, cigar boxes repurposed as guitars, and a (salvaged?) piano frame. Ward’s field recordings are reused as musical elements, while other sounds are recycled through electronic processing. Both Enoshima and Onagawa feature heterogeneous sounds in contrasting relationships, but in both tracks chord progressions or recurring musical motifs provide the continuity and underlying structure that keep them coherent. Onagawa is additionally structured through regular rhythms.

The final two tracks, brief radio remixes of material from the longer tracks, stand as a kind of conceptual witticism on the theme of recycling.

AMN Reviews: Patrick Farmer – Like falling out of trees into collectors’ albums

Patrick Farmer: Like falling out of trees into collectors’ albums [consumer waste 04]

“Like falling out of trees into collectors’ albums” is a full-length release of largely unaltered field recordings taken by percussionist and sound artist Patrick Farmer in 2009 and 2010. The title seems to be a wry comment on the phenomenon of field recordings: Like leaves falling directly from the tree into the botanist’s album, these encountered sounds come straight from the environments in which they occurred to be gathered into the recordist’s collection.

This comes through on the first track, “Stood for thirty minutes, before the picture without moving,” which presents nearly half an hour of the sound of a frozen pond or brook melting. The predominant sound here is of moving water. This track, like the event it documents, is a slow unfolding; listening is like watching changes in the angle and intensity of sunlight over the course of a day. The outdoor setting is made explicit by the passing through of two airplanes, the echoes of their jet and piston engines painting a sonic portrait of open skies. One can imagine the bite of cold air on exposed skin.

The denser “Still this is not, of air and hours” follows. Farmer’s source is the hum given off by power lines, which here sound like deliberate electronic music. Subtle changes in overtones and dynamics provide an unexpected variety in the middle of the drone’s overall sameness.

By contrast the final cut, “You through all the things I hear, the kindness of chance,” is a very quiet and sparse soundtrack of vague scratching noises and buzzes. These strange sounds were produced by a wasp hollowing out bamboo – this is eavesdropping taken to a microcosmic level.

Field recordings like these often seem to demand a particular type of listening. In reproducing and re-presenting ambient sounds and making them the objects of attention, the artist invites us to listen in, to borrow a conceit from Salome Voegelin. The kinds of sounds we ordinarily listen through or ignore altogether we now encounter as events in themselves, though still with the flavor of things overheard. By virtue of focusing our attention on the sound alone, field recording lifts one dimension—the aural–from an integrated perceptual gestalt encompassing the visual and tactile modalities as well. With these other modalities neutralized, we can seem to become a transparent ear.

In an impressionistic essay accompanying the CD, Farmer writes about the place of field recording in his own sensibilities. It would seem that field recordings represent excerpts selected from an ongoing infinitude of sounds, the way a line segment represents a finite section of points extending indefinitely in either direction. This is where the artist’s intention reveals itself, in the setting off of some sounds from others, and in capturing a slice of overheard time that can recur with every replay of the disc.