Flaming Pines’ Tiny Portraits series returns with four singles inspired by international streetscapes. This is the best of the batches to date, offering an incredible array of variety and a few sonic surprises. The series’ subtitle is “small renderings of place in memory”. To aid the listener, a sound map is updated whenever a batch appears. Kate Carr is getting very good at this facet of presentation, blazing a trail for others to follow. By embracing the visual when continuing to embrace the digital and physical, she provides multiple doors through which the listener might enter.
These portraits are not what one might expect from the word “streetscape.” Josten Myburgh stretches the idea by recording a “portrait of a brick wall” in Australia. Quiet, febrile drones are punctuated by clicks and cuts, piano reverberations and a sense of stillness, the wall watching everyone pass by, unemotionally and undisturbed. According to Myburgh, the wall managed to resist graffiti for years, as if somehow holy or at the very least removed from the popular culture. The artist’s love for the wall is real yet unrequited. It’s easy to associate the subject with the brick wall in Peanuts, which could actually speak (in thought bubbles) and drop bricks if agitated. In blessed, Very blessed, Myburgh gives his wall a soft, insistent voice, creating a character of his own.
9T Antiope presents a somewhat dour vision of the Parisian work force, marching to work every morning, only to be swallowed by a “huge, soul-sucking demon”. Brobdingnagian begins with white noise and hurried step, then turns into an odd industrial march, along with factory noises, snatches of song and a microphone monologue. Coil would be proud. Again, this is not the pure sound of the streets, but the impression it leaves on the visitor. In this case, the street is a transport device leading people to their doom. When a deep bass enters late in the track ~ this time graced by song and subway drip ~ it is as if the souls have already been lost, and their lamentation begun.
aag captures the sound of street protest in Mexico City, following the disappearance of 43 students in 2014. Children can be heard along with chants, bullhorns along with percussive clatter. The voices wrap around each other with indignation, yet the cacophony of whistles, drums and shouts suggests that nothing will be done. The government will not act; the mothers will continue to mourn. Occasional radio snippets imply that life will go on as usual, that the hole left by the disturbances will soon be filled by other stories, other distractions. But the recording, itself a political act, insists on keeping the crime in the public’s eye.
Jacqueline George sets out to capture the spirit of Shobra, “the largest and most populous neighborhood of Cairo”. Her recording includes a high proportion of percussion, the most memorable element being a car horn used as an instrument. Yet time and again, the rhythms halt, exposing a quieter Cairo of conversation, industry and entertainment. The city has experienced much in recent years: protest, face-off, reconciliation; yet still lacks a single face. For this reason, the variety of sound offers a clearer portrait than a single timbre would achieve. The most endearing segment involves schoolchildren in rain, followed by pure plainsong. When the beats and shouts re-enter, they seek to drown the more peaceful sounds; yet they cannot drown the memory, and thus the dream of such times returning.
Four streets, four impressions, four completely different recordings: together, these tiny portraits form a tapestry of humanity, cultures at odds yet oddly the same. As the map demonstrates, we are not as far away as we imagine. (Richard Allen)