The Unfathomless Series: Five Elements Music and Stéphane Marin

The Unfathomless Series returns with another pair of fine releases, whose moods are polar opposites.  Five Elements Music‘s lokrum patterns draws the listener in, while Stéphane Marin’s Invisible(s) Archipelago(s) n°1 – Serendib rhythms contains sounds that many would choose to avoid.


Croatia’s Lokrum Island is a beautiful paradise of coves, beaches and azure green waters.  But there’s a down side as well: it’s awfully close to shore, as shown in the photo above.  As such, it’s a wonderful getaway that too many people know about.  This is the problem that Sergey Suhovic (Five Elements Music) encountered when he visited the island looking for unspoiled sonorities.  Amazingly, he was able to find quite a few.  Blending these with recordings from the other, even busier shore, he was able to weave together a pair of gorgeous soundscapes that beckon like that offshore paradise: seemingly so far away, yet well within reach.  Cicadas sing their harmonious songs while unidentified birds cry and waves lap against the shore.  An occasional speedboat is heard, or perhaps just a distant hum.  As the volume increases, so does the intrigue; how different is this bustle from that of Dubrovnik?

femlokrum patterns underlines the difference between expectation and reality, especially when it comes to the paradises we carry around in our minds.  We picture our island vacations as quiet, peaceful, pristine.  Many view them as a break from the rat race, or even from humanity itself.  Yet we share the same dreams, and arrive at our destinations realizing that many others have come to be alone.  Not that Lokrum Island is crowded; but neither is it deserted.  The beauty of this recording is that it also affirms the fact that we do want to preserve certain local environments as a way of saying that we believe in them, and need them.  The very fact that Suhovic is able to make such an alluring recording is proof that the local community values what the island represents: peace can be found a boat ride away.

Now to Sri Lanka, a land of many islands, whose sounds have been worked into a single composition by Stéphane Marin.  The title may be unwieldy (Invisible(s) Archipelago(s) #1 – Serendib rhythms), but the idea is not; this archipelago is an amalgamation, meant to represent all islands and none.

Serendib is an old Persian name for Sri Lanka, a word nearly forgotten by the outside world, suggesting serendipity to English-speaking readers, and for good reason: the English word is a derivation of the Persian word, inspired by an old fairy tale.  And (Invisible(s) Archipelago(s) #1 operates as a fairy tale by creating a world that doesn’t (quite) exist.

marinThe rough part of this recording is its integration of off-putting sounds, in particular a dog-barking introduction and a period of hammering mid-piece.  These are sounds that one normally wishes to escape, and not sounds one normally associates with an island.  They represent the dark part of the fairy tale, and perhaps the inescapable presence of sound pollution.  (Wild dogs would be another story, but these seem to be guard dogs, domesticated and angry.)  The human presence is also far more upfront here than in the prior recording, from footsteps to yells to car horns to the sound of things thrown against the ground ~ and in one instance, muted fireworks or gunfire.  Given the sonic choice of two destinations, most would prefer Lokrum Island to this archipelago.

But wait ~ bear with the recording long enough, and one begins to hear the beauty in contrast.  More peaceful sounds await, from quiet rivers to tropical birds to the rocking of a hull against waves.  The composer chooses to unveil both forces simultaneously: birds and babies, engines and seas.  Yet even the abrasive sounds begin to intrigue as they clump into drones midway through the piece.  When the dogs return at the end, they are a bit quieter, as if contemplating what they have heard.  Given the choice of silencing certain sounds before hearing them, we might have agreed ~ and in so doing, missed some of the best parts of the invisible archipelago.  Better then to plow forward into the cacophony of life, to preserve the possibility of serendipitous surprise.  (Richard Allen)

Available here

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