Eastern sounds are unfamiliar to most Western ears, and vice versa. What seems innocuous in one territory may be misinterpreted in another. Never is this more apparent than on the opening selection of Mosaïque Mosaic, as what seems at first to be a militant speaker turns out to be the voice of a church evangelist at a Sunday service. The difference between expected and apparent timbre would be a wonderful subject for study in international relations. Do we really understand each other? If not, what would it take?
For the sound artists involved in this recording, it took a pair of visits to Cameroon. The seeming abrasion of amplified speech and music from outdoor speakers (not exclusive to Cameroon) masked a deep appreciation of musical tradition among the residents. The West manipulates music as well; the amplified bass and distortion in dance music and the removal of “non-essential” sounds in digital compaction demonstrate the universal appeal of the “unnatural.” Kubisch and Güther had to reassess their initial reactions in order to find the “real” Cameroon, and enlisted the aid of local citizens to do so. This led to a give-and-take, a mutual appreciation of the legitimacy of sound as viable document. The artists led workshops in which they said, “This is what you sound like”. Then the participants shared knowledge of “hidden” sound areas around the area, in effect saying, “This is what we sound like.”
Most of the field recordings arrive here unadorned: an abandoned hotel, a street market, a national park. Together they form a mosaic of the nation, or as the artists amusingly put it, a mosaïque mosaic, which may seem like it means “music mosaic”, but is literally “mosaic mosaic”, a clever challenge to those who speak only one language. Even more clever is the inclusion of the fourth track – I’ll get to the title in a moment – which seems like a performance from the world’s worst drummers. While listening, Western guilt kicks in; who are we to judge such musicians? Perhaps they are considered brilliant in their own land. But the joke is on us: the track is called “small metal workshop”.
Supposition after supposition is disproven along the way. Cameroon may be a “loud nation”, but the residents also enjoy quiet noises. They lead the field recording artists to somber spaces in which the sounds of crickets, sheep and dogs may be captured. In a manner similar to that of Cathy Lane’s The Hebrides Suite, the human sounds begin to dissipate midway through the tapestry; the closing piece, “night and morning atmosphere”, presents a peaceful landscape, as far from the initial piece as one can travel in timbre. Or perhaps the two are closer than we think; such is the nature of the project that it challenges listeners to reevaluate their initial impressions. As Kubisch writes, “in Cameroon, music is a link which binds together hundreds of different languages and ethnic groups”. The wonder of this recording is that the home listener becomes part of that mosaic. (Richard Allen)