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‘Strata’
Exchange between Richard Pinnell and Patrick Farmer

The fourth part of an ongoing exchange between Patrick Farmer and Richard Pinnell, the first can be found here, the second here and the third here.

Part IV

Richard:

Probably unsurprisingly, questions of authenticity always seem to concern those involved in the act of field recording far more than those that merely listen to it. If I am approaching a piece of music I generally want it to move me, jar me, stun me with its beauty- affect me somehow. I don’t really feel that questions of material authenticity necessarily have any bearing on that. If we look at the sounds used for Strata- however “untreated” they may be, the way they have been chopped up, layered, combined with other sounds surely removes them from their “authentic” state.  Like an organically labelled sponge cake a piece of music formed out of only “naturally occurring” field recordings may hold a kind of ethical superiority to some people but for me personally all that matters is the end result. While I can appreciate the craftsmanship of one that sets out in search of rarely heard sounds, and presents them beautifully to ears that may not ever hear them otherwise, this is a different thing to any suggestion that an “authentic” sound should have more merit than another. Plus, imagine how uninteresting the sky above Turner’s seascapes would be without that intense emotional drama exaggerating everything, or how dull Monet’s water lilies would appear painted photo-realistically.

Your thoughts on Caroline, and the comparison to the frozen pond of is are beautiful, and I immediately went and found my copy of that disc which I had shamefully forgotten, to play it again. I am put in mind of the wasp inside the recorded bamboo cane on your solo album of field recordings. In that instance, as with the frozen nature of the pond, the bamboo becomes a layer of processing in itself. It is an authentic processing one might say, as it has been stumbled upon by an alert ear, but should such “authentic” processing be viewed differently to an EQ filter applied to a recording if both make the material more interesting? The truth of course is that pushing a virtual slider on a computer rarely results in something as interesting as that which can be stumbled across in the field, but I don’t think this is exclusively always the case, and certainly something does not become more interesting simply because it has been left untouched. We of course will never hear recorded music that breathes Gertrude Stein’s air, and of course any suggestion of authenticity becomes fraudulent when viewed from such a perspective anyway. The minute you frame something as an artist, commit it to recording and reproduction processes and allow it to be played back in a multitude of different listener settings then indeed the air is sucked away. Such thoughts however, the rationalist in me will constantly remind us, are an irrelevance when we come to discuss a recording on a CD!

 For me, a measure of perhaps a different kind of authenticity with music, and with field recording in particular would be its sense of purpose. This of course is a difficult notion to raise regarding any music, but with field recording it becomes even more complex. If you record one chosen thing, why do you choose to record it? In the case of Tarab’s disc the answer seems clear- to gather material of a certain tone and colour that can then be sculpted into something new, something that contains an emotion and energy of its own. Much of the material Olivia Block’s Karren also serves this purpose. For that record Block seems to have set out with a clear idea of how the composition might work, conceptually and structurally, and then gathered together the relevant parts to fit. The music feels like it has a sense of purpose, a reason for existing beyond the presentation of uncovered material. I am not for one minute sitting as a smug outsider suggesting that field recordists have no sense of purpose to their work, I am very sure that each has his or her own drivers, but I personally connect much easier to work where my perceived purpose of it is as something much more than the presentation of a set of field recordings. So to return to my earlier thoughts on Strata- the most interesting work involving field recordings is, for me at least, that which uses them merely as material for something else. Something that may indeed rely entirely on the essence of what the field recordings contain, but a new composition, a personal statement by the musician(s) involved.

 So, having said all of this, having made such bold statements, I am troubled as to why I have been greatly enjoying Marc and Olivier Lambard’s new release Cévennes over the last week. That album portrays predominantly untreated phonographic recordings of the mountainous Cévennes region of France. I suspect I know why I like this album so much, but as I know you have been listening to it also I will wait to hear your thoughts on it before I attempt to unravel mine.

Patrick:

Authenticity has been lagging slower and slower behind its conception for years now, at least in this field we’re discussing, which is so new, though it shouldn’t be, new that is. I was reading a literary biography of Virginia Woolf and read that toward the end of her life she started to write a history of literature, which was never finished. She had wanted to begin by depicting the image of an individual alone in the woods, listening to the birds. She said that such a thing was the beginning of literature. I think material authenticity is only really an issue when, as you say, the individual presenting said recording, whether as a part of a talk or a release, makes that an issue. Claims of a falsification of reality are often leveled, but how much ground can such a query cover if the recordist is not presenting said recordings as being a typical example of reality? To dig up a fusty poetic onion, listening to a recording can be, a cause for a willing suspension of disbelief.

The falsification of reality is something that often gets leveled at the recordist, regardless of whether he or she lays claim to any notion of such a level of control. Truthfully, I think those who put their work on a pedestal of legitimacy, some might say value, are only kidding themselves, opening themselves up to a far greater degree of possible falsification in the resultant inspection. This calls to mind an image of the magnificent and wise individual, presenting sounds that they have found to others, as if they were granting them access, allowing them to encounter a world that is ultimately beyond them. Anyway, that aside, let’s change tack.

