A certain irony rests in the fact that I’m listening to the work of a New Zealand artist who traveled across the sea to record the sounds of a river near the home where I was raised. Even as a child in Connecticut, I used to love spending time by the riverbank, listening to the sounds of running water, the plopping of frogs, the twittering of birds and the rustling of the wind in the wheat around me. Knowing that this is the same river lends listening a strange nostalgia; we never cross the same river twice, but thanks to Annea Lockwood, we can listen to it multiple times.
A Sound Map of the Housatonic River began as a quadraphonic installation and has recently become Lockwood’s third river study to be released for public enjoyment. A real map is enclosed so that listeners can trace her path – and the path of the sounds – from the Massachusettes Berkshires to the river’s end in Milford. But Lockwood doesn’t just record from the banks; her microphones are often submerged. This lends the recording three-dimensional depth, echoing the work of Jana Winderen and Craig Vear. We’d have to have one ear in the river and one ear out to hear in person what we hear on this disc. The construction of the recording honors the overall sound of the river, not just its surface.
Apart from its crisp mastering, the album’s strength is its sense of propulsion. The recording unfolds in settings and chapters, the aquatic equivalent of a Bond film. This album doesn’t just sound like a river; it sounds like a river going somewhere, which of course it is. Along the way the protagonist – the Housatonic – experiences roaring adventures and peaceful interludes, rising tensions and hidden turns. Guest stars appear without warning: a train, a frog, a group of tourists. But nothing stops this river from its single-minded quest to reach the sea. When at last the moment arrives, the sound map seems more like a story; the grand finale is the happy ending for which every molecule yearns.
When I was a child, I used to make paper boats and set them free in various rivers, following them as far as I could before they vanished from sight. I imagined them one day reaching the ocean, where they would finally be free. This recording is that paper boat: the dangers dissolved, the journey completed, the sails lowered and the child at last asleep in his bed. (Richard Allen)