After reviewing Gruenrekorder’s oppressive yet vastly alluring Landscapes of Fear, it’s a pleasure to receive its polar opposite. Rodolphe Alexis’ The glittering thing on the mountain is a soothing reminder of the world’s unsullied places, where rivers flow, birds sing, and sunlight glimmers in the mangroves. Subtitled Field Recordings from Japan’s last frontier, the hour-long set conveys the soundscape of Japan’s southernmost island, Iriomote-Jima. As the island was never fully occupied by human beings, its soundscape remains virtually pristine, as the artist discovered last summer.
The title comes from a legend of a large cat whose eyes could be seen at night. Neither proven nor disproven, the presence of this cat looms over the island. Is it the island’s protector? Is this why the island has escaped the corroding presence of man? It’s a great legend, and one imagines this benign presence watching over its younger cousin the leopard cat, as well as the flying foxes, rice frogs and scope owls, most of which have their position in the mix. While Alexis missed recording the cats, this is probably a good thing. Who knows if they might have been interested in a new menu item?
He does capture the sounds of the emerald dove, ruddy kingfisher, Japanese white-eye, and numerous frogs and other birds. Cicadas are a soft, frequent presence. The “ending chorus” of the Sakishima rice frog in “Rice field interlude” provides an early highlight, followed swiftly by “Megabat party in the backyard” (also known as the flying fox, this megabat family is training its young). The temptation to anthropomorphize is extreme, yet forgivable; what human being hasn’t seen at least a pale reflection in the rest of the animal kingdom? In fact, one may envy these creatures, so free to be themselves, unencumbered by outside forces or existential crises. They certainly seem to be having fun. And if the single rice frog is indeed lonely, as Alexis suggests, perhaps we can empathize with him; if we were his size, maybe we too would hop into the secluded safety of a water pipe and cry in protest.
Empathy aside, to listen to this album is to feel a sense of centeredness. These are not our fields, but they may remind us of the fields of our past. These are not our shores, but they may conjure the same nostalgia and yearning. These places do exist. We don’t need to visit Irio-mote Jima to find them. But what a beautiful prompt. (Richard Allen)