When I first met Lee Patterson, before a show I had co-promoted in Nottingham, we were in my kitchen, which was open plan, stretching itself out for half of the house, the French windows were open, and Lee placed on the table a gaggle of minidiscs, crudely hooking up his player to the shitty little system we had at the time. I certainly hadn’t heard what ensued, but he was so gracious about it, his respect was leveled solely at the sounds that were encoded onto that silly piece of plastic, and the organisms that had created said sounds as we were hearing them in this form. What we heard was a recording of photosynthesising pondweed, which no one in the room had even thought of, let alone experienced. He gingerly introduced it as something he’d recorded in a body of water by a duel carriageway, if I remember correctly, this was about eight years ago. It took me four years to record such a thing myself, hornwort,

ceratophyllum demersum, in a dipping pond, oddly enough, sandwiched between a railway line and a duel carriageway in Wales. I’ve only recorded it on one occasion since then, on the Isle of Grain, the Hoo Peninsula, in a silo full of rainwater and insects. Anyway, what I’m saying is that these recordings, whilst I wouldn’t for a moment say they are the sound of photosynthesising pondweed and believe it, I’ve never actually heard it, are essentially outcomes of a child like openess and a genuine enjoyment. I really do think it can be that simple. And why shouldn’t it be? When I used to record out of doors, every day pretty much, I reveled in whatever occurred and half the time I had no idea what was happening. I don’t do that now, so much, I do other things, force of circumstance in many ways, but making the recording was as much a tool as the recording itself, or even the thought of making a recording. I didn’t need an excuse to be outside, recording wasps in bamboo or distorted vibrations of street cleaners underneath piers; field recording for me was and is a hobby. As important to me as say, Lepidopterology was to Vladimir Nabokov, watering volcanoes was to the Little Prince, or Ikebana was to Hiroshi Teshigahara.

It’s unfair, even ignorant, to assume, as many do, that if a recording is presented in predominant isolation, Cevennes for example, as opposed to being a cog within a mechanism, or a wall of a structure, which is where I would place Eamon’s Strata, that the individual/s concerned must therefore be planting their feet on the salty ground of representation and authenticity, especially, if said recording has ecological overtones – as if there were really now any sort of gap between humanity and nature. So again, it seems to me that such a great deal of this present discussion falls at the feet of the listener. As regardless of what the individual chooses to publish or not within their release or installation, we shall experience what we want to experience.

Something I find very interesting in relation to all this talk of authenticity and the listener, is that when a person listens to a recording that they think sounds like something, Stephen Cornford’s Music for Earbuds is a beautiful example; when a person says, oh, that sounds like a cicada, even though it’s feedback produced by an earbud and a tapehead, and they know that it is feedback produced by an earbud and a tapehead, I can’t help but wonder if they have heard said insect before, in their travels, or in their locale, or whether, like so many people today, they are basing this comparison on a recording of a cicada that they have heard. I suppose what we should be talking about beyond anything else, is the jewel-encrusted brilliance of said album, but it raises an interesting point, and it’s one that I have read or heard mentioned in various ways. Is it easier to think of the sound issuing from one’s speakers when they listen to Music For Earbuds, as the sounds of insects or the sounds elicited between a single earbud headphone and a cassette Walkman tapehead?

We shall make things into whatever we wish, regardless of what the author or composer has in mind – and in Stephen’s case, beyond the title, which is very cheeky, he laid down the bare minimum of means. Though Stephen, or ironically, my conception of Stephen, is no doubt playing with that premise, reversing it. Music for Earbuds is, beyond being an ingenious work, an old idea reworked into a new context. Of course track 03 brings to mind, not only in the sounds themselves, but their placement within the stereo field, a cross section of a jungle, at a specific time of day, the squelching nature of the feedback leading the listener into all sorts of flights of fancy, leaps I believe Cornford has impishly encouraged, most of which, the listener will have never heard in the flesh, only on recordings, there’s that notion again. But I don’t know, on this occasion, as in so many quasi-filmic occasions, I love to think of the individual, sat alone in their studio, slaving over the mechanism, rather than a dense jungle. It’s a perfect example of a flat thing posing as something that it’s not and never intended to be, yet could very well be. Are the two images really that far away from each other anyway? Many people might think that Music for Earbuds is a comment on the increasing gap between humanity and nature, though I would, if pushed, state that it says the opposite. But I’m probably wrong, as I think the album is so good, that it can be exactly what it says it is.

Apologies, I haven’t given Cevennes a proper listen yet, except in your car. I have a few indistinct memories, battling for control in amongst the sugar rushes and nonsense, of certain creatures rising above the din on your car stereo – a memory in part that brought me back to Stephen’s release, as my memory of my reception of some of these sounds is really quite similar. So I was hoping you could actually start talking about it please.

(To be continued)

Richard Pinell’s The Watchful Ear
Patrick Farmer website

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‘Strata’
Exchange between Richard Pinnell and Patrick Farmer

The third part of an ongoing exchange between Patrick Farmer and Richard Pinnell, the first can be found here and the second here

Part III

Patrick:

I get the feeling that they (Haptic) started with almost nothing and then slowly removed what they could, as if rather than adding to Abeyance, they revisited this almost nothing constantly. The transparent architecture fascinates me. It’s not arcs of erasure, but renewal, a renewal of removal, of filling and emptying, like a loop almost, a loop of empty rooms and torn out words.

Being as the surface of Abeyance is almost non-existent, it presents a state of listening to things as if for the first time. All one can hear is the structure being demolished bit by bit whilst everything is gradually taking on a different appearance. One gets the feeling that it doesn’t matter at all how the sounds, and the resultant thoughts of the individual experiencing these sounds in their own particular way, are put together, since in the end nothing is left as it was.

