CD Reviews

Friday 27th November

November 28, 2009

600_U01_Mathieu_Ruhlmann_Tsukubai_front1Every now and again I look at the stats for this site. (Barring the final implosion of the webhost’s servers by this time tomorrow the site should have gone over 75,000 visits since it moved here fourteen months ago, thanks for that) Its always intriguing and sometimes amusing to see how people get to these pages. The old site, when it was named Learning to Listen used to get loads of hits from worried parents googling to find ways to get their children to pay attention in class. The new name here doesn’t garner the same sort of misplaced interest, but looking through people’s routes to these pages I see a regular pattern of people linking from other blogs, presumably because they regularly check out a series of sites and follow a set of links through. Unsurprisingly then, a lot of people then come here directly from Brian Olewnick’s esteemed pages, and often we write about the same CDs soon after each other. I’m not sure that we have actually ever both written about the same releases on the same day however, but that is what seems to have happened today. So if you clicked through from Just Outside to find me saying similar things about a similar CD as Brian has, well I’m sorry…!

So the discs that I and my grey haired fellow scribbler have been listening today are the first in a new series of releases called Unfathomless, a label from the same guy that produced the Mystery Sea series of discs. The primary CD is named Tsukubai and is by the (I think) French Canadian field recordist and sound sculptor Mathieu Ruhlmann. Along with it came a further CDr of what I take to be remixes of the same material named FunayÅ«rei, a limited edition of fifty copies which alas are already sold out. The releases are beautifully presented in very nice sleeves that remind me a lot of the heyday of Trente Oiseaux’s lovely sleeve designs.

The eight pieces here then are all created using field recordings and a lot of hydrophone recordings made at a Japanese garden in Vancouver. The different recordings are then layered, edited, stopped, started and generally merged together into one long stream of watery, echoey, whispery sounds. Now, I received these discs for nothing, complete with a lovely little note from a label that clearly is one man’s a labour of love, and has a very acute focus on one reasonably small area of music. This makes it all the harder to be critical of the music here, but, I have to say that this music left me feeling a little empty after hearing it through a few times today. There is essentially, nothing wrong with it whatsoever. It is very well recorded, put together and presented. The eight tracks do not do anything to particularly annoy or grate on my ears in any way. In fact the music is thoroughly inoffensive. That though, is probably where the problem lies.

I have written before about how I am getting just very slightly bored of hydrophone recordings, and well, there are an awful lot of them on this disc. Again they are all as interesting as most other hydrophone recordings, and that intricate detail is all there, little bubbles and pops and gurgles. Here they are generally underlaid with distant soft drones recorded from the air, the odd passing aircraft, perhaps distant traffic or softly blowing wind, sometimes treated heavily, sometimes allowed to play through naked. It is all very pleasant indeed, but somehow the music (and please excuse the pun) just washes over me and doesn’t leave much behind. The music across the eight tracks all seems the same, and after three or four plays I’m not sure I could identify which track was which. To be fair there is a series of roaring, sizzling sounds in the eighth piece I rather like that do set that one track apart, but it feels like the exception. It is all almost too well made. The cracks in the music, the joins between separate recordings are all too well disguised. There is no sense of danger or any feeling that something unusual might happen. It all drifts along very nicely, but very safely.

The thing is (and sorry Brian for having similar thoughts to yourself here) I can’t quite figure out why it is I feel unmoved by this release while other CDs of a similar nature have inspired me quite a bit over recent months. I can only come back to this question of feeling unsurprised. Certainly I am calm, relaxed, soothed, but also (and I so rarely use this word to describe music) bored by it all. I am in no doubt that this is mostly my fault. I have over recent days been listening to very different music, a string of improvised concerts and CDs that really engage the listener whether they like or not, and so perhaps this release should not be heard after such other listening experiences. I feel I want to be grabbed by the music, pulled about, drowned deep in the detailed sea of sounds but it doesn’t happen with music like this. It is designed to be easy on the ear, to flow past in a stream, for sounds to blend into one another. Maybe on another day…

remixdiscThe other disc is formed by one half hour long piece, which as I say, might be formed using the same source material. Here though it is very heavily treated into a lulling, dark ambient styled series of swells and hums that do indeed remind you of mid Eighties Eno (damn you Brian!). All of the edges are filed off, everything is slowed right down and the music feels like the soundtrack to a deep sea diving documentary, as if the hydrophones were taken deep down into the water to its murkier depths. Here and there throughout FunayÅ«rei there are a few escaping bubbles from the untreated hydrpophones, just left to pop up from the surface now and again. Overall the music here also becomes somewhat predictable once it is clear that it isn’t going to change a great deal over its length, but somehow, perhaps because this disc of remixes has more of the artists mark left on it,  perhaps as there is much more that has happened here to make this music I prefer FunayÅ«rei to the main release. While the first CD was exceptionally well recorded and stitched together, the remix just feels like more of a statement has been made. While perhaps the end product still isn’t as engaging as I’d like it to be, it does take more effort to listen to properly and dig down into the music to get anything out of it, and that is a good thing for me. I like to be challenged, to be made to try and find a way into music.

Apologies then to Daniel at Mystery Sea / Unfathomless for my reaction to this music tonight. Somewhat undeserved I’m sure. I am certain that fans of this area of music (and suddenly there does seem to be an awful lot of them) will enjoy these releases. Apologies also dear reader for preferring the one that is no longer available!

On a completely separate note, I am off to Bristol tomorrow and will stay over there into Sunday morning to catch this gig. Come along and say hi if you can.  Also, and I apologise profusely in advance for this, but I couldn’t help linking to this. I don’t think i should be allowed two-week holidays any longer.

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