The Paseo Recordings is an extremely generous project, including nearly three hours of sound art and a set of 13 small photo cards. Years in the making, the project is a reflection on the history of Taos, New Mexico (latest population count 5,716). The town is currently an artist mecca, but is also home to a pueblo; the “place of red willows” has been a place of many tears.
We recommend listening to “Before (Taos)” first. The two-hour piece (found on a biodegradable USB stick) was first introduced as an art installation during a local street festival. The placidity of the piece hearkens back to Collins’ work on Of Silence; these are sounds one must listen to in order to hear. Imagining Taos before human intrusion, the composition is nevertheless subject to such intrusion; early on, a vehicle backs up and finds its way into the recording. Hearing the dogs bark, the bees buzz and the birds sing, one imagines a period of relative calm. All of this takes place over an extended low crackle, a continuous soft din like that of cicadas. A brief downpour in the first quarter hour provides a jolt of excitement; appearing later, the running water reminds one of the Rio Grande. Due to the tonal variety of the extended piece, one can utilize it as a sound installation within one’s home; while soothing, it’s also active enough to engage the listener over the course of its length. Every few minutes, there’s something new, whether quiet electronics early or loud drones late (1:51). But the natural sounds win out in the end, especially the interplay between water and surface that sounds remarkably like fire.
Now, enter humanity. The presence of people is apparent early; one hears the voices of children in “Reaching In”, followed by conversation and creaks. There’s little notice of the clash between indigenous and interloper; in this setting, all humanity serves the latter role. The contrast is sharp. A bird gets a few peeps, but that’s it. The drones advance past their former levels. Ten minutes in, the bees are drowned by foreground clacking; humans who don’t care to be quiet. Yet it’s hard to fault them, as the sound art is itself human; this is the aural equivalent of taking a photo only to find another photographer in the frame. If we prefer “Before (Taos)”, are we indicting ourselves?
A telling segment occurs in “A Soiree” as a truck brakes to a halt, introducing a few seconds of circuitry static. Such sounds possess a different form of beauty. Many have grown so acclimated to technology that they prefer these sounds to those of nature. Is this Taos now? It’s hard to imagine such a change given the small population. It may be more accurate to say that the newer tracks reflect the mindset of an area whose history has been rewritten. When wind chimes ring in “Bringing Out”, a sense of peace is restored; the dogs may be agitated, but the humans are calmed. The wind blows against unshielded microphones; power tools are turned on. Only in the final minutes do the birds and crickets reemerge. Have they been there all along? And would we notice if they had gone? (Richard Allen)