The Unfathomless series (the younger sibling of the Mystery Sea label, currently on hiatus) returns with two very different soundscapes: a night in Australia’s Garig Gunak Barlu with Slavek Kwi (artificial memory trace) and a “dilapidated mass of sound” from David Vélez & Bruno Duplant. As usual, the presentation is exquisite: Daniel Crokaert’s fine distressed art on square cards, encased in strong flexi-sleeves. To listen to both releases is to understand the breadth of the genre, which stretches from reflection to impression, location-based field recording to sound art.
artificial memory trace‘s hypnotikon is the second part of a trilogy that began with garig gunak barlu a couple years ago. In order to capture these recordings, Kwi visited the national park and hunkered down for a long, patient stay. The listener must be patient as well, as the album tops out at 79 minutes; but the patience is rewarded as the subtle nuances of the location become apparent. At first there doesn’t seem to be much going on, just crickets and the sound of distant water. But as time passes, the ears adjust to the intricacies of the locale. One begins to hear various birds, and the layers of a grasshopper chorale. And then there are the hums ~ Kwi calls them “organlike tones” ~ which occur naturally, spawned by the local inhabitants. Twenty minutes into the recording, things really start to pop, as if the peninsula has adjusted to Kwi’s presence, perhaps even forgotten him, and come out to play. The richness of timbre is incredible, and the artist was fortunate beyond measure to be able to hear it in surround sound. At this point, one begins to seek for corollaries in the instrumental world: not only the organ, but the flute, the cello, the telegraph machine. It’s a natural symphony, all the more astonishing due to its gradual development and eventual bloom. While this isn’t a “direct” recording (in other words, the sources have been nudged and ordered), it remains a reflection of purity. And when Kwi sends his microphones underwater, the hydroponic sub-tones produce a sense of comfortable claustrophobia. The sound field seems to descend into silence as the peninsula tumbles into sleep; but listen closely ~ turn it up if you must. The park is never truly silent.
David Vélez & Bruno Duplant‘s Moyens Fantômes is a different sort of sound art, one that toys with ideas of obsolescence while preserving the experience in a durable format (or at least somewhat durable ~ compact discs are sturdy, but they do oxidize). This single 49-minute piece is comprised of sounds sourced from abandoned formats such as Beta, VHS, floppy disc and laser disc. In the digital era, it’s easy to forget the brief heyday of such forms; I once wrote a college term paper on a floppy disc, saved it (because I thought that it would last forever) and now have no convenient way to read it. And I still recall visiting a friend who had spent an inordinate amount of money to create a laser disc listening room, boasting about how “ahead of the curve” he was.
These artists ask, “a lot of information becomes unavailable and inaccessible but does it mean it has ceased to exist as information?” Their composition contains fragments and echoes, glitches and rubs, the sound of information trying to break through, or perhaps, to escape. In other words, this is the modern version of the old, warped tape. The vintage television on the cover is the most accessible reference; every so often, one appears in a thrift store for a pittance, and nobody buys it. And yet, we have a soft spot for abandoned things, a wabi-sabi regard. It’s amazing to think of how quickly such a thing develops, that the floppy disc, once considered “cold”, can now be regarded with such warmth. All it took was one generation. Perhaps one day, looking at such a thing, people will wonder at the irretrievable information locked in its plastic, translatable only into cyrillic letters and squares. Or perhaps one day this too will become art: the art of the abraded. If so, Vélez and Duplant are already “ahead of the curve” ~ they recognize that even a recorded format can have a soul. We will not all die, but be changed. (Richard Allen)