Two field recording artists get lost in the Amazon jungle. This may sound like the setup to a joke (and such artists likely have their own brand of humor), but in this case, it was the starting point for an album. David Vélez and Simon Whetham took this experience as the inspiration for a concert, a series of subsequent visits, and now an aural record.
While it is not entirely accurate, the image is hard to escape. When one listens to Yoi, one thinks of the pair crashing through brush, trying to find the trail, slapping away bugs, flinching at unidentified sounds and sights (“David, is that one of the friendly monkeys? Why is it looking at us like that?”) and masking nervousness with humor. The teeming jungle rushes in with cacophonous crickets and annoying mosquitoes, cracking branches (uh-oh) and unidentified avian voices. When one first hears the sound of a stream, one remembers the old adage, follow the water to safety. Vélez and Whetham later turned this idea on its head, enjoying a night-time journey down a nearby Bogota river, recording the sounds and wondering at their origins.
Yoi is an invitation to get lost, which seems counter-intuitive until one reflects on the countless ways in which such experiences have themselves been lost. Thanks to GPS, Mapquest, cell phones and other modern innovations, few people in the modern world have had a recent experience of being completely lost and as a result, perhaps even in danger. While this doesn’t sound like an attractive experience, it does teach humility, and often opens a world of grace: there but for the grace of God go I. Modern travelers tend to want to go from Point A to Point B by the shortest, fastest, most efficient route, ignoring the pleasures of taking the road less traveled just to see where it will go. Such an experience is amplified in a place such as the Amazon jungle, which promises untamed fauna and torrents of rain. When listening to the downpour on Vélez’ “Caudal”, one may think, “I am really glad I was not caught in that”, or one may think, “what an amazing experience, I wish I had been there”. Yet one need not travel to the Amazon to discover uncharted territory; opportunities may beckon in one’s own region.
The title of Whetham’s “In many ways, trapped” amplifies this point while implying the opposite. Traps are often of our own making. A comfortable box (apartment, cubicle, attitude) can be seen as liberating, but can also be restrictive. Whetham’s copious travels may have caused him to look back on his former life with a reassessing eye. While his piece includes many of the same characters, he seems to have hit the jackpot with some of the birds, including one whose cry sounds like a droplet in a puddle (5:40+), captured through the art of stillness. When a frog begins to chirrup, one begins to wonder at its coloring and toxicity; if it’s a poison dart frog, has Whetham been warned? And when static enters in the sixteenth minute, one begins to question perception v. reality.
It’s fascinating to hear the differences between the two pieces on this disc, as they suggest the fact that the two artists hear and interpret in different ways. This shouldn’t be a surprise, and yet it is. When the disc is played in full, one realizes that one is hearing two sides of one narrative. Two field recording artists got lost in the Amazon jungle, and both returned to tell the story. (Richard Allen)