The first time I heard the piano in Abeyance it had a similar effect on me as to the first time I heard the piano enter into Michael Pisaro’s July Mountain. At first I could feel my defences stretching, but I’ve no idea where they went, as in both cases, it feels like the instrument was always already there. After the initial surprise, in the latter more so than the former, it so often feels as much or as little an event as the undulating proportion of the shingle that is slowly displaced by the imperceptible movement. It’s like the piano has always already happened and all we are doing is revisiting it. Moving around the space of the CD itself to hear it from as many angles and under as many layers as possible. It sort of reminds me Robin Blaser’s metaphor for serial poetry. Walking into a room, turning the light switch on and then off, then walking into another room, turning the light switch on and then off. And on. And on. And on.

I’m interested to hear if you consider there to be a similarity in the presented surfaces of Haptic’s Abeyance and Tim Feeney’s Caroline?

Richard:

It is really interesting that we both have strong very similar feelings about Abeyance.  For me there is such a strong feeling of erasure here, almost a form of the self-cancellation investigations that Rhodri Davies and others explored with Gustav Metzger a few years back- a deliberate attempt to remove the musicians from the music, leaving only that piano, the origin of which we have no idea, so increasing its emotive power to the listener.  While you write so poetically about Abeyance though, the curious analyst in me still wants to know how that album physically came about. How did three musicians get from beginning work on the record to its final state? How do three people (and I agree there is clearly a huge amount of trust and understanding between these three) work together to take music to such a state, if indeed some kind of journey did take place? Here my role as a listener/reviewer probably kicks in again as opposed to yours as a listener/musician. I really dislike the notion of something happening that I can’t pin down, though paradoxically I also partly need this kind of mystery to make music interesting to me.

 

Considering Abeyance in relation to Tim Feeney’s Caroline album is an interesting thought. At first I wonder why we would do this. Because both CDs arrived at a similar time and from the same country? Certainly as a reviewer I have a tendency to apply these kind of relationships to music, which clearly often makes no sense at all, but with these two records I can understand why you would do this. As it happens I have spent the last week immersed in Eva-Maria Houben’s 6 Sonatas for piano. The eighteen movements that make up these works (three per sonata) each relate back to a classical sonata from the romantic period, but Houben’s works are very sparse, full of silences, as she seems to have distilled the essence of those classical works down to just the barest elements that give them their character.  I ended up thinking about those works in relation to Abeyance also, and the act of erasing something to be able to make something equally beautiful out of that which remains. Would I have thought this way about Houben’s music if I had not been thinking about Abeyance? Hard to say, but it is interesting how we draw comparisons between completely unrelated releases simply because we hear them soon after one another.

 

So regarding Abeyance and Caroline, well both albums have that sense of greyness to them- colourless fields of texture that seem to remove the indentations of human contact. With Caroline though we are hearing a man with a single (snare?) drum played only with his hands. We are not far away here from about as human a recording as could be imagined, and yet, if you allow yourself to be immersed in the constant motions of the music it is not difficult at all to forget the human contribution to it. Listening here can get like watching ripples on the surface of gently disturbed water- after a while we forget we are watching water, and the repeating colours and shapes we see, sometimes broken up by little imperfections or the glint of the sun become something completely abstract. For me Caroline is indeed perhaps about erasure or reduction, but perhaps more about disguise, though not necessarily openly so. It is related, (to my ears) to extended techniques and the way musicians have long sought to find new ways using their instruments, as if to escape their histories or cancel out their own past relationships with them. Perhaps in this way the grey textures of Caroline can indeed be compared to those on Abeyance. Do you hear a different kind of relationship?

 

We have now wandered far away from the Tarab release…

 

Patrick:

Like you, I see Abeyance as a sort of cancellation, though on reflection, perhaps it’s more like a cycle of repetitions. I’m thinking of experiences whereby I’ve recorded objects into objects, so many times as to erase any possibility of reoccurrence – looping them round and round each other until they can barely breathe, and yet there is still that unavoidable sense of familiarity as one reaches the resonant frequency. Once again we’ve reached that impasse whereby our shared and yet different experiences of the music and its making come into play, commenting on the thing both as similar and as difference. And yes, I suppose I don’t really mind not knowing how it was made. I think the beauty of the album is that it creates many possible scenarios that don’t detract from its steady auditive state. Sometimes I feel like it displays its own processes, or what I consider to be its processes, which is perhaps why I’ve listened to it more times than I can remember these last few weeks.

