Tuesday 18th JanuaryJanuary 19, 2011
This morning Julie and I took the opportunity of both having the day off and set off on a ten-plus mile walk north up the Oxford Canal, following it until we both needed a break and a pub lunch. The walk was great, providing both exercise and creative inspiration. Since getting home I have been listening to a quite extraordinary CD by Eric Cordier and Seijiro Murayama that somehow casts my mind and ears back to our walk. The disc, titled Nuit and released by the currently on-fire Herbal International label is a mix of field recordings of wildlife, distant traffic, aircraft, human spluttering, moaning and wheezing and an awful lot more. So, for a number of reasons I will probably always associate this CD with today’s excursion…
Forgetting the leisure pursuits linked to my midlife crisis for a minute then, this is still a really intriguing CD. Although there is a page of liner notes that explain the “composition” here to some degree, exactly what we hear here is still a bit of a mystery. Murayama apparently asked Corider to compose a work for him that involved his percussion playing placed “back to back” with tape. This initial request somehow mutated into the mass of field recordings, human vocal sounds and percussion (some on drums some on metal railings it seems) that we hear on these five seamlessly linked pieces. Cordier used field recordings he made in Japan in 2006 to build the work, adding in some pieces recorded in France as well. He took everything from firework displays, singing, (actually moaning very loudly) bullfrogs, passing aircraft, bits of human chatter, watery gurgling sounds, toy windmills and a whole load more and brought them all together into a bustling, thoroughly bright and present set of concrete recordings.
Into all of this though we hear Murayama every so often. There are various percussive sounds heard here and there, but whether they are all his is hard to tell. He certainly is recorded breathing, moaning, spluttering, whispering and sounding generally short of breath throughout, giggling to himself at one point, mimicking snoring and almost breaking into conversation elsewhere. Murayama’s contributions apparently came from a live performance by the duo which also including the percussionist moving about the space and working with “lights and shadow theatre”. Its hard to tell how much of these additional elements make any audible impact on the CD. Cordier also apparently recorded himself “painting with fire” during the performance.
All of this combined creates a really rather spectacular and very difficult to pin down collage of sounds that feels constantly fresh and somewhat wild. There is a real energy to the music, a sense of it being alive, more than just a load of soundfiles pushed around a computer screen. The way that the human sounds fold into the wildly varying field recordings is both inspiring and disconcerting. At one moment we might be listening to strange distant thuds, percussive scraping and the call of a Japanese safety officer warning about the dangers of fireworks and the next a closely miked gurgle captured at the back of Murayama’s throat. We start to lose track of what is what, if it was ever clear in the first place, and the hammering of a snow barrier in a Japanese field could be the scrape of Murayama’s snare drum or the snuffling of him breathing hard through his nose. It all comes thick and fast and floods the room as you listen, a sheer barrage of sensations and sounds that is really quite overwhelming.
There have been some great albums involving field recordings of late, the real cream of them finding new ways to revitalise the concrete genre, often by merging them with live or separately recorded instrumental sounds. Nuit (it doesn’t say so, but I suspect that maybe most of the sounds were recorded at night) really feels alive and vibrant. There is no sense of dreamy ambience, droning layers or predictable jump cuts here. The fourth track of the five suddenly takes everything and forces it somehow through a digital sequence that seems to squash all of the sound into a kind of eighties synthesiser work out, stopping the piece as we knew it and throwing it all through a digital granulation process for a minute. This section of the disc sounds completely alien and completely artificial, a kind of aural liquidiser that digitally squashes the sound in an somewhat cheesy manner that is not disguised in any way. Then as everything slows to a grinding halt we hear the hoot of an owl somewhere behind it all and the field recordings begin to flow again.
This is very hard music to describe in words. It really is quite different, original and thoroughly inventive. It seems to ignore the conventions of what we might expect from this kind of music and just go wild however it wants. I had felt a slight loss of faith in the use of field recordings as a compositional tool a month or two back, but this disc, along with Vanessa Rosetto’s Mineral Orange and Eric LaCasa’s great W2 (also on Herbal) have shown what can really be done. This CD may well be the best of all of those, quite remarkable indeed.
In a completely unrelated note, isn’t this sequence of photos documenting the birth of a violin really very beautiful indeed?