The most diverse album in recent memory, Terra Subfónica is a series of “radiophonic miniatures” that investigates sound and sub-sound, with an emphasis on the ignored. Extensive liner notes guide the listener through a selection of soundscapes that range from quiet field recordings to thick electronic drone. The album is best enjoyed without extraneous noise in the room; even an air conditioner will drown out many of the subtleties. Rich in dynamic contrast and overall development, this is a romance for the auditory canal.
Daniel Blinkhorn loves sound like other people love dessert. It’s a healthy obsession. Blinkhorn’s decision to concentrate on the frequencies we normally ignore opens windows into perception and the subconscious. We do hear these sounds; we just don’t know that we hear them. But to keep the proceedings from growing esoteric, Blinkhorn adds familiar properties as signposts. Jeremy Sawkins’ jazz guitar is a friendly presence in “Subfón – monochrome i: Duration”, which acts as an overture for the set; later appearances by Sawkins serve to connect the dots.
While thematic sets form the core of the album, related pieces are often separated; for example, the “seascape triptych” is found in tracks 1, 4 and 11, while “sub chron i and ii” occupies tracks 3 and 12. This separation lends the album an even greater variety, although it also inspires alternate track orders. As it stands, the album generally works its way from the thin to the thick, the field recording to the performance, in a non-linear fashion. If the mind wants to impose order, then order can be found, but if not, then it can be enjoyed with its mystery preserved. For example, the first seascape does sound like a seascape, with its obvious wave action; but the third (in the more computerized section of the album) might be mistaken for an electronic work. The ear is fooled by the context, as the pops and pings are those of coral creatures. Likewise, the clocks of “sub chron” sound less like clocks at the deep end of the set, but the distinction is erased when the parts are played in sequence. This isn’t sleight of hand, but decontextualization: the same effect that occurs when one finds a familiar face where it is “not supposed to be” – a co-worker at a mall, a teacher at the beach – and can’t recall the person’s name.
In the two parts of “corpus sanus”, Blinkhorn contrasts the inner workings of the human body with those of a computer. There’s a lot more going on than meets the ear. If a message is to be gleaned from this pairing, it may be that we are disconnected not only from ourselves, but from our tools: ungrounded, unaware. And as demonstrated on “relatively loud tones”, humans can even become acclimated to alarm tones and bells. The frequency of such sounds lowers the brain’s sense of alert; over time, warning notes are reduced to an ambient backdrop. This is the modern version of “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” ~ too many false warnings, followed by apathy and then the actual disaster.
The album’s most endearing section arrives near the end, as the artist records the sound of his own children playing for the three-part “toy bagatelle”. This triptych is enchanting and strange all at once, reflecting the inner world adults are no longer able to enter, save for hints of nostalgia and déjà vu. A winding toy, a ping-pong ball, the extended note of a toy piano, and even a drumbeat figure strongly in the processed work, which seems more real because it is less real, a feat of counter-intuition. Will his children like it? Perhaps not until they are adults. Our attentions and appreciations change over time, and sound is never restricted to a single interpretation. (Richard Allen)