Habitats for metal plants
(Linear Obsessional 2014)
Review by David Vélez
‘Habitats for metal plants’ is a release based the humorous existence of metallic plants in Great Britain.
From the liner notes
‘Plants growing in these environments have, by means of Darwinian natural selection coupled with sheer determination to survive, managed to incorporate various metals into their very DNA. The resulting species display a variety of features only made possible at the point where biology and metallurgy combine.’
‘Abandoned Magnesium Works, Hartlepool’
This piece presents a metallic quality reminiscent of previous Whitehead works. The clanking, rattling and droning sounds lead the listener to a somber path where scale and resonance acquire gigantic proportions. By minute 5′ the piece enters a new stance where the sense of of scale varies drastically. On minute 5′ a series of harsh and noisy textures emerge establishing a microscopic and detailed perception of things. By minute 7′ the large scaled metallic sound return. In addition the sounds of voices and construction machines join the composition creating a horizon where ‘reality’ and illusion blend.
Although the premise of the release is humorous the pieces present a serious and deep listening experience with the exception of piece number three, ‘Trainsition’, which by combining a mouth harp and recordings from a social gathering, achieves some sort of ‘funny’ sonority.
‘Derelict Ball Bearing Factory, Sheffield’
The second piece seems to be less about matter and more about electronics, here we can perceive sounds produced by static and distortion, By minute 2′ a tonal sonority emerges like an emotional aura that takes over and then fades away. By minute 3′ the pieces changes drastically as they enter sounds produced by human voices and what seems like human activity -dragging, throwing-. By minute 5′ we can listen to more ‘musical sounds’ and specifically a drone that sets the mood for the piece. Later we get to listen to something that sounds like a violin mixed with drones and, again, human voices. This model continues and develop until minute 10:30 where some deaf and repetitive sounds arise to just disappear in a similar way than the engine of a car strops running.
The combination of a mouth harp and voices in this piece has a funny thing to it that makes sense with the whole premise of the work.
As someone who writes reviews of sound art and experimental music I am often exposed to new releases all the time. Releases submitted by new labels, through new means of distribution and by new artists presenting new new approaches… I think that the listener often has the sensibility and time to only focus on a few works and artists, and still he will recognize certain elements and approaches that will interest him more than others within the same body of work or even within the same piece.
I have been following the work of Chris Whithead for some time and when you sum his releases, as a listener, you can clearly perceive a formal direction, you tell the kind of formal questions that he is making. But here in particular one can perceive new approaches and questions. Through many points I noticed a greater emphasis on the isolation of certain individual sounds. I recognized too a very rewarding interest in melodic and harmonic patterns and in more musical sonorities in general . I could also tell a more experimental approach to the medium showing a developing interest in noise and distortion.
Subjectively speaking ‘Habitats for metal plants’ stands out because a very fortunate ‘cinematic’ narrative sense that I found on it and that I highly welcome. The sonorities and structure make me feel in front of a movie and more specifically in front of an avant garde film that presents a series of very odd and bizarre actions and images randomly linked and using a highly encoded and hidden symbolism full of appeal and meaning.