When we think of field recordings, we typically think of nature: streams, birds, farms and the like. But we don’t often think of the sounds surrounding nature, especially the intrusions of pedestrians and machinery. A jet may pass overhead, or a factory may be recorded for its sonic properties, but most field recording artists seek to remain “pure” to the fullest possible extent. For this reason, it’s a joy to hear a piece like the two-part in sirenis, an album recorded on blue vinyl that reflects not only the blue of water, but that of mood: a mood engendered by sonic pollution and the disappearance of natural sonic environments. Instead of avoiding potentially divisive sounds, Giovanni Lami (last reviewed here as half of Terrapin), embraces them, allowing them to have full inclusive rights. The result is that in sirenis, while recorded in a harbour, does not exactly sound like a harbour. The water – the entire raison d’existence of both the harbour and the recording – is sublimated in the mix, to the point that it seems like an afterthought. In the end, the water itself is drowned.
There’s a danger to this sort of recording: the threat that compositional and processing choices will produce a piece so alluring that listeners will say, “hmm, I like this piece a lot better with all of the industrial sounds incorporated. Who needs nature anyway?” To a certain extent, this does happen here; at the very least, listeners are led to draw their own conclusions. But there’s no mistaking the intentions of the artist, who laments the loss of so much natural space. And so, in addition to the sounds of gulls and creaking boats, we also hear hammering, conversation and drone – the latter effect arriving at the beginning and end of each side, although much more on the second. This sound, despite its threatening nature, is thrilling; but the thrill is in knowing that it is part of a limited sonic presentation, rather than an inescapable pummeling experienced by those on site. Noise is often defined as “sound we can’t control”, and while a record is tamable, a harbour industry is not.
At the end of each side, following an ascent into cacophony, the sound abruptly ends. This choice reflects the artist’s desire for listeners to notice their own sonic habitats. The first seconds following such sound seem nearly null – negative spaces created by the conflict between sound and seeming silence. And then the world rushes back in, soft or loud, lulling or distracting, depending on one’s surroundings. Like the siren of its namesake, in sirenis draws us in, close enough to crash, and invites us to contemplate the cost of its allure. (Richard Allen)