Joshua Bonnetta ~ Low Islands / Videobasic ~ To our good friends in the Western Alps

Italy’s Canti Magnetici label gets into the spirit of winter with a pair of cold cabin tapes.  The first leaves the safety of the cabin to travel into the storm; the second stays inside and makes a pleasant racket.

Joshua Bonnetta‘s Low Islands may also be referred to as “The Bay of Broken Things”, which is the title of its only track.  This 26-minute piece is inspired by a passage from Loren Eiseley:  I call the place I am writing now the bay of broken things. In the February storms, spume wraiths climb the hundred-foot cliff to fight and fall like bitter rain in the moonlight upon the cabin roof.  For the first seven minutes, one can imagine this cabin and the feelings of mortality produced by the storm.  The wind howls and rails; sleet casts itself against metal; waves break dangerously just outside the window.  What manner of broken things might wash up onshore?  Or is the author himself the broken thing?

The mood shifts suddenly at around the seven minute mark with the sound of harbor seals and rain.  We remember now that Bonnetta is the field recordist, Eiseley the author.  And now that first title makes sense.  In order to capture these recordings, Bonnetta visited five islands in the Baltic Sea, recorded their sounds, and in essence broke them and welded them back together.  The result is a metaphorical sonic journey.  Midway through the piece, a feeling of isolation sets in through cold drones and icy winds.  The exile seems self-imposed.  Then at 14:48 the sound of a splice alerts the listener to the fact that this is a collage, the artist safe and sound, all danger passed.  A watch ticks peacefully; a distant choir sings a lullaby; birds caw, a single bell tolls, and the warmth returns.


And now to Videobasic‘s set, dedicated To our good friends in the Western Alps.  This tape was indeed recorded in a cabin in the Western Alps over a series of several days.  Michel Mazzani and Gabriel Gotini then reworked the recordings into their current shape.

From the very start, the tape sounds like an electronic version of a winter storm, as if the opening segment of Low Islands had been translated into beeps, drones and loops.  This sonic swirl, reflected on the cover, acts as the duo’s wink to the outer storm.  We’ve got our own storm inside!  Would you like to come in?  But the outer storm is unsure, nervous.

Videobasic whips up a frenzy of patterns in their opening minutes, some repeating, others not.  The circuitry bends and squeals.  Five minutes into the opening (untitled) track, electronic birds make their appearance, tweeting robotically, unaffected by the cold, followed by a clacking like a train or washing machine.  Then the track turns pretty, with turntablist flutes and horns.  Crickets appear, frozen into magnetic strips.  That is, until a hauntological piano drenches the soundscape in darkness.

The adventure continues on Side B, as disembodied voices add to the sense of dislocation.  The tapes are tortured into giving up their sources: fragments of song repeated until they lose all meaning.  Many of these cassettes had been recovered from Church-run charities, but by the time these artists are done with them, they beg for sanctuary.  This all winds down to a final whip as the tape, and the tape of the tape, runs out.  (Richard Allen)

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