With Soil Steps, Oak Art Editions completes its hat trick of releasing three fine albums in one day. The more astonishing fact about this trio of releases is that they relate like interlocking boxes. 12 minutes into Orla Wren‘s single-track Soil Steps, one encounters the music boxes and children that feature prominently in Nicola Di Croce’s “Putinani”; in another minute, one hears the birds and traffic noises that haunt Pietro Riparbelli’s Uncodified Signals; then more conversation and choir, reminiscent of Di Croce. To listen to all three is to encounter an incredible wealth of sound, as each artist is able to cross boundaries with ease.
Orla Wren is typically known as an ambient/drone artist; his last two albums were deeply intelligent, literary excursions that included vocal arrangements. Soil Steps is a field recording work that includes only fragments of narration. Wandering into the Spanish wilderness with “only a tent and a tape recorder” sounds risky (what about clothes and food?), and indeed the artist ended up breaking his ankle, but not before capturing an cornucopia of sound. (And no, morbid readers, you will not hear the artist screaming in pain. This is not Grizzly Man.) During his recuperation, he was able to weave an incredible tapestry that sounds more like a symphony than a collection of sounds.
While recent Orla Wren fans may see this album as a departure, it’s actually a return to his roots. The artist otherwise known as Tui was once a nomad, selling art on the streets, eschewing the comforts of architecture in favor of the wide open forests and fields. In light of this knowledge, Soil Steps is an invitation to listen: to the creaking of trees, the crunching of locusts, the laughter of children, the abandon of street musicians. As unwanted noise has become a greater part of the human habitat, modern people have gone to great lengths to control what they hear. Orla Wren insists that there is value in the opposite approach. Flee the intrusive sounds, yes – but find those with the power to restore the soul. Such sounds may vary from ear to ear. Some may prefer the tones of a tuning violin, others birdsong or babbling brook. Still others may have adapted to high-pitched tones, adjusting preferences like starlings. No value judgment is attached to the music – or the sounds – that one likes. Orla Wren simply suggests that we leave the sonic doors open, to allow the possibility that sound, surprising, wild, and uncontrolled, still retains the power to heal. (Richard Allen)