I didn’t feel remotely like writing about music tonight. Its really hot and humid here, I slept for much of the early evening after being at work in the early hours, bad news seems to be coming to me every ten minutes (RIP Cy Twombly) and in between the bad news comes current events in the news that just makes me angry. Trying to focus and then gather my thoughts together enough to write anything coherent isn’t easy, so apologies in advance if the following review says nothing of interest at all…
Anne Guthrie is a name I didn’t know a couple of years back but is now producing music in New York that is consistently of interest. As I have been listening to her recent new solo album on the Copy for your Records label over recent days a further cassette sits unplayed to my side, and opening a jiffy bag a few moments ago revealed another CD she is involved with on the Ilse label. I also wrote about her last solo here more than a year ago now. The new release is named Perhaps a favorable Â organic moment and is the first release on the CFYR label to arrive in a handsome digipack. It features five tracks, grouped into three sections, with the third, central track standing alone. Tracks one and two then are each named Bach Cello Suite No.2, Prelude. When the first track begins, the seemingly odd title makes little sense as we hear a vaguely distant urban environment, busy roads, the hum of city life etc, perhaps through an open window as other sounds here and there seem closer to hand and more contained, though I may well be wrong here. The sounds are somehow quite soothing, not aggressive, but perhaps what we might expect them to be, and for a while I began to wonder if this album was just to be field recordings played straight, but then, after almost exactly five minutes of this stillness, with just the odd small sound near the microphone here and there we suddenly get a loud, completely foregrounded brass instrument appear, playing the familiar Bach prelude, or something close to it. I’m not sure exactly what the instrument is, and no credit is listed, but given that Guthrie plays the French horn in other groups I think its a fair guess to assume she is playing here. Now I imagine that it isn’t easy to play a cello piece on a French horn, but this isn’t a virtuoso performance by any means, rather it sounds like Guthrie practicing by herself, almost as if she didn’t know the recorder was on, though that scenario is obviously unlikely. The horn goes on for quite a while then, and completely owns the track, distracting you completely from the grey hum of the city which remains in the background. At the ten minute mark the track just ends, and the second piece, the second half of the two tracks labelled with the Bach title begins.
Here its sounds as if the same recording has been used as source material for this track. We hear a kind of hazy, underwater rendition of what I think are elements of the same recording, with the city dissolving into a darker, featureless hum, the horn warping and twisting as if it had been blown apart by a strong wind, and some nice little tinkling metallic sounds appearing. This piece is beautiful, and its even more rewarding to realise that it has been extracted somehow from the piece that preceded it. Its a calm, though slightly off centred track, a blurred shadow of the original piece. The two work very well hand in hand.
The third and central piece is named Times Center, NYC 2010 and seems to be a nine minute long straight-up field recording of a busy urban place. I’m not sure what the Times Center is, but we seem to hear an indoor recording but in a vast space, so sounds, (many of them human, children shouting, massed chatter etc…) reverberate around the space, and also the recording. There is also a kind of shimmering drone-like sound added to the track, that initially sounds like it is just part of the original site recording, perhaps music playing or some kind of industrial whirring, but as the track nears its end the field recording element drops away to reveal that this sound is added on top, perhaps an entirely synthetic sound, perhaps a filtering of the original recording again, but the interesting thing for me is how when you first listen this extra layer feels part of the natural sounds, and only when Guthrie pulls back and reveals Â all do we notice it didn’t belong int he first place.
The final two pieces then form a final suite named Annie Laurie, which is an old traditional Scottish folk song, and sure enough the song appears in the work. The first of the two pieces sounds like a heavily treated field recording of some kind. A formless, ghostly cloud of sound, (perhaps more city noises filtered somehow?) can be heard, slowly building into a more intense swarm-like sound that resembles insects flying past a microphone. Over this though, stopping and starting often we hear a murky recording of a female voice (maybe Guthrie again?) singing the folk song, or little bits of it. This track is actually a little disturbing in its feeling of darkly intriguing mystery, but when when the final track, and second half of this suite appears we hear the voice singing more clearly, but in an empty, resonant space, with the city heard again in the background, and a reverberating passing aircraft playing the insect part. Clearly as the first suite of the album, the Bach recordings, Â saw the opening field recording as the first half and a treated version for the second, so this final Annie Laurie suite mirrors it, with the final three minute long field recording used to create the longer thirteen minute construction that preceded it.
This is fascinating stuff and a really hearteningly interesting use of field recording as a creative tool. Presenting a disc full of the original recordings would have been nice enough, as there is enough originality and curiosity to be found surrounding them to make them interesting enough, on top of the beauty contained in them as well (the final vocals on the folk song are very beautiful) the way the pieces have been treated and reconfigured to form new works again that complement the originals so well is excellent. Fine stuff then, certainly a CD I would heartily recommend to those like me that are a little jaded by so many field recordings based releases that all sound very similar and looking for something subtly but intelligently different.