I prompted the inference between Abeyance and Caroline partly because I feel that they both share a surface, or a plain. If I think back to when Sarah Hughes and I recorded is (a recording that, now that I think about it from the angle of a listener, could also feel quite confusing, how did two people make that recording? But as the one who was involved in the recording, I couldn’t begin to extract either one of us from the proceedings) for the split release series on Compost and Height a number of years ago. It had been around -10c for a couple of weeks, and yet this was not enough to detract us from walking around the local park, which is called Oakmere, looking out for the ducks, coots, mandarins, moorhens, gulls, canada geese etc. I remember how Sarah cottoned on to her hearing before me, noticing that strange elasticity of vibration that was ascending from underneath the thick sheet of ice, falling back into its surface in order to be reabsorbed. We didn’t know it then, but it was the sound, primarily, of the ducks, walking on the other side of the pond, amplified beyond measure, within earshot, a warm sound, quite out of keeping with the inclement weather that was slowing everything down. The next day we came back around 4pm, as the day was beginning to get colder again, which was causing certain amplified shifts and contractions within the material itself, with some equipment, and the two of us set about creating, or influencing, our own conditions by throwing seeds onto the ice, which we would usually do regardless, and placing a hydrophone onto its surface. We started to think that the ice was akin to the surface of a drum, or a microphone, a taut platform of amplification that broke apart certain notions of proximity for a time. So much of is was down to that perception of eradication or distortion of distance, perhaps akin to what you were saying about Houben’s music and sparsity? I find connections between is and Caroline in their analogous yet wholly disparate (if you are of such a nature) methods of amplification. Whilst is focused on ducks and temperature in relation to surface, Caroline focuses on hands, but the surfaces, fundamentally, remain the same. What we’re hearing is the resultant interference, the static and friction between surface and object, and in the case of Abeyance, the object is absent, we are left only with the surface, though perhaps it has been raised in order to allow for a stacking of many duplicates.

In a case of some strange serendipity, which involved coming across the poems of Barbara Guest through certain writings and research methods to do with my PhD, focusing at this point on Juan Gris and William Carlos Williams, led to my revisiting Gertrude Stein’s memoir, entitled, Paris France. Which led me back in a circle to a particular poem by Barbara Guest called Roses, which led me back to a painting by Juan Gris, which was once owned by Gertrude Stein, called Flowers, and painted in 1914, though Stein claims it was 1912, which led me further back to a poem by William Carlos Williams called The Rose, which was published in his book, Spring and all, in 1923, and was in part considered with the aforementioned Gris painting. Now, this leads to an interesting article I read today by Casey Anderson, Faithfully re-presenting the outside world, which begins with that self same quote from Gertrude Stein that I have been thinking about through the poems of Barbara Guest, etc. Casey begins his actual writing thusly:

“One seemingly unresolved issue in the realm of field recordings is the tension between authenticity and abstraction. One can view an artist’s work with “the field” as existing somewhere between these two different, though not mutually exclusive, concerns. On the one hand, some artists strongly adhere to maintaining the perceptible accuracy/authenticity of their location, whereas others simply take elements from it as necessary, unconcerned with the legibility of the source.”

To get back to the point. What’s interesting for me, in relation to all of the releases we have thus far spoken about, in relation to Casey’s article, which is in part in relation to our conversation here, and all these threads – Strata, Abeyance, Exotic Exit, Caroline – is that they all of them, make their own oxygen, they all of them have a life, indeed several lives, of their own. Of course Caroline is the odd one out, the duck in the big hat, because it’s not an edifice of separate recordings. Though with this in mind, Caroline seems to me to not only create its own Oxygen, but to subsume its own creation, it inhales as soon as it exhales. This is a very literal rendering of the image, though a fantastical conclusion, which sticks in my craw a little, but still, the spread of Feeney’s movements seem to be catching the air that is released by and within the movement itself.

With this in mind, it occurred to me today that the tunnelling and clawing of Caroline, of Feeney’s hands, reminds me of the imprisoned Entomologist in Abe Kobo’s Woman in the dunes, trying to climb his way out of the inevitable. It’s almost as if what we are hearing is what he, the entomologist, was hearing; his entire mind and body concentrated on the escape, his anxious mind focused solely on the surface that crumbles underneath his touch, that buckles and then folds under the weight.

It’s a trite observation, but all of this talk of authenticity, whether it be made by the critic or the recordist, in relation to field recording, seem as outmoded as calling an artist a fraud for using their hands to excite a drum rather than a stick, or indeed for an artist to laud their choice as qualitative.

Here’s the Gertrude Stein quote:

“It was then I first realised the difference between a painting and out of doors. I realised that a painting is always a flat surface and out of doors never is, and that out of doors is made up of air and a painting has no air, the air is replaced by a flat surface, and anything in a painting that imitates air is illustration and not art.”

Here’s the Barbara Guest poem:

painting has no air . . .
          —Gertrude Stein

That there should never be air

in a picture surprises me.

It would seem to be only a picture

of a certain kind, a portrait in paper

or glue, somewhere a stickiness

as opposed to a stick-to-it-ness

of another genre. It might be

quite new to do without

that air, or to find oxygen

on the landscape line

like a boat which is an object

or a shoe which never floats

and is stationary.

Still there

are certain illnesses that require

air, lots of it. And there are nervous

people who cannot manufacture

enough air and must seek

for it when they don’t have plants,

in pictures. There is the mysterious

traveling that one does outside

the cube and this takes place

in air.

It is why one develops

an attitude toward roses picked

in the morning air, even roses

without sun shining on them.

The roses of Juan Gris from which

we learn the selflessness of roses

existing perpetually without air,

the lid being down, so to speak,

a 1912 fragrance sifting

to the left corner where we read

“La Merveille” and escape.

(To be continued)

Richard Pinell’s The Watchful Ear
Patrick Farmer website

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Music for earbuds
STEPHEN CORNFORD

(3Leaves 2013)

Review by David Vélez

From Stephen Cornford’s website

‘A series of works composed entirely from acoustic recordings of the feedback between a walkman tape-head and a pair of earbud headphones.’

