Many of the water-based recordings we receive are beauty-based, calling to mind vacations by the sea, meditations by the river, the sweetness of summer rain. Christina Kubisch & Eckehard Güther‘s Unter Grund is different: historical, political and metaphorical, it prompts the listener into larger modes of thought.
The original presentation was a 26-channel installation, and we’re intensely jealous of those who were able to check it out. The CD version is an intricate soundscape of water movement in the Ruhr area, recorded above and below ground, in spouts and pipes, pumps and ponds. The expanded recording area paints a fuller picture of water flow than one might receive from the personal experience of water from faucets and shower heads, heaters and drains. Where does the water come from? Where does it go? Is it clean? Few people ask such questions, content to trust that what enters their homes must be pure. And yet an entire industry exists to verify that it is.
In the Ruhr area, this means that water must be pumped from underground (unter grund) in a continual process that preserves the integrity of the mine shafts and the chemical content of the liquid. This unseen duty is left to a handful of workers whose contributions remain largely unnoticed. Yet without them: disaster, drought, plague. The dark timbres of these compositions ~ forlorn drones, low-pitched splashes, subterranean rumbles ~ conjure images of the conditions of these former coal mines, blackened by pitch and blood. Out of sight, out of mind, and yet the life of the entire area depends on the success of a few. One might go deeper, both literally and metaphorically, to imagine the low light of the depths, the cold, dank odors, the sedimentary layers, the mouth of Hell. And yet from the depths of the earth comes life, aided in this case by human intervention, reflecting the work of the divine.
As the album develops, it grows first darker, then lighter, spilling from the mechanical to the natural. When the first birds make their appearance, the listener feels a sense of palpable relief, akin to that a trapped miner might feel upon seeing a shaft of sun. Kubisch and Güther train this light on the depths so that they might be illuminated: minds opened, appreciation restored. (Richard Allen)