Gruenrekorder’s new double-disc Landscapes of Fear, conceived and produced by Dirk Specht and Sebastian Thewes, explores the role of sound art as psychological reflection and social commentary. The liner notes are as contemporary as the evening news, referencing the European border crisis and military occupation. The fold-out map displays air bases, refugee trails and nuclear reactors, drawn as to minimize man-made borders.
The aural selections demonstrate that a single sound may be a simultaneous comfort and threat, balm and disturbance, depending on both the listener and the environment. The sound of llamas carrying cocaine is still benign to the llamas; the digital sound map of brain damage caused by a sniper’s bullet is soothing to the ear ~ but only until one learns the story. Lawnmower rotors mean that a neighborhood is awake; when one realizes that the true source is a drone, one becomes hyper-alert and vigilant.
Not everything here is a landscape of fear; the opening track includes field recordings of waterfalls above the arctic circle. But everything here is foreboding, and even this selection sounds like an approaching storm. When bullets fly in “Amuse 2”, the bloom is fully off the rose. Tim Gorinski’s track may sound like a clip from the evening news, but to those living in the recording area, these are ordinary sounds. A deeper irony arises when one realizes that these are also the sounds of big budget movies, who entice with the same sounds that others fear.
The rare nature sound (for example, birdsong) is a reminder that both worlds exist at once: the sweet and the sinister. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Ali Chakaw’s “A Shimmer of Reality”, in which static and hum seditiously overwhelm every competing sound. Other tracks are more overtly musical, for example the dark ambience of Tzeshi Lei’s gorgeously oppressive “The Wreckage That Runs Our Barrage” and Linda Franke’s tenderly sung/spoken “Inside the Alphabet”. Is fear lessened by beauty, or heightened at the thought that there is still something to lose? Specht and Thewes ask many of the right questions, and leave the rest to be implied. (Richard Allen)