Off Track is another unique release for Esc.rec., a label that continues to innovate through imagination. As a sonic document, a manipulation of the sonic document, and a manipulation of the manipulation, it offers layers of interpretation that mimic the activity of the human mind. The presentation ~ four discs and a digital file ~ is a generous souvenir as well as a celebration.
The starting point for the release is a series of sonic walks led by Jeroen Diepenmaat, each approximately 20 minutes in sonic duration (although we suspect that these days were longer in full). These walks took place at Keizersrande in the Netherlands, and at the end of each event, the attendees received a CD of the sounds, now collected in this set. These are not, as one might suspect, mere recordings of walks around a lovely area, but segments meant to emphasize one cluster of sounds or another. For the most part, obvious human intrusion is absent, although in the final piece of the first disc one person coughs, another laughs and someone throws a stone in the water. More typically the recordings reflect the contrast between the immediate environment of water, wind, bird and the outlying environment of tourist and transport. While listening, one is tempted to make one’s own local recordings, an idea that Diepenmaat would certainly support. Those of us who take daily walks have become attuned to our sonic environments and look forward to certain sounds, whether they be the lapping of waves or the greeting of familiar neighbors and dogs. Keizersrande tends to be peaceful, although occasionally a plane disrupts the sonic field (disc two, track three), an all-too common occurrence that has become the bane of field recordists everywhere. Construction drone also plays a role, on the same disc battling with birdsong; and on the closing piece of the fourth disc, humans rattle about, completely disrupting the reverie.
What to do with all this sonic material? Diepenmaat lends a subtle compositional hand to some of these pieces, then turns the reins over to a host of friends for reinterpretation. This is the basis of the digital file, whose contents range from light reflection to heavy refraction. BNB con. lends such a light hand to “Situatie A12” that one barely recognizes it as a soundscape; its form becomes evident as it unfurls, the light wind chimes at the end a beautiful touch. Les Horribles Travailleurs contribute four pieces, each with a discernible framework, drawing from the fields of drone and industrial music to create fascinating developments on Diepenmaat’s themes. These act as impressions of impressions, like memories revisited and revived. Along with Machinefabriek (also present on this compilation), Les Horribles Travailleurs performed live at the album launch, making each new version a fish story in which the fish just keeps getting bigger and bigger. Teleferick amplifies disembodied dialogue and adds strings and bass; Nlus imposes heavy drums and loops, eventually dispensing with the field recordings altogether. Operatic tones make Gluid‘s “Inbetween” the set’s most musically accessible piece, while francisco lópez‘ “untitled#361” travels the largest amount of dynamic distance.
This rich collection is a demonstration not only of sound, but of sonic memory. Long before recording was invented, people heard tempos in the trees and notes in brooks. We now have the technology to amplify such associations. While the album title implies that either place or process is off track, the end result is to return us to the path. (Richard Allen)