We first encountered Abby Lee Tee earlier this year with the superlative riverside burrows, and we’re happy to see the artist return so quickly. Herbert’s Archive may be a shorter work, but it’s no less scintillating. Again the artist is underwater, playing percussion with otters as the stream drifts lazily on. For an immersive home experience, we recommend playing both recordings concurrently, creating one’s own quadraphonic installation.
Herbert’s Archive is reminiscent of the works of Jana Winderen, whose submersed microphones capture the sounds of brine shrimp and other amplified inhabitants. Abby Lee Tee’s work differs from that of the former artist in that he adds his own instrumentation. One thinks of clicking rocks beneath the water on one side of a lake and being heard on the other. The odd juxtaposition of this release is the clear presence of birds; the only way one might hear such simultaneous sounds in nature would be to place one ear in the water while the other remains above the surface.
Midway through “Repository I”, the artist shares a fun experiment: a 16-beat percussive melody that repeats itself with the addition of water pipe. After this, one “hears” the nearly-techno melody, albeit slowed, in the repetitions of drips; and when these recede, one continues to hear the phantom tempo. What do the crustaceans think of this experiment? Until the final minute, when “dry” percussion enters, one imagines a Spongebob sort of symphony.
The second side begins in deeper water, the sonic field drenched. Abby Lee Tee emerges from this viscosity to tap and rattle on the shore, his abstractions mimicking those of the aquatic world. But when the otter pops his head above the water, the artist introduces a steady tap. Does the otter bob in response? Do we? Swiftly the pattern retreats, replaced by waves and metallic resonance. The fauna line is blurred as the artist seeks harmony with his surroundings. We can’t imagine anything more playful than an otter; in this artist, the creature has met its human counterpart. (Richard Allen)