Curling is a real outlier. On the surface, it seems to appeal to an extremely specialized audience: a cross-section of those who enjoy field recordings and those who enjoy curling. And yet, I was unfamiliar with the latter before hearing the recording, after which I went on an internet tear. This is the strength of Jean-Philippe Gross‘ recording; it makes one want to learn more.
“Sound theatre” is a perfect description of this piece, which sets a curling match inside a pocket of drone. But since most people don’t know what curling is, it comes across as science fiction: some weird combination of plotting, cheering, sweeping, clapping, and yelling ~ a LOT of yelling, loud, insistent and panicked. “Hard! HAAAAAAAARRRRRRRD!” yells the skip. It’s funny and it’s thrilling and it’s bizarre. The low humming makes the competition all the more dramatic. When one hears, “WHOA! WHOA Kaitlyn, NO!”, one thinks a) Kaitlyn is about to step into traffic; b) a shark is right behind her; c) she is leaving a groom at the altar. But in real life, it’s all about the curl. The sweeping noise ~ and yes, it is easily the weirdest part of the sport ~ is caused by two sweepers brushing the ice in front of the thrown rock as quickly as possible in order to reduce friction and help the rock to advance. So what did Kaitlyn do? We’re not exactly sure. “I should have waited,” she says. But we love Kaitlyn ~ she has an amazing voice. So does Stephen (although Kaitlyn is our favorite). And that’s what makes this recording so appealing. People are yelling like they’re dying, but when one sees what they