David Vélez ~ The Wait

GrDl_142“The wait” refers to time spent waiting in the darkness of the Columbian forest, making field recordings and wondering if one is going to be eaten by a jaguar, bitten by a pit viper, squeezed by an anaconda, brushed by a poison dart frog, kidnapped by guerrillas or otherwise injured or killed.  An insurance waiver is probably required; it’s not all butterflies and monkeys, despite what the cover of the tourist guide might advertise.  Fortunately, David Vélez was born in Bogotá, and he’s already survived a wild trip in the Amazon with Simon Whetham.  In one sense, one might postulate that Vélez has become addicted to fear; in a more likely scenario, one might view him as one determined to face his fears.  Face them he does in this collage of four recordings, two made at night and two in the morning.

3Vélez quotes two Pennsylvania researchers who claim that fear can either decrease or enhance our awareness, depending on context.  (Disclaimer: the most dangerous thing in Pennsylvania is a cheesesteak, which is why we don’t hear many Pennsylvania field recordings.)  When one is afraid, one begins to focus on certain sounds and listen for others: the definition of a closer listen.  Our lives don’t depend on giving the sounds we receive a closer listen, but Vélez’ life did ~ or at least it might have.  Seared into the collective memory of field recording artists everywhere are the final cries of Timothy Treadwell (Grizzly Man): from an aesthetic standpoint, possibly the worst field recording ever.  No one wants to end up like that, no matter how valuable the sounds one captures in one’s final moments.

The context of the home listener is completely different: benign and often bland.  A very common (yet pleasurable) experience is to lie on a couch, reading a book while listening to a field recording.  This practice may irk certain artists (“Hey, I risked my life for that!”), but it’s relatively universal.  This is where The wait makes its greatest impact.  In previous installation pieces, Vélez broke things and/or dragged them across the floor.  (“Read to that!“)  But in this purer field piece, he captures sounds that are so rich, and mixed so loudly, that one simply must stop everything else and take notice.  Even on the most basic intuitive level, one instantly realizes that this is an excellent rain recording, crisp and long ~ not just a passing shower, but a seemingly unending deluge that begins in the opening minute and doesn’t let up for quite a while.  This is the sort of rain one plays for friends, saying, “You’ve got to hear this rain!”  And due to the extra sounds of creatures in the forest, one also realizes that this is not the sort of storm most of us will ever hear; it’s site-specific, the opposite of generic.  In this instance, a field recording becomes a sound to share like a song.  The more one listens, the more one hears, like a visitor to the forest.  The big difference: one listens without fear.  In such a placid context, the wait no longer involves finishing up and getting the hell out of there.  Instead, it’s the wait to hear that amazing bird once more; and thanks to the courage of Vélez, we can.  (Richard Allen)

Available here (with sound samples)

One comment

  1. Pingback: ACL 2014: Top Ten Field Recording & Soundscape | a closer listen

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