I

Is not really easy to recognize the sources of the recordings captured for ‘Music for earbuds’ with the exception of the piece ’03′ where the listener can hear the distorted sounds of a natural environment inhabited by birds, insects and other animals. This difficulty leads to an exercise where one can imagine the causality of the sonorities projected in the noisy feedback sounds. For example ’01′ resembles a group of bees; on ’02′ the high pitched sonorities evoke the harsh buzz produced by cicadas. On ’04′ I picture sounds produced by either electric or mechanical means. Something similar happens with ’05′.

Excluding ’03′ and ’05′ the release presents a very repetitive and minimalistic narrative structure that works very well with its harsh sonorities.

II

What I find more interesting about ‘Music for earbuds’ is the method and process behind it, the exploration and instrumentation of the notion of feedback which sparks a poetic and metaphoric horizon of lecture in regard of the perceptual listening process. 

We often figure out a model where the world is outside us and the perception through which we perceive this world is inside us, but this model becomes ambiguous and complex when we consider the potential feedback between input and output. Maybe the sounds that we listen don’t occur where we think they occur; our notion of the outside world is mediated by an interpretation that our brain does of ‘external’ inputs.

III

Heraclitus said ‘You could not step twice into the same river’ so with this in mind it can be inferred that a sound will never repeat itself.

The conditions on which we listen to a certain sound will never repeat themselves, and I am not only talking about the conditions of a constantly changing physical wold but I am also talking about the developing semantic monologue of our thoughts that inexorably feedbacks with the environmental sources of sound. I also think about the ever-fluctuating mood of the listener that draws a mirroring process with the external resonances.

The usually soothing and relaxing sound of a quiet creek can become sinister and dreadful approached from a dramatic or anxious perspective; in the same way a haunting scream acquire a complete different emotional meaning given the chance and context.

The subjective and contextual aspects in the beholder’s perspective are essential in the construction of a sound.

For instance when I listen to ’03′ I hear this natural environment inhabited by animals, but I hear it in a distorted way; the artificial and eerie textures point to a sense of mediation. This is not just a natural environment but a natural environment interpreted and mirrored.

IV

I have no idea if there is a relation between all the things that I wrote on this review and what Cornford might had in mind when he composed ‘Music for earbuds’. I also don’t know how much of what I wrote would have been written if I didn’t learned about the process behind the work. Still this is a release that very likely echoes in its formality the beautiful poetry of its process.

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[Stephen Cornford, photo courtesy of Luca Ghedini for Eventi]

Stephen Cornford website
3Leaves website

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‘Strata’
Exchange between Richard Pinnell and Patrick Farmer

The second part of an ongoing exchange between Patrick Farmer and Richard Pinnell, the first can be found here

Part II

Richard:

There is still a huge amount of potential in field recording.  The way the technology has moved on, and liberated the art of making music away from “musicians” can only be a good thing for me. There is, on some level, little difference in many ways between what Tarab does on this album and what Luc Ferrari and the GRM required a room full of equipment and the privilege required to access it to achieve. The problem is though, as everyone and anyone can buy a portable digital recorder and download powerful processing and sequencing software so that liberation also naturally waters down the overall output. There are of course many dozens of musicians making incredible music that uses field recordings today, and the ones you name would be near the top of my pile too, but it seems increasingly that there is an awful lot of everyday, ill conceived work out there to wade through as well. I am reminded of my art student studies of the New York subway graffiti movement of the eighties. There were pioneers, who created great work, but then as soon as everyone saw what the others were doing, and realised that they too could climb over those fences and cross those tracks, the trains passing through New York were just a jumbled mess of wildly strewn paint. The great artists were still there, still working, and new interesting names appeared all the time, but it was harder to spot them amongst the mass of scribbling for scribbling’s sake, and pretty soon the audience for it all turned against the movement.

To escape the elongated metaphor, I want to clarify my thoughts on material and structure, as I may not have been clear enough. While I agree that the material can become the structure itself, it takes interesting material to do this. For me, Strata does not necessarily contain interesting material per se. If I was pressed to describe the sounds used in the record without mentioning how they interact with other elements around them I don’t think I would say very much different to how I would describe the sounds of many similar records. It is certainly possible that particular sounds, or field recordings used in a piece of music can stand up on their own and create the structure of interesting music by themselves, simply because they are unusual, striking or narratively intriguing enough to do so (I think here of your own pigs at the start of Pictures of men or the auction house scenes in Vanessa Rossetto’s Exotic Exit as good examples).  This however is where the lack of originality to the material used in much of field recording today (too much running water, traffic, birdsong, air conditioning units etc, etc…) forces the impetus back onto the composer to use those overheard sounds in ways that waken the senses of the listener, so putting the onus back onto composition and away from the process of gathering material. I think this is where Tarab really succeeds with Strata. I find myself not caring about what I am actually hearing a field recording of, and not caring if or how the particular set of sounds have been processed post recording or not, and all that matters is how the work as a whole hits me. Again, I am not saying that this is the only way that field recording can work. I released Lee Patterson’ frying egg recordings on my own label for instance simply because that music was so wonderfully revealing of what could be found in the world without the need for additional structure, but increasingly in this area of work, to my ears at least, compositional integrity is becoming more important than ever.

