Where do sounds come from, and more importantly, does it matter? These are two central questions in understanding Seven Different Places, a collection of nature-based field recordings with added ambience by Zelienople’s Mike Weis & Matt Christensen. Built around Weis’ interaction with the Calumet Region of Indiana, six of the seven compositions take discrete sounds from the biodiverse wilderness and the encroaching, inescapable industry surrounding it. Christensen’s music bleeds into train horns, and factory noise grows indistinguishable from swarming cicadas. The individual tracks document places, but every transient blip and lingering sound complicates the notion of “place” itself, uncovering a multiplicitous understanding of what it means to really, truly be somewhere.
As with the majority of the American Midwest, the Calumet Region has suffered both economically and environmentally through the rise and fall of industrialization. However, natural resilience and human efforts have left most of the environment intact. Weis’ work with the area started as a photography project exploring these preserved pockets of wildlife amidst the skeletal remnants of smokestacks and refineries. His eventual turn towards audio documentation and involvement with Christensen furthers the snapshot quality of thriving life amidst bleak desolation, but it also blurs the distinction between industrial and organic decay.
The synthesized noise occasionally flaunts its transparency— bird chirps, train horns, and wobbling bass tones— but more often than not the compositions detail vast spaces irreversibly touched and confused by human hands. The coding of digital ambience jumbles the meaning of naturally occurring sounds, just as the distant hum of traffic informs the breeze rushing through pine trees on a day hike. “Gordon & Faith Greiner Prairie and Black Oak Savanna, Hobart, Indiana” shuffles around white noise, indistinct animal calls, and rustling leaves that all signify the song’s namesake. Even the retroactively applied synthesizers evoke the Midwestern wilderness, if only because Weis and Christensen intend it to. The sense of place that each composition achieves does not originate in individual sounds, but in the act of synthesis.
Weis and Christensen wear their intentions on their sleeves. All Bandcamp proceeds go directly towards the Shirley Heinze Land Trust, a nonprofit organization that purchases land in the Calumet region to restore and preserve. The ongoing process of preservation is evident in all seven tracks, where native lifeforms must cohabitate with intruding objects. The final track takes place across the sea, but cements this often unrecognized combination. “Subway, Insadong, Seoul, South Korea” gives life to the functional side of the industrial, drawing a thoughtful parallel between productive human growth and the strength of revitalized natural environments. In some distant future, perhaps the two will no longer be at odds. (Josh Hughes)