The first thing one notices about these albums is that they have titles ~ an uncommon practice for prolific field recording artist Francisco López. The new label Nowhere represents a new approach, and the album titles are a noticeable way to distinguish The Epoché Collection from previous works.
The last time we reviewed López, the recording we encountered was very quiet, a nod to the name of the label. In fact, it was the quietest rainforest recording we’d ever heard, making 4’33” seem like a cacophony. Hyper-Rainforest is its polar opposite, stuffed with sound, demonstrating a richness of timbre that few people on earth will ever hear in person. In composing this piece, López patched together recordings from rainforests in seventeen countries. Once we get over our initial jealousy, we realize that we could be doing the same thing: not necessarily recording, but at least visiting. These sounds are so rich that they will make even casual listeners realize that they are missing something.
The unfortunate irony is that in this case, the phrase “missing something” can be taken literally. Rainforests and their residents remain in jeopardy throughout the world. López introduces the label with a quote from Jean Baudrillard: “Behind every image, something has disappeared. And that is the source of its fascination … is it, in fact, the real we worship, or its disappearance?” In one sense, these specific soundscapes, recorded over the course of two decades, have disappeared, but some of their contributors have vanished as well: not only the birds, but perhaps the bloodlines. Could this be our last chance to hear?
As one listens, one grows to like these characters: to marvel at the bird that sounds like a synsonic drum, to empathize with the one whose mating whistles are at first answered, then ignored, then answered again; to question whether crickets are ever really this loud; and to wonder what happens to all of them during each of the sudden downpours. And while this may be a gross oversimplification, to like a creature is to care about its fate, which is why we encounter very few fundraisers meant to save the scorpions and snakes. By capturing endearing avian sounds and presenting them in such a varied form, López presents not only a unique recording, but a potentially moving one. The original 80-channel concert must have been a marvel; but even on two stereo speakers, adjusted for depth, the music sounds immersive. And yes, this is music: the original world music, as close as we can get.
Yanayacu is a collection of 2006 recordings made in the Yanayacu River region of the Peruvian Amazon. In this context, the name means “black river”. The Yanayacu River is home to so many avian species that it has been called a “birdwatcher’s paradise”. By extension, this makes López’ recording a “bird listener’s paradise”, as it shares the remarkable diversity of Hyper-Rainforest but was recorded within a single country. The disc’s only drawback is that each track is intentionally separated from the others by a few minutes of silence; there may be a reason for this (time to reflect?), but it hinders the enjoyment of playback. The philosophy of the piece is hinted at in the accompanying album quote: “The real must be fictionalized in order to be thought” (Jacques Rancière, The Politics of Aesthetics). The implication is that the sound artist is aware the sounds being presented are simultaneously accurate and inaccurate. A narrative is created that by limitation of design contains a defined beginning and end. The creation of silent spaces emphasizes the fictional aspect of the non-fictional journey; but of course, so does the beginning and end of every recorded work. The other unusual effect of such a treatment is that it nudges listeners to judge the work as components rather than as a whole: to decide which of the five tracks is the “best” or which has the highest replay potential. The irony is that Hyper-Rainforest is the more fictionalized work, as it creates a narrative out of patchwork elements; yet Yanayacu seems like the more fictionalized work because it contains chapters.
Together, the two releases serve as a fine introduction to a new label that we suspect will be making quite an impact in the next few years. We hope that López will continue the unified cover design, as it is effective in distinguishing a brand. As for those who miss the old titling system, there’s no need to despair; Untitled #s 212, 214 and 217 are coming soon. (Richard Allen)