Wednesday 2nd DecemberDecember 3, 2009
Another stressy day, but this one went well in the end so the headache had shifted by mid-day and I had the time to really focus on some music on my way home, and on into the night as I sit here with a huge slice of banoffee cheesecake and a hot cup of genmaicha. In the new year I will be changing roles at work, promoted slightly into a position in which I will no longer be working late into the evening and instead starting early and finishing at a respectful hour. This should hopefully make writing this blog easier, will certainly make attending concerts less of a hassle and fingers crossed should do wonders for my health and well-being. I’m pleased anyway. Just need to get December out of the way…
So tonight I have been playing a 3″ release, the tenth in the series of discs on the Compost and Height Split series of handmade limited edition discs that arrive stuck to a piece of plywood. it arrived alongside the eleventh disc in the set, and now one shelf of my CD library is beginning to look a bit like a DIY shop, but the series is has grown into a very nice collection of pieces. This time around though the two ten minute pieces come from musicians that use field recordings creatively; Eric La Casa and Tarab.
recently I was somewhat critical of a piece of music that used perfectly well recorded field recordings in a slightly predictable Â and uninteresting way. These two pieces show just how the opposite result can be achieved. La Casa’s Les vibrations dans la masse de son roulement (I’m not certain of an accurate translation, Vibrations of the centre of mass?) uses overlaid field recordings of varying city centre objects. mostly I believe, escalators of varying types and age. Certainly, as someone that has used the London Underground quite a bit over the last twenty plus years I recognise a lot of the sounds here, though other sound more alien. Escalators have always had a slightly unnerving feel to them to me ever since, at the age of sixteen I passed through Kings Cross tube station about an hour and a half before the terrible escalator fire that killed thirty-one people. They are strange, powerful machines that seem to stop for no one, you have to be ready to jump off at the end or they will throw you off anyway. they are also the source of some great sounds, which are often then amplified dramatically due to being held in a resonant underground tunnel. Quite often I have thought about bringing a recorder on a journey one day to capture some of the sounds.
La Casa has done just that, but then layered different recordings together to make this piece. Naturally, given the circular nature of how an escalator works there is a sense of rotation and rhythm in this music, but in general the mechanical, industrial sounds here are layered in such a way that while these patterns are hinted at they come and go so fast, and build into little climaxes that suddenly cut off (like the disappearing step you are stood on when it reaches the top). There are squeaks, scrapes, roars, hums and churning and rubbing sheets of metal all here, but crucially they are put together neatly and with a fantastic compositional ear to create music that departs from the basic elements that make it up and becomes a living, breathing entity of its own. More than once sounds are built up upon each other and then allowed to grow in volume and density, with background hums, off voices, distant trains all blending together around these clattering, whirring mechanical staircases before suddenly cutting of, just to start building again into something new. This is a great example of how merged and layered field recordings can be used to create soundscapes of great power and motion, as far from field recording soup as possible.
The second piece is called Utility and is by Tarab, otherwise known as Eamon Sprod, whose recent full length disc on 23Five I enjoyed a lot and wrote about here. Similarly to the piece by La Casa there is a common theme to the sounds recorded here. Sprod seems to have recorded the numerous short bursts of sound that appear here from within utility holes (manholes in the UK) around Melbourne, Australia. I’m not sure how he did this really, whether he lowered a recorder into the holes as he found them, or whether he climbed in himself (I’m extra impressed if the latter is correct) but knowing this information the sounds in this piece become thoroughly fascinating, and the many different sounds here that suddenly cut in and out leave me curious as to what I am hearing… are the sounds of the city above, merely filtered through the resonant chamber of what must be a tight concrete tube, or do we hear something actually down the hole, something normally out of earshot? Sprod’s notes on the piece suggest that most often we hear the former, the sounds of traffic, human conversation, wind etc channelled through into the utility hole, but certainly here and there we get blasts of sounds like escaping gas and at one point some kind of warning alarm going off
Beyond the fascination that the different sounds provides for me, the way the pieces are structured keeps the listener on his/her toes. A murky, glooomy distant recording of a fairground at one point might suddenly be cut off by a savage blast of air, only to disappear just as fast and something even quieter and undistinguishable might arrive. The sounds are arranged together so that there are constant sudden shifts in dynamic and intensity, so that, as with the La Casa track the music goes on to become something more than just the sum of its parts. The structure of the music is unusual and clever enough to keep you interested and leads you to almost forget where the sounds came from. Across the twenty minutes on this little CDr there is no end of invention and thoughtful, thoroughly creative use of a nicely recorded set of sounds. If all field recording composition was Â as good as this I’d be very happy.
Available from the good people at C&H
A heads up on another great looking show in London on Monday night, as part of the Interlace series at Goldsmiths College- The potentially great trio of Sebastian Lexer, Seymour Wright and Eddie Prevost are joined by solo performances by Jamie Coleman and Taku Unami, in town for a few days for his gigs at CafÃ© Oto on Sunday and Tuesday. I’m not sure how I am going to be able to attend this one, but I’m going to move heaven and earth trying….