What’s Amphibia Anura to some, is Salientia to others. If the taxonomy sounds obscure, perhaps their common call may help: “ribbet, ribbet” (or “kreck-ek, kreck-ek,” depending on one’s field guide). Herpetologists rejoice, sound artist Yannick Dauby’s frog-centric album, Wā Jiè Méng Xūn, has found a re-release online. Noting a deep need to commune with lifeforms other than one’s own, Dauby explores man’s connection with nature by way of biosemiotics—a hybrid field studying the meaning of signs across kingdoms of biology.
Unlike formal purists, Dauby doesn’t merely fasten his sound source behind airtight glass. Although nature books the house band, Dauby banters freely with his cleft-tongued choir, turning passive recreation into open dialogue. Proposing a paradigm shift from the click-it-and-listen nature soundtrack, Wā Jiè Méng Xūn’s field recordings receive a treatment of modular synthesis attuned to psychedelic frequencies. The blur of organic and electronic sounds has the effect of a 3D poster: foreground teased from background only when closely examined, ears slowly defocused, perceiving soft shapes beneath the surface.
Wā Jiè Méng Xūn’s first track opens beside a field of frogs bellowing social cues. Dauby weaves blasts of feedback in spiraling scales—the kind of sprightly bolts pulled from the quiver of Rafael Toral’s Space Program. Gradually, as if mesmerized by their reflection, the frogs begin to sound less like frogs and more like porpoises high on Pineapple Express. Awash in a percolating, pinging squall of trebly space echo, the web-toed ensemble trills in sequence. Soon a horde of electric hums and piccolo-like frills imitate unruly garden appliances swerving into a hornet’s nest.
The second track starts with a modular synth scudding across the water, gurgling, gargling, and buzzing with creek flies. Encroaching pandemonium evokes late night slot machines in a pachinko parlor—spare change in cups clinking in sync with blinking lights. While the frogs echo creaky floorboards, Dauby’s synths tangle with pussy willows: a red-hot pendulum swings side to side; a loose bass note wobbles below; and granulated keys putter in place. Resembling a scratched CD vying for traction, an electronic cloud hangs overhead; flared synths swan dive downward, plummeting octaves fluidly. Didgeridoo lows percolate into dusk as a lone frog keeps time on a hillside.
Whether or not the pre-Columbian Mesoamericans used the cane toad’s toxic secretion as a hallucinogen, Dauby offers a sober alternative to tripping out on nature. Better yet, one doesn’t need to comprehend phylogenetic systematics to marvel at amphibians: splitting down the back and across the belly, frogs shed their skin every other week; pulling their arms and legs free, the sloughed off skin is worked upwards towards the head where it’s eventually eaten. Sound engineered by Taylor Deupree, an expert in sonic precision, every decibel on Wā Jiè Méng Xūn glistens clearly as forest dew. Dauby may not be the first silicon shaman to splash into the scene, but he surely leaves a thrilling lily pad. Cut the lights and cue the lava lamp. Drift into the warty world of frogs. (Todd B. Gruel)