CD Reviews

Tuesday 28th July

July 28, 2009

fowlertsunodaToday wasn’t much fun, a depressing, exhausting experience from start to finish. If anyone has this weekend’s winning lottery numbers could you let me know them, so I can (for the first time) have a go and win a few million so I don’t have to put up with days like today? Thanks.

Well somehow I did manage to listen to some music. Well sort of, it could be argued that what I played actually shouldn’t be be described as music. Though not by me I should add. Today I played the recent release on Toshiya Tsunoda’s Editions T label, a duo by himself and the Scottish film-maker Luke Fowler named Familial Readings. This is something of a curious CD release. The first thing that hit me when I took it out of the envelope it was posted in was the packaging. Or rather the lack of it. The CD itself includes the musician’s names, the album title and the record label, and that’s it. The disc comes in a standard clear jewel box with no paper parts. There is no artwork, no liner notes, nothing other than what you can see in the photo pictured here.

So you put the CD on, and the display tells you there is one track and it lasts very nearly half an hour. So you press play, and a quiet, crackle of static appears, not at all dissimilar to the sound of a record player needle sat in a run out groove, or an old cassette tape used several times but now wiped “clean”, just the inconsistencies of the recording medium remaining. This sound is all we hear for nearly eight minutes until, suddenly a voice appears, apparently reading a text from a book alongside the static. The text is in English seems to be from the middle of a bigger work, and sounds completely random. The voice is that of a man, with a British voice and lasts about forty seconds. It sounds like the recording was made over the phone, When it ends, the static continues for just a second or two before cutting dead, leaving digital silence. The silence remains for about two and a half minutes before another voice appears, this time an older sounding lady, again maybe down the phone, and this time without the static. Another seemingly random text is read, for nearly a minute, complete with the odd mistake and stumble before cutting off and leaving another silence, this time of a little more than two minutes before another voice arrives, female again, maybe slightly younger, with a different text again, this time an excerpt from something about race struggles in the American South. Again, it stays for a minutes before disappearing. This pattern continues, with a different voice each time.  The texts do not seem to be related, and seem to be somehow random. If there is a pattern to the words read I cannot detect it. Some of the texts seem to be works of fiction, others not, and all seem to be recordings recorded from telephone conversations. Five minutes from the end the static kicks in again alongside a male voice, and remains after he has finished reading. It then disappears right at the end as another female begins, and when she stops the CD comes to a halt.

Several (but certainly not all) of the voices have Scottish accents, and this along with the album’s title leads me to believe that what we are listening to are members of Luke Fowler’s family. Having attended Luke’s recent exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery, and having experienced his work on several other occasions, the notion of the family, and the emotional ties, struggles, joy and pain that come with it often appear in his work. The first time I met Luke he told me his Grandmother lived very close to me. I wonder if she appears on this recording? Family seems to be important to his work. There is something incredibly warm and friendly about this recording despite its seemingly inaccessible form and presentation. I have actually listened to it from start to finish four times now, and I find myself trying to put faces to the voices, which feel somehow like people I should know, perhaps just because the accents are British, but perhaps just because they are telephone recordings, and quite often when we listen to people on the phone they are already family or friends. there is a sort of documentary feel to it, a bit like a series of talking heads on a TV programme, but with the clips of film between them removed. The static at each end of the disc seems to add to that odd sense of warmth. There is something about it that suggests good old days to me, vintage materials pulled from an archive, or just your Grandmother playing an old cinefilm of when you were very young. All of this is of course conjecture, and I am probably a mile from the mark, but all you can do with a CD like this is allow it to play and let it take shape in your head one way or another. In theory I feel like I should be annoyed by this CD, left frustrated by its simplicity and lack of background information. I really don’t feel anything like that though. It feels oddly comfortable, friendly and quite welcoming after a shitty day. I have absolutely no idea why it makes me feel like this. perhaps, like Luke himself, his family are all very warm and friendly people. make your own mind up on whether, given my description, you want to buy a copy, but I will certainly say that there is a lot more here than what a simple description of the recording may suggest.

I failed yesterday to mention the death of Merce Cunningham, who left us at the weekend. I never got to see a performance of any of his work while he was alive, despite long having had the intention of doing so. I hope still to be able to rectify this one day soon. In the meantime RIP Mr Cunningham.

Comments (3)

  • jon abbey

    July 29, 2009 at 1:32 am

    when Tsunoda asked us to stock these a few months ago, he sent Yuko a kind of play by play description beforehand, which I’ll paste here because it seems relevant.

    “The album consists of silent sound track of 16 mm film and a voice of Luke’s friend who is reading some writings over the phone, with analog hiss of 16 mm film in the right track at the beginning which they kept recording for 3 months. Then, eight readings follow (that were read by Luke’s friend through the phone. the stories are not related to each other) after complete silence of every 3 minutes
    between (both in monaural). In the last 3 minutes, analog hiss comes back again from the left track, partly dubbed with reading voice. The voice heard through the phone and the analog hiss of the film bring out their endearing feelings about “recording activities”.”

    I’m a big fan of Tsunoda’s, but I’ve had real trouble with his last few releases, this one most of all. He writes in his ErstWords piece that “In my “Low Frequency Observed at Maguchi Bay” and “The Argyll Recordings”, my interest has extended to conceptual direction rather than acoustic direction”, and that seems to be even more true for this piece.

  • Richard Pinnell

    July 29, 2009 at 8:32 am

    Thanks for posting that Jon. Seems my reading of the piece was pretty much spot on, though I’m confused that Tsunoda only says that Fowler’s friends can be heard, not family. It really sounds and feels like family to me.

    I obviously have far more time for more conceptual work than you Jon, I am interested in both areas of Tsunoda’s music for obviously different reasons, but in the case of this album my response actually felt entirely emotional and visceral rather than mental / conceptual.

  • jon abbey

    July 29, 2009 at 3:48 pm

    “I’m confused that Tsunoda only says that Fowler’s friends can be heard, not family. It really sounds and feels like family to me.”

    you definitely might be right, could be a misunderstanding or mistranslation along the way. I’m not giving it a second listen to check, though. :)

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