Bhob Rainey – When you talk, you hear from the other sideMarch 25, 2013
A somewhat different release tonight. Bhob Rainey is perhaps best known as one half of the improvising group Nmperign, in principle a saxophonist but he has also produced a body of very good electroacoustic composition. When you talk, you hear from the other side falls into the latter category, but the raw materials used are sourced entirely from two wire spool cassette recordings made back in the early fifties. Rainey found an old tape machine loaded with the two old reels in an antique shop, and on playing them discovered a series of old recordings, many of them centred around the nine year old boy who was bought the recorder for Christmas in 1951, but also various family conversations, a young girl, attempts at singing along to records, grabs from an early TV broadcast and recordings of the salesman selling the original tape machine, demonstrating how it worked. Rainey has taken these voices, and edited them slightly, layering them over one another, leaving spaces filled with the haunting hum of empty tape and the crackle of decay formed over time. The age of the recorder meant that the tapes had to be archived by improvising a connection using raw cables pushed into the tape machine’s output, so further degrading the quality of what we hear.
Pressed to heavy duty 12″vinyl, but spinning at 45rpm, the two sides of the release are relatively short. The first, which shares its title with the album overall seems to do very little with the voices apart from build them on top of one another, never so densely that any part is not fully legible however, and with a feeling of awestruck reverence at what has been discovered on the reels. The voices we hear, which are a perfect representation of middle class American family life in the early fifties, are left to sway us with their own individual characters and personalities. Even though we just get little glimpses of the various voices we build whole life stories around them, picture how they look, imagine how they felt presented with a microphone and unfamiliar new recording technology. So the voices are laid over one another carefully, so things seamlessly slip from one recording to another. There is obviously a temptation when working with material of this type to either loop elements ridiculously or to treat the samples as comedic material. Rainey does neither, and really does seem to soak up the nostalgic excitement the tapes present us with, letting the various voices speak, charm us, let us into the lives of those on the reels just a little bit. The moments we get when the voices subside and the grimy cacophony of the tape’s silent patches blur past us are equally enchanting for their strange glowing textures.
The second side of the record, titled The other side of what (both titles are spoken lines taken from the reels) and created in collaboration with Jason Lescalleet sees the voices corroded further away into grainy shadows of what they were. The voiceless patterns left embedded after Rainey has done whatever he has done to the recordings become almost melodic, just faint patterns where there were once excited voices. Not one word can be recognised, and if the source material wasn’t already known I wouldn’t have guessed at human voices, assuming instead I was hearing some kind of ropily captured underwater landscape. As a piece of neatly crafted aural sculpture, the second track here is far more musical and dramatic than the flip side, but it feels almost a shame to have the voices from the “other side” of the vinyl dissolved into the aural detritus that forms the second piece. Still, its great to have both the source material, neatly arranged, and then its remnants aside one another so as to reflect on how one became the other, a kind of sped up parallel for how these primitive technologies decay over time. That the music has now found a home on an analogue format also makes sense. Digitising the sounds here just wouldn’t feel right. Charmingly simple, rather affecting and thoroughly engaging then, When you talk, you hear from the other side is a very nice release indeed then, well worth seeking out.