Ferran Fages – Pel NordMarch 13, 2012
So, as promised a few days of listening to vinyl. Today I worked long hours, and after leaving this evening fought my way through the dense fog that weirdly has covered Oxfordshire to go to Julie’s for the evening, but now, at a little past 1AM I am sharing a paragraph or two on the first of a couple of Ferran Fages solo discs that are long overdue my consideration here, this one a very nicely little packaged 7″ single on the Bocian Records label named Pel Nord. The disc contains two pieces, one on each side of the vinyl, Side P and Side N. The music is performed using “manipulated AM radios”. Exactly how the sounds here originate from such items, and exactly how Fages has manipulated them to make this music is completely beyond me. Nothing here sounds remotely like a radio, and the craftsmanship involved in making the music is (certainly not surprising when we remember whose hands the radios are in) quite remarkable.
Now, I grew up listening to John Peel, from an early age, on a tiny transistor radio hidden under my pillow. I think I have told the story here many times before. Listening to this disc tonight took me right back to those days for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the last time I put a piece of 7″diameter vinyl onto a turntable may well have been back when I bought something after a Peel recommendation. While I have returned to vinyl a little over the past year, I haven’t played a 7″ single as such. The nostalgia linked to such an act is a mixed one for me. While the act of sliding a sturdy piece of vinyl from a well designed slipcase is a very satisfying thing to do, I remember when I first heard CDs and just preferred their noise free sound so much more. The only benefit that CDs brought was that you didn’t have to worry about playing the record at the correct speed. One of the real joys of listening to John peel was his repeated ability to play records at the incorrect RPM, so creating new works as he did so, often deliberately leaving them to run out as he liked what he heard. Playing this disc the last couple of days I don’t really know if it should be heard at 33 or 45RPM. I suspect 45, but I am far from sure, and subsequently have heard both sides at both speeds repeated. The music works at either speed.
Assuming though we are meant to be listening at 45RPM, both sides of the disc offer us some really very dramatic, really quite epic music that uses layers of screeching, screaming vaguely feedback-like tones, seemingly five or six at a time that build together to form an insistent, driving layer of sound. The effect is somewhere between that massed chaos of many car horns being sounded angrily in an inner city traffic jam and a church organ with all the high notes jammed down. There is a low level popping and scratchiness also apparent, and these sounds are the most radio-like of anything here, but these parts feel almost incidental alongside the wailing walls of screaming tone. Both sides of the disc are similar, with Side P perhaps the slightly more urgent sounding, and Side N residing more in slightly less piercing, slightly more droning territory. Whether the sounds used here have been collected individually and then constructed into the works we find here, or whether these are single takes of improvised performances I am not certain, but the degree of detail involved points me towards the first option, simply because Ferran Fages only has two hands.
Whether there is some kind of external, perhaps feedback related phenomena involved to create the sounds Fages finds here, or if perhaps his manipulation involves breaking into the radios and bending the circuitry in some way I am not at all sure, but the sounds we are presented with are incredible- somehow both grand and delicate at the same time, the layers becoming gradually opaque as they are piled on top, but once peeled back revealing the fragility of the construction. The problem with this music, (and moreso when played at 45RPM) is that its over before you have a chance to sit down and smell the coffee, and you are up again to turn the disc over, very much in the traditions of the old 7″ single. I would have liked to have heard a much longer work with more space and time to undulate and drift into (near) silence really, as such a wider sense of scale and structure isn’t really workable with the transient feel of a 7″ single. You just begin to settle into the music and it ends. This is a shame, as the few minutes of music that make up each side of Pel Nord are each very interesting sonic achievements by themselves. I just need to hear more. (or, alternatively I need someone to turn vinyl over for me at regular intervals. If they know the correct speed for things as well that’s an added bonus.
Someone, probably within the next couple of hours, will become the 300,000th visitor to this site, according to the hit counter that lives at the bottom of this page. If on arriving here you suddenly found yourself showered in bits of glittery paper and people blowing plastic kazoos at you very hard, then you know you are that 300,000th visitor doomed to be disappointed by what they find here. I wonder how high the counter will get before I get completely fed up with doing this?