Easter Sunday is a holy day with a rare quality, often undiscussed: on this day, millions of people wake up earlier than usual, head outside to worship, and there encounter the sounds of the morning. Over the past year, Stéphane Marin has been introducing such sounds every Sunday morning. He’s released three series into themed albums, covering France, North America and Central America.
In my own town, morning has a distinct trajectory. The first sounds are those of wind off the ocean, followed by birds in season, the conversation of children on their way to school, garbage collectors and street sweeping machines, cars and transport. The town wakes up in increments. The final minutes of François Vaillant’s “Sheltered from a large oak” mimic this trajectory, as a rooster awakens and children trudge through the grass. But there are also differences, including the harsh warbling of a creature I’ve never heard.
Travel awakens our ears to soundscapes that are drastically different from our own. In some of my international mornings, I’ve awakened to the chores of Kenya, the construction of New York City, the revelry of Reykjavik and the hard rains of Oahu. Matins de France offers a variety of experiences, all within the same country. Charlotte Comte offers a fragment of the “urban jungle,” a reminder that people who live in cities often cannot sleep in suburbs, because they are too quiet. Over the course of six minutes, she shifts from city to country, artificial sounds to natural, concluding with a mother singing to her child, a parable of peace in the midst of cacophony.
We grow acclimated to our local sounds, pleasant or unpleasant. My grandparents lived in a house near the airport; they claimed not to hear the planes, while I woke up every hour. But there were also breaks in the noise: my grandmother walking to mass at sunrise every morning, well before the commute. Philippe Neau walks in a “hardly day” filled with fog, but still the sound of bells cuts through: electronic here, metallic in Vincent Duseigne’s “La Seine Normande” and others. The Seine is a current character in the mix, frozen or unfrozen, as are birds, bells and weather. Jean-Philippe Renoult creates a “fake” soundscape of raindrops, a “bastard dog” and raucous sheep, but of course the sounds are not fake; their arrangement has been modified.
Do birds sound different in North America? They do ~ and after immersion in the birdsong of France, it’s easy to tell the difference. It’s also great to hear the artists of North American PhoNographic Mornings expand on a theme; after all, they’ve already been privy to the French recordings. Bethan Kellough presents a piece of canyon and composition, an aural and metaphoric reflection of the Grand Canyon. Andrzej Maciejewski smashes ice and tromps around a Canadian winter as the wind whips and howls. Murmer invites a friend into the Vermont woods to play with bottle caps and leaves.
After all the peacefulness of rivers and forests, it’s startling to hear the airports, advertisements and announcements of Las Vegas, the slot machines, buzzers and phones. Philippe Goderis’ piece is a valuable slice of sound art, but it’s not an alluring advertisement for the City of Sin. There may be some intentional irony in the sequencing, as this selection is followed by Vincent Eoppolo’s “Sonoran Desert Auditory Hallucination,” replete with mosquitos and sampled beer cans. Contrast the Vegas piece with Jérôme Bossard’s New Orleans soundscape, and one can experience the contrast of the American people: in one degree crass and self-absorbed, in another warm, inviting and fun. To these ears, the most fascinating piece is Jeff Frost’s “California on Fire, Chapter 3: Bargaining.” This dense soundscape was recorded during the deadly California fires of 2017, and is a portion of a longer work conveying the stages of grief. The combination of emergency vehicles, radio conversation and fire is sobering and harrowing. We’re looking forward to hearing the full project. The North American set also contains a slightly hidden bonus: a one-hour mix of all twenty tracks by Marin himself. It’s a beautiful way to travel around the continent.
The latest of the sets is Central American PhoNographic Recordings, which begins with howls and cries as the West Indian wildlife hears the sound of approaching thunder. As the rest of the creatures awaken, Gilles Monfort’s soundscape grows lush and full. Mirna Castro plays with mallets and shakers in Chiapas, dueting with her environment; Francisco López captures a Costa Rican “pre-dawn chorus with frogs.” As one of the older recordings, López’ piece brings to mind the question of whether the dawn still sounds the same, 23 years later; one suspects, with some sadness, that it does not. The Each Morning of the World series is an important means of awareness, as it opens the ears of listeners not only to the sounds of nature, but to their fragility. For this reason, it’s intriguing to note that the following piece, an “Electromagnetic Field Recording” by Enrique Maraver, is purely manmade; one wonders if one day these will be our new, most cherished sounds. If so, Griselda Sanchez’ dramatic “Ánima” serves as both warning and elegy. The highlight of the Central American collection, this piece unfolds in three parts, exposing the rift between humanity and nature.
We’re looking forward to future installments as they continue to arrive every Sunday morning, like church services: these sounds reflecting the church of the earth and holding out hope for a global resurrection. (Richard Allen)