A good couple of days then- we ended up wandering around Oxford college grounds for a while yesterday then, or at least until the tourist hordes would us up too much and we went book and dinner shopping instead. A really slow start today with a late breakfast saw Sunday begin well, before I came home and spent the afternoon setting fire to things in the garden in the name of sleeve design… tonight after a couple of glasses of wine I am feeling nice and warm and trying to forget the pain that has been running though my back over recent days and which has weirdly got worse tonight than better, despite giving it some rest. Oh well anyway, best stop moaning.
Tonight I have also been listening to a really curious CD that I have been trying to wrap my head around for a few weeks now. The disc in question is a new CD by David Papapostolou named Sivom de la Droude and released on Phil Julian’s Authorised Version label. David first came to my attention a few years back when I heard some recordings of him playing with Daniel Jones that later blossomed into proper releases. After moving to London from Bristol, Frenchman Papapostolou hooked up with the vibrant scene revolving around the Eddie Prevost Improv Workshops, and so could be found playing regularly, sometimes in front of an audience, sometimes not, mostly performing with a cello laid flat on a table rather than the laptop he had started out with. He hasn’t released much on CD though, but now this new disc has arrived I am quite surprised by it, consisting as it does of no improvisation as such at all- the disc contains four field recordings, or rather four tracks that we shall call field recordings for now.
Sivom de la Droude (Babelfish isn’t helping much here, any ideas anyone?) contains four recordings that Papapostolou describes as “situation-specific events” For these pieces, David has placed a microphone inside a saxophone resting on its bell, or in a glass jar. These have then been placed in a garden, a car boot, on a veranda and at a window. What we hear then is very quiet, distant and murky. Papapostolou states that the recordings are not designed to match a listener’s expectations of this kind of music, pointing out that the sound quality is poor, and what really matters here are the processes that have gone into creating the pieces, and that it is this that gives the music its character and edge.
The pieces here sound like mistakes made when someone forgot to turn the recorder off, or one of those moments when someone accidentally phones you and you get to hear the inside of their pocket for a while. There is a degree of surface rattle and wind, but we also hear voices, distant traffic, and the usual mysterious roars and rumbles audible in every town and city these days. What we don’t hear though is any deliberate attempt to frame the sounds, to produce a composition of sounds in a way we normally might expect from field recordings. It appears that Papapostolou set out with the idea of recording in this predetermined manner without really knowing what the results might sound like, without really trying to capture anything in particular other than what might have occurred at that time and space.
At first I wondered what the point was here. Although occasionally quite accidentally beautiful, often the pieces here just seemed to frustrate me, perhaps just because I wanted to hear through the cloudiness, because I wanted to make out what was being said in the distant conversations, I wanted to know what the rumbles and hisses might have been. I turned the volume up very high, so revealing much more, but little in the way of detail. Like trying to make out what is going on when you receive one of those accidental phone calls, listening here and expecting to make sense of these four pieces in the same way you would any other set of field recordings just doesn’t work.
Once I had stopped trying to listen as I might normally then, once I was able to just accept that a greater degree of chance was at work here than with “normal” field recordings, and that this music was all about the following through of pre-determined scenarios, irrespective of the results, then things became interesting. Papapostolou here Â is making music that sits (in his own words) on the border between “our daily environment and a construction of some sort” By placing a frame around these unremarkable, every day events, but also by choosing to record them in such a hampered, filtered manner Papapostolou blurs the line between art and life. Just by placing these sounds onto a CD a statement is being made, but what statement? Does it have any value beyond highlighting the mundanity, or perhaps the hidden beauty of life? Placing the microphone into the sax, into the glass jar, clearly allows Papapostolou to shape the sounds of life, to place a rough filter over them, not changing what occurs, but removing it slightly from reality, so we hear Papapostolou’s roughly improvised take on the mundanity, not the real thing.
So how to enjoy this music? Is it something to sit back and listen to as a purely sonic experience? Or should we be listening to this CD from a more conceptual viewpoint? It seems to me that maybe both approaches are valid to some degree. The physical shrouds placed over the recordings by Papapostolou, the sax, the glass jar, plus the decisions made over where to place the microphone, how long each track should be, what time of the day to record etc make these pieces compositions shaped and composed to some degree. Removing the resulting work from the “standard” patterns of how field recording works, and replacing specifically “interesting” sounds with the sounds of everyday life gives the music a thoughtfully conceptual element as well, challenging the listener to find a way to connect with what they hear, to listen to environmental recordings in a different way.
An album of really interesting, considered music then. You can but the CD from the Authorised Version site, or can download it from there for free as well. If you grab it for nothing, and enjoy it, why not pay for it as well, so helping generous and ethically sound labels like Mr Julian’s go on and put out more musically easily in the future.