Imagine if radio waves looked like tree rings, visible in concentric circles of white, black and grey. This is the appearance of Radioscapes, the new picture disc vinyl from Nicolas Montgermont and Art Kill Art. The usual markers are obscured; one cannot hold the LP sideways into the light to distinguish the thickness of timbres. Nor can one truly be sure if what one is hearing is a frequency or a feedback charge.
These are the sounds that surround us, pass through us, and travel into space: cellphones and TV transmissions, electrical charges and undeciphered alien messages. All have been carefully captured, edited and arranged into a glorious soundscape of static and crackle, sample and sonic souvenir. Side A is recorded in “a dense urban area 300 m from the Paris ring, 4 km from the Eiffel tower emitter; Side B on “an isolated farm in a rural area”. And yet, the second side seems just as active as the first, underlining the concept that noise pollution need not be audible to human ears to make an impact. Interference can knock migrating birds off their flight paths and disrupt the echolocation of dolphins and bats.
The samples are purposely short, 3.6 seconds each, 76,000 in all, making Radioscapes a field recordist version of The Avalanches’ debut album. Due to the intense layering, the effect comes across as drone, or perhaps more accurately a less abrasive form of noise music. Whenever dialogue, music or sound effects poke their heads through the cloud, one thinks of late night drives, and finding ghost channels hidden deep in the band, foreign frequencies amplified by atmospheric conditions.
Human bodies are great conductors of electricity, and put up no resistance to radio waves. One might form a sonic map of such sources, expanding outward from their origins, whether studio or cell tower, automobile or hand-held device. Often the waves bend and reflect back, creating a cascade of ripples like raindrops in a pond. As the voice of an airline pilot enters, one remembers the admonition to turn off all computer devices upon takeoff and landing. If the sounds are often beautiful, it is only because we have grown accustomed to fizzles and pops, buzzes and bursts. Some people require white noise to sleep, as it cancels out more intrusive frequencies. These are our brooks and fields. This is our ocean. This is our noise: raw, raucous and beloved.
A special mention is due to Eric Chassefière of the European Space Agency, whose evocative text highlights the science of the project and draws the reader deeper into the concept of the work. Every aspect of this release has been carefully considered, and its execution is flawless. Play this record, allow its waves to pass through you, and be humbled by its magnetic majesty. (Richard Allen)