This leads to your thoughts on how it’s time for people to change their listening habits. Certainly my own perspective, as a listener to this area of work for a few decades now, will be a jaded one, and perhaps over time the tendency is to ask more of the music and less of ourselves in the pursuit of a moving listening experience, but I do think I tend to listen in similar ways to you, particularly with this kind of field recording / construction area of work. I have shared similar moments with Strata as yourself, feeling left hanging over sheer drops in places, left curious as to how sounds may have progressed if they had been allowed to stick around, even applying colours to different sets of sounds in my head and then wondering how a little more ‘orange’ or ‘purple’ may be added at various points to suit my own personal preferences. Surely you must agree though that this kind of ‘interactive’ listening becomes easier when the composer has created something powerful to begin with. A CD arrived here a couple of weeks back that opened with a track that just consisted of three layers: a slowed-down hydrophone recording,  a sine tone and some kind of domestic or industrial appliance buzzing away.  The different elements just faded in, sat on top of each other a while and left in as uninteresting a manner as they arrived. No matter how imaginative a listener you may be, that particular track (other parts of the album were better) bored the ears off of me.  This is only in part down to the fact that the three elements used are heard often in this area of work. The materials were familiar, but they were also used in familiar ways, with very little there to hook onto. Strata also contains the sound of running water, and vaguely industrial sounds, but the CD pulls me in as a listener because it has a life beyond the simple combination of sounds, and that life is formed through the compositional ear of Eamonn Sprod. While I agree that it is easy to sit on the critical sidelines and throw stones, the onus has to be on the composer to make music that encourages the kind of listener engagement we both enjoy.  I often describe music I enjoy as engaging, and that is what Strata is for me. It distracts you, keeps you from doing other things, forces you to interact.

I also realise that my tired use of birdsong could also be your exciting use of seagulls, and that so much of this is subjective, but that is no different to all music. I too wouldn’t put a CD onto a pedestal merely because there are seagulls included. I may of course be attracted to the music initially if I was a particular fan of seagulls but unless those particular larid recordings were of real consequence then it is what might be done with them that counts. A fine example of this might be Cathy Lane’s recent album of field recordings made in and around the Hebrides. As you know, I have fallen in love with that part of the world over recent years, so was extremely interested to hear that album. I found it a disappointment though, simply because the various pieces that made up the album didn’t offer me much more than your average audio photo album.

Patrick:

I know you were being hyperbolic, but I wouldn’t say there’s little difference between what, in this case, Tarab is doing, or what we are listening to what we think Tarab is doing, to be long winded but I think a little more accurate, and what the GRM composers did, if only because the latter has happened, and it happened more because it had to happen, in our understanding of the present, whereas Strata certainly did not have to happen, if you follow. I think they’re now as different as digital and analogue photography, to use a crass example. Or Cage and Pisaro, etc. I don’t think that the overabundance of recordists and over availability of equipment should be laid at Tarab’s feet when he makes an album; it’s more of a concern for the discerning listener. I’m not saying that the individual making an album in this day an age need be blissfully unaware of what is going around on them, but an overt awareness of their craft can be very detrimental. Though I also think that commenting on a ‘movement’ as it is occurring is nigh on impossible to do in so much a poignant way as you would be able to with regards to the Subway graffiti movement. The tendency to look back into the past to look forward and only see harbingers can be very tiring – and I’m speaking from my perspective, as someone who tries not to do such a thing when I’m working, only because I often can’t call my thought back and so I’ll spend 6 months thinking about what recording I want to make for an album rather than just going out with a microphone and seeing what happens. I’m not positioning myself between certainties however, I just think, as I’ve already said, the overpopulation of people field recording manifests more as a burden to the listener. And as I’ve said many times, your point is not entirely one I can imagine, as I have certainly not listened, or received, or even know about, as many field recording albums as you, and these days I am very content to leave the ones I know I wont enjoy well alone, and instead spend time with the ones that intrigue me.

I’m listening to Exotic Exit again and you’re right, the auction room recording does particularly reinvigorate that sense of a listening event that is somewhat of a singularity, its incredibly filmic, like much of Vanessa’s placement, and is able to stand up by itself as a part of the structure whose work existed primarily in the mind (or gestated perhaps). Where the lions share of the work goes into actually thinking of that recording, and its uniqueness in this field, rather than creating a process of interaction with it, the interaction is there from the moment the recording is placed within the structure. The ties bind themselves, so to speak. Though of course the making of the recording could have also been a chance event, it doesn’t matter, it’s not as if a sense of technicality is paramount in being able to enjoy such a thing. Vanessa’s work has always struck me as a perfect example of objective expressionism. And you are right, in spite of what I’ve been saying, about the task of rekindling such overworked recordings (air conditioning units, etc) falling into the lap of the one recording them, it’s a balance. And people like Lee Patterson and Jeph Jerman are fine examples of not only the possibility of this premise, but the very real and continuing utilisation of commonplace field recordings made fantastical in wake of the recordists immense sensitivity and patience.

You said:

“While I agree that the material can become the structure itself, it takes interesting material to do this “

With this in mind, what do you think of Haptic’s new release, Abeyance? Now, I know you weren’t implying a homogenous rule to the relationships between material and structure, but I feel that this album is somewhat of an enigma, and it’s really had a positive effect on me over these last few weeks. Abeyance for me is very much a poetic reality, and I can’t help but bring the Felisberto Hernandez quote they use in the context of the album up here:

“I grew accustomed from a very young age to hearing the piano only at night. That was when my mother played it. She would light four candles of the candelabra and played notes so slowly and so separated by the silence that it was as though she were also lighting, one by one, the sounds.”

