Monday 16th JanuaryJanuary 16, 2012
Unusually for a Monday, I had today off of work at relatively short notice, and as I had little planned was able to spend the day catching up on various musical activities, a fair amount of reading and a lot of listening, working my way for the first time through six different albums, and giving two other discs I am working up to reviewing repeated plays. Its icy cold outside, and apart from a quick trip out to buy dinner I spent all of the day wrapped up warm with a production line of cups of tea to hand and the CD player working overtime. The weekend didn’t feel anything like a weekend and was a lot of hard work, so it was good to slow down today.
Anyway, one of the CDs I have listened to a lot today is a disc by Lee Noyes and Radio Cegeste, which is a project set up by Sally Ann McIntyre that involves a micro-radio station set up on a windswept hilltop near Dunedin, New Zealand. The album is titled (quite beautifully) To orient themselves with coastlines and is a release on Noyes’ Ideal State Recordings label. Despite the lengthy liner notes, the nice thing about this CD is that its really hard to try and work out what on earth we are listening to. There are four tracks, but the liners speak of the music consisting of two site specific recordings made on that hilltop. Throughout the liners mention is made of assorted instrumentation and sampled sounds, many of which I hear in the recording, many I can’t track down. What we do hear is a really nice blur of ever shifting radio static, white noise and whistling with assorted external sounds added in and a stream of different, presumably sampled elements faintly emerging from what is often a thick, hazy blur.
So, I am not certain if the music here was improvised in some way in situ at the site of the micro-radio station (whatever one of those actually may be!) or if recordings made there were later sculpted together into the pieces we are presented with here, but I guess it doesn’t really matter. The music is really quite refreshingly different in many ways. There is a sensation of accident to it all, perhaps because much of the sound here reminds me of my childhood days with old transistor radios, sometimes trying to find obscure music stations to listen to, sometimes just enjoying making sounds that annoyed my parents with them, but it feels like we are chancing upon the music here rather than it being something carefully composed. With the exception of some extremely violent blasts of what sounds like loud shortwave distortion every so often, there is a feeling of submersion here, as if the input of the musicians have been drowned under the layers of radio noise. Listening is just like trying to hear some obscure broadcast that you couldn’t quite receive back in the days before digital destroyed the soul of radio. There are ghost-like voices, some that stay around for quite a while, remaining indecipherable, others that can be heard clear for a second or so before cutting away abruptly. There’s a wheezy old accordion in there, birdsong, multiple tones and squelches that don’t sound like radio (the liners mention the use of an empty sampler, and a mixer interacting with a microphone) and who knows what else.
Much of what I like about this album is its feeling of hidden discoveries and the way that, for much of the time it sounds less like a deliberate attempt to make music as it does a chance exploration around the sonic detritus found amongst the long wave radio bands. While in places the extremities of the sound get very harsh indeed and certainly keep you from relaxing into any kind of apathetic relationship with the CD there is also a feeling of it just existing in the room as it plays, forming another layer on top of the sounds of every day life. It is as fascinating to listen to as it is enjoyable and not much like anything else I have heard before. Easily the best thing I have heard from Noyes, quite different to his previous, already varied work, and one I would recommend. Really lovely sleeve imagery as well. Ideal State.