Sunday, 1 May 2011
Fields of Dream
Wandering and wondering in fields recorded by SiRiDisc’s field workers. David Wells’s imprint is a relatively new name in the er… field, recently reeling out a suggestive series of releases from a roster of field recording fiends, including Juan Jose Calarco, Simon Whetham, Christopher McFall, James McDougall, and David Vélez.
All releases are similarly flatly packaged - on plain white textured card stock, with only artist, title, and size of typewriter-like font distinguishing one release from the other, plastic envelope needing to be peeled to reveal.
Not that Wells himself is new (first heard round here with Paul Bradley on this little number), but he’d been AWOL a while till this rather lovely little piece of droneiness plopped onto my pile, serving notice of SiriDisc - read about Rojo more here, it's to five newer works we now look.
Foce (=‘estuary’ It.) finds the euphony of Wells’ Scots swells deserted for more dissonant sculpting in an exchange with Buenos Aires bruitist, Juan Jose Calarco, who gives us a noisy kick-start of glitch-like hiss-stutter that paves the way for roiling drones drawn from fiddled-with field findings. Calarco hosts a harsh clattering of what sounds like instruments scattered through these fields - atonal flurries that set them in a more musicized frame. Wells’ approach is to retain the original sonorities of his in a collage-like approach, while Calarco’s captures less recognizable due to processing. The two are kindred sonic spirits, though individually voiced, differently documenting water flow, from droplets to torrents. A bonus ‘mix’ by Simon Whetham, another inveterate field worker, is nicely perched in between, with percussive metal rumblings whose accidental tonalities endow it with some pitched intrigue.
Calarco evidently likes company. Already a fellow-traveller with Ubeboet and Nicolas Szczepanik, his foil here on Reduced Spaces is James McDougall. Once known as Entia Non, with a number of releases on labels like U-cover, test tube, and Resting Bell (see, e.g., Sub Routine, reviewed here), this Aussie collage-boy is now plain James McDougall, and the twosome’s Reduced Spaces comprise one each of their own plus a collaboration. An ambient mailing list-mate observes: “Each track has an awful, pretentious title obfuscating the elegant simplicity of the sounds they have plucked from the air and indoor and outdoor spaces of their respective urban settings. The duo effect seamless transitions from constructions site pile-drivers to a nestlings feebly chirping for food, from swinging high off the tops of towers to digging through the soil like an earthworm.”
More McDougall can be hunted down by the net-savvy, including such as Distal, about which Test Tube writes: “James McDougall a.k.a. Entia Non possesses the rare talent of putting together seemingly ordinary field recordings in a way that they sound to always have belonged together. […] James manipulates found sounds using ambient electronica techniques, tape reels and vinyl records into the most beautiful soundscapes you'll be able to hear.”; and, with Tanner Menard, I Never Expected Your Decays, courtesy of the lovely Rural Colours, on which “James received Tanner’s piano melodies and combined various additional layers of processed sounds and textural field recordings.”
A theme of discord is seemingly behind Christopher McFall’s eerie An Eris 23 (Eris being the Greek goddess of strife), though you wouldn’t know it, for it’s not a notably discordant addition to McFall’s often atonal repertoire. Quite the contrary, as he augments his customary fuzzy field fare with warped piano and broken turntable loops. The first piece, unusually musically consonant, has rippling piano tones looping a felicitously warped chord progression - a piano that’s revenant, appearing later to haunt, set against a more familiar McFall backdrop, drawn from his greyscale palette – nocturnal hum, low-end micro-events. An Eris 23 seems more evacuated than usual, the integration of instrument sounds and a more subtle approach to processing resulting in a work that departs from the general tenor of his catalogue – a forbiddingly ample one, but listen/read here, and try these for free: Greyscale is Failing, A Long Time Running for The Suicide Strays).
SiRiDisc’s first full-length CD is Simon Whetham’s Slopt, based on recordings made in Edinburgh in 2008. Some background on fellow-Bristol-dweller, Simon: “With an extensive CV that betrays years of perceptive sound auscultation, Whetham's been surveying various fields with his questing mike for some years, the fruits of which have issued in specific sound installations, sundry exhibitions, workshops (e.g. in the Amazon under Francisco López's patronage), and releases on entr'acte, Con-v, Lens, Gruenrekorder, and Trente Oiseaux.” His Mystery Sea release memorably used the sounds of a nearby swing bridge, documented here.
'beneath the swinging bridge' excerpt by simonwhetham
As for Slopt, SiriDisc has it that “The sounds captured the character of the city - the narrow alleyways, the steep sloping streets, the tall buildings, the many levels of the city. However, these sounds were left untouched for almost two years, until Simon was once again invited to perform in Edinburgh, this time at the Dialogues Festival. Revisiting the material Simon discovered many more musical elements, which he used as the basis of the piece for the performance. On returning home he continued to reconfigure the composition, that had become a piece of four distinct parts, all reflecting characteristics of Edinburgh and his experiences of the city.” Slopt compiles the reworked sounds, the long form sustaining sounds of the likes of “Precipitous” working especially well. Less felicitous to these ears are “Acclivity,” on which street soundings are left to sound au naturel, and on “Level,” which seemingly captures a church organist rehearsing. “Declivity,” though, clinches it with a large multi-layered drone-scape of brooding pitchshifted tonemass.
Colombian soundsmith David Vélez, naturally, preoccupies himself with that obscure object of every sonographer’s desire, field recordings, dealing with textures, landscapes and objects. He has a bunch of previous – such as 20:51 and Impulsive Habitat on Test Tube, Vacío Retórico on Audio Gourmet, and Funza on Impulsive Habitat; for a fuller overview, go here).
His SiriDisc release Vestigios de Nada chronicles the erosion of memory by time, parallelled by that of the river banks by the water that flows through a national park in his native Bogotá. The field recordings were captured in the Parque Ambiental Embalse del Neusa, about which Vélez sez: “The national park itself is a gigantic forest with a river running through that ends on a beautiful lake surrounded by the forest's gigantic trees. This is a very special place for me as I used to go there a lot when I was a kid with my family and this was the first time I had visited since then. Vestigios de nada (Remains of nothing) deals with the constant dematerialization of the present time and the remains that are left over from this process.”
This Wire primer, and particularly this follow-up are excellent explorations of field recording in contemporary music. For more critical reflections on field recordings and their deployment in sound art, see Toshiya Tsunoda in this thinkpiece.
In the meantime for those wanting to follow through with the SiriDisc crew, there’s plenty more stuff from Messrs McDougall, McFall and Whetham on soundcloud:
alm 67 - james mcdougall - while the world sleeps (extract) by taalem
Christopher McFall - Crooked Site Winding by Resting Bell
In The Bleak Wilderness Of Sleep (Album Sampler Mix) by Audio Gourmet Netlabel
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