I’d say that much of my fascination with the structure of this album, in relation to its stasis bred materiality, is that it makes me think that so much else is going on beyond the threshold, and that what I’m hearing, distinctly different from what I’m listening to in this case, is the residual waste of process. The vagueness of this conception only serves to heap more and more fascination on how unusual the album is for me.

Richard:

Well I think we have reached a point with the discussion of structure and material that now highlights our individual roles in the development of music and how they produce different and to some degree opposing ways of approaching a recording. You are a musician and composer, with a defined, or at least proposed way of working, and I sit as the (perhaps creatively frustrated) bystander viewing the different ways everybody works, and (perhaps lazily) forming collective assumptions from such an overview. I agree with everything you say when you point out that “(the) overabundance of recordists and over availability of equipment should (not) be laid at Tarab’s feet when he makes an album”. I did not mean to suggest that any musician should ever adjust what she or he does to merely keep away from the crowd, or even worse in response to what a critic may think. Nevertheless no album exists in a vacuum, obviously, and when viewed from where I sit; awash with other people’s music (and devoid of the experience of creating music myself) it is inevitable, and I think important, if certainly not exclusively so, to consider work against the backdrop of everything around it.  I have also had my opening question here in mind throughout this discussion as well, and it has been useful to me to think through the different ways that a piece of music could perhaps be considered as unusual.

Abeyance is an interesting piece of music indeed. It is perhaps a fine example of the opposite of Tarab’s CD, in that, on the surface at least, the structure of the piece seems very minimal. It lacks the energetic cinematic drama of Strata and has a far less immediately visceral feel. I think in so many ways the disc cleverly places itself in opposition to our expectations of a Haptic CD, and in doing so produces something really quite unusual. Haptic have released a string of excellent records that have in many ways thrived on a similar approach to Tarab’s in that they have woven together beautifully detailed textures and abstract, almost entirely unidentifiable sounds into multi-layered works. Like the Tarab disc, previous Haptic releases have felt almost symphonic in their construction- carefully considered, intricately balanced and acutely executed combinations of material into grand overall gestures. Abeyance is really quite different though. It seems in many ways to be a direct refusal of that process of working. Clearly this is not the case, but It feels like offcuts of previous works that happened to fall together. I am reminded of a tale told by one of my creative heroes, the graphic designer Vaughan Oliver, who once, having felt underwhelmed by an extravagantly constructed piece of work he had just finished, returned to his drawing board to see the offcuts of his previous work scattered around the table and having realised that their chance beauty felt more honest than what he had forced together, decided to use this unplanned arrangement instead of the deliberately composed work. I very much doubt that such a circumstance brought about Abeyance, but the album brings that kind of feeling to me. Perhaps this is similar to what you refer to as the residual waste of process. It feel like it works in spite of the lack of overtly ornate construction (close listening in fact reveals a wealth of structure in the way the grey clouds that foreground the work rise and subside) or perhaps it feels like the remnants left behind after activity has passed.

Another interesting thing about Abeyance is how it manages to impart something directly emotional/affecting through the appearance of the wayward piano. I think (I may be wrong) that this is the only appearance of an unadorned, obvious traditional instrument on a Haptic album. Its placement against such a (on the surface at least) soulless grey blanket only serves to heighten the impact of the human touch placed up against the seemingly inhuman. Here we have another wonderful example of how a particularly strong field (or found) recording can have a deeply affecting impact when carefully placed, so while maybe the structure to Abeyance is far more subtle it is nevertheless superbly composed.

The really interesting thing to me about Abeyance (and to some degree all of the Haptic albums) is that it has been created by a trio. Such a work, with such a refined, subtle anatomy sounds like the work of one person. I am extremely intrigued as to how the trio progressed their work to the point that Abeyance remained, and again it feels as if maybe they started with something more, and reached their goal by taking things away, or by resisting the usual urge to compose, so holding that creative need in abeyance and seeing what developed, rather than somehow all agreeing to create something of such simplicity in advance.

(To be continued)

Richard Pinell’s The Watchful Ear
Patrick Farmer website

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Kamchatka. JIM HAYNES
(Contour Editions 2012)

Review by Maria Papadomanolaki

Haynes’s work sits between the static and the turbulent. While giving you the impression of non-movement, it’s inner and micro perplexities embrace the ear and the mind with an intent. One that to me sounds like a call to repurpose it’s constituent parts and transpose them to the trivialities of the room I sit in, to make its aural space resound through the walls of mine. Kamchatka experiments with this in-between timespace that sets foot on the fields of the emotional, the psychological and the imagined; a compromise, or rather an attempt, to synthesize sonic traces in order to project, to tell a story and to involve us in the creation of it.

Like messengers that define the space across that moment of compromised listening, the two long form compositions, sustain themselves in time, drone-like as they are while freeing up possibilities for contemplation.

Lilith

The sound of a Russian steppe forms the vessel of an experience, distilled from Hayne’s gestures and crafted waves. Shortwave inflicted fragments of sound take the shape of voices of men after their brief encounter with the repetitive squeeks and screeches of  “Lilith”, a (demonic) figure that hovers throughout the first piece, titled after her.

Haynes lets the materials he rusts escape his hands and assume their own unidentifiable soundworld. He imagines Kamchatka, a remote land covered in volcanoes, rocks and sea and shortwave radio is the best transporter to accommodate such a fabrication, like phantoms that traverse the latitudes and longitudes of a severely solitary landscape.

