Steve Roden ~ Berlin Fields

Berlin may be the lucky city that graces the title, but Berlin Fields was also recorded in Paris and Helsinki.  It’s an odd travelogue, 19 sonic vignettes captured as often by happenstance as by intention.  One imagines the artist wandering through vast fields, or even city dumps, alone and intrigued.  Oh look, a jam jar!  I wonder what it would sound like on this broken tabletop.  Hey now, a sardine tin!  Jeepers, who would ever discard a perfectly good radiator?  Birds, traffic and conversation provide a natural backdrop to his explorations.

Roden’s childlike curiosity is akin to that of Diego Stocco, but without multi-tracking.  In his hands, every object possesses an intrinsic appeal, a sound waiting to be coaxed out through interaction.  In this sense, Roden becomes the “jar whisperer”, the artist who posseses the patience to woo the inanimate.  As a child, it’s likely he filled glasses with different levels of water and tapped them with spoons, or used icicles as drumsticks on frozen ponds.  The passive traveler asks, “What does this sound like?”  The active traveler asks, “What could this sound like?”, and makes an effort to find out.  A deep bass thump on an empty cylinder is the best example: an object noticed, engaged in conversation, and respectfully left intact.

While the album is a solo production, it makes one wonder what a group of sonic strollers might produce: an improvised, site-specific concert of found sounds. Post-processing might accomplish the same thing, as would the blending of these vignettes into a single, break-free piece.  But as appealing as these suggestions might sound, they would interfere with the purity of the recording, as well as with its purpose: to demonstrate the potential of hidden auditory sources.  Those bottles might be worth tapping before recycling.  The old muffler might sound better when removed from the car.  The walls of one’s house may be richer sonic environments than one can imagine.  Best of all, these noises are free.  This egalitarian approach to music reminds us that sound art is not the territory of sound artists alone.  As the prophet declares, listen, then, if you have ears.  (Richard Allen)


Available here

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