Banks Bailey ~ Mountains and Waters / René Aquarius ~ Woodland Sigil

Two new Unfathomless releases bring listeners to the deep forest, where mysteries beckon and surprises lie around every corner.  Each CD opens windows to the past by presenting the sounds that might have been heard in prior centuries.

Mountains and Waters is the more intentional of the two, “an elegy to the Holocene epoch and to the quiet places that have been lost.”  In order to capture these calm recordings, Banks Bailey backpacked deep into the parks and forests of the American west and north, from Arizona to Alaska, as if honoring Gordon Hempton (One Square Inch of Silence).  But silence is not what he finds.  The album-length piece begins with the sound of a tree falling, symbolizing loss, before opening the sonic field to the animal kingdom.  There’s a richness apparent in the open spaces, although from time to time a low-level musical drone can also be heard.  Whenever a bird or a group of crickets break their cover, the results are sublime.  Bailey seems reluctant even to capture the sound of his own footstep, and seems annoyed when other human sounds intrude, so the choice of drone is unusual, but it does serve to unite disparate locations in a single soundscape.  The best moments arrive when pure nature breaks through, as in the 11th minute, with a woodpecker, a stream and local calling birds; and the 38th, as flocks and wolves compete for sonic space.

René Aquarius‘ Woodland SIgil makes no bones about its additions; the artist seeks to blur the lines between the original recordings and the “enhancements.”  The album features a lot of rain, which contributes sonic depth; one can imagine being drenched in “Ancient Forest” but appreciating the experience.  The artist creates a light narrative in which the rain works its way from stream to shore while various woodland creatures offer commentary. The core recordings were captured in the heart of Sweden, near “Viking graves and ancient woods,” and shimmer with a mystical aura. Like Bailey, Aquarius uses light drones as sonic glue, and again it’s easy to hear where they are fastened.  In this instance, one thinks more of Druids than of circuits.  This isn’t just “getting back in touch with nature;” it’s an encounter with the divine.  The piece “Chapel” underlines the point; while this may be an actual chapel, it’s also the chapel of the forest, where worshippers and the object of worship are one step closer.  Together, these two artists help us to imagine a time before our time, while suggesting places in which we might still be overcome by awe.  (Richard Allen)

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