Rocks. Hills. Plains

The second piece alludes even more to such an unconventional travel through ghostly stretches of land. “Rocks. Hills. Plains” constantly moves me with an undercurrent turbulence that negates balance, like feet involuntarily sinking into thick masses of snow. A few minutes later I hear the ambiguous troglodyte hum of non-movement melting with the icy coating into shapeless streams of matter. The piece concludes and the transmission chain is abruptly left open: no meanings, no messages for me to construe.  But then again, as Tarkovsky once said, If you look for a meaning, you’ll miss everything that happens, so you can as well disregard whatever you just read and simply listen.

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[Jim Haynes; photo courtesy of Decoder]

Jim Haynes website
Contour Editions website

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Grey Ladies. SYBELLA PERRY
(Porta / Hideous Replica 2014)

Review by Chris Whitehead

In a field known as Nine Stones Close on Harthill moor, Derbyshire, stands the Bronze Age stone circle known as Grey Ladies. It is the tallest circle in the county, and in 1780 Rooke recorded six erect stones, although today only four remain. A fifth stone seems to have been set into a dry stone wall close by. According to Rooke “if we may judge by the eye, there were formally nine”. In 1936 two of these required re-erection and were set in concrete. The stones vary in height from 1.2 to 2.1 metres.

Standing in the circle and looking toward the south west, the major southern moon can be seen setting between the irregular and imposing crags that form Robin Hood’s Stride. This may account for the siting of the Grey Ladies in such an evocative location.

Research into the acoustic properties of stone circles and tombs has shown that they were constructed with the transmission of sound being an architectural concern. Studies by Aaron Watson and Dave Keating on the Easter Aquorthies circle in Aberdeenshire, Scotland has shown that the recumbent altar stone acts as a stage. Music played there will reflect from the surfaces of the other stones into the centre of the circle.

It would also seem that chambered tombs can be made to resonate by playing certain tones into them. Most tombs are tuned to 110Hz – 112Hz, which is the baritone range of the human voice. There is evidence that aspects of the interiors of these chambers were purposefully altered and modified to create this effect, and that it could be achieved by simply singing the correct note is surely significant.

On two of the least inclement days of February, Bella Perry and her team of stone resonators entered Nine Stones Close and pointed their equipment at these huge, unforgiving rocks. In the case of vocalist Samuel Ayre he sang into the mineral surface in the hope that  a chain reaction of vibrating crystals would mirror his keening.

Part scientific investigation, part artwork and yet a kind of communing with the lost distances of human ancestry, the whole endeavour comes across as a shamanistic ritual drilling sound holes through time. The concentration required was intense. Speaking to Bella she makes the point that when they were getting close in their quest for this frequency connection, they’d push too far too soon and have to go back to the beginning and start all over again. In her words: ” There seemed to be something very fitting about working in this way, that perhaps in the past groups of people also spent long periods with focused concentration trying to resonate these stones. That it was a kind of meditative bonding activity, not something that would occur instantaneously, but that it almost had to be willed into action.”

The disc comes with several visual representations of the undertaking, these include an A3 poster in blue and black depicting equipment, stones and people. On the other side is  a single large photograph of the back of a person’s head in front of one of the inscrutable Grey Ladies. Interestingly, also included is a see-through acetate overlay printed with an image of the whole circle and its adjacent tree. I say interestingly because this transparency mirrors a legend associated with the monuments: In the 19th century a farm labourer found a clay pipe in the circle. He smoked it and the ground beneath his feet became suddenly transparent and through it he witnessed a hidden realm inhabited by fairy folk.

The first sound after the CD has disappeared into the player comes as something of a shock. A raw, deep, guttural male voice sings an extended tone. Possibly Samuel Ayre is standing in the same place and creating the same sound as a Bronze Age singer might have done, his wordless vocalisation at once earthy and naked. There is no artifice of any kind and a quiet breeze blows and the grass moves slightly and the stones are immobile sentinels.

Starting at the aforementioned 110Hz and then varying the pitch to chase this elusive spectre of concurrence, electronic tones in the form of sine waves are beamed at the circle. The entire composition is augmented by the uncertainty of success, to the point where the issue of whether stones actually resonated is less important than the collective working towards a commonality of purpose.

What we have is an intimate document of an experiment, but it plays like a ritual. It plays like a meditation, an attempt to form a conduit between different states of matter and between civilisations separated in time. It takes the form of a summoning prayer for hidden phenomena. When listened to in the dark with those winds lashing the windows and the rain throwing nails at the roof, thinking about the megaliths still out on the moors, enduring as they always have done, that’s what resonates. I can vouch for that.

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[Documentation photos]

Sybella Perry website
Hideous Replica website
Porta website

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The Field Reporter Radio #25

‘Hipporock’
by SLAVEK KWI

DOWNLOAD Hipporock by SLAVEK KWI

Extract from overnight recording on the edge of River Limpopo during “Sonic mmabolela 2013″ residency in South Africa. Recorded by Slavek Kwi, November 2013. Special thanks for kind support to the National Concert Hall in Dublin. “Sonic mmabolela” project was organized by Francisco Lopez and James Webb.

Special thanks to Pedro Leitâo from Impulsive Habitat for his logistic assistance. Without his help the publication of this radio program couldn’t have been possible.

Release is on WAV format and file is 3,4 GB. Piece duration is 5:47:10

Slavek Kwi website

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