This one has it all: intercontinental field recordings, sledding children, vocal manipulations, soundscapes, excursions in drone. Natasha Barrett has been called “Norway’s most prominent composer of electro-acoustic music,” and on the basis of this double disc, she’s earned it. Peat+Polymer isn’t just a showcase for her own talents, but for the breadth of experimentalism.
Opening triptych “Hidden Values” is a tribute to three inventions: the umbrella, glasses/contact lenses, and the lock and key. By injecting voices and instruments into the mix, Barrett demonstrates a sweet sense of playfulness. This is history, this is philosophy, this is fun! While soft narratives may be gleaned, it’s just as easy to sit back and bask in the variety of sound: a droplet, a cluck, a laugh, a pluck.
On “Kernel Expansion,” Barrett removes voice from the equation, finding refuge in a bevy of sounds, from birds and wooden chimes to tapped objects including cymbals and gongs. A whorl of sound inhabits the center of the opening movement, like a wind tunnel created by a swiftly opened door. The overall effect is like hiding behind a turbine to get away from hail. Even the benign sounds ~ traffic, sweeping ~ are interrupted by sudden percussion. Winter enthusiasts will be thrilled with “Reality and Secrets, no.2” as it includes the amplified sounds of children at play, shrieking fear and joy from speaker to speaker as their sledges cut through the snow.
On the second disc, Barrett turns her attention away from instrumentation in order to concentrate on field recordings and soundscapes. The Oslo Sound Space Transport System was an interactive 3D installation that ran until this past September; a tiny portion can be seen in the video below (best part: the trains of light). “Sound Exposure in Peru” is a series of short works marked by local dialogue (much in English) and transit, while “A Soundwalk Through Shanghai” is just what it sounds like, edited for greater impact. These recordings possess a rare crispness that speaks both to Barrett’s ear and to her recording equipment; even in two speakers, the soundscape seems immersive. In Peru, many angels get their wings, but every bell cuts through the chatter in order to sing of higher things.
To these ears, the finest moments arrive on the closing track: the unbridled joy of a sporting match on a Norwegian beach. Barrett isn’t only in love with sound; she’s in love with people, and life’s fullness. This love shines through every aspect of this fine recording. (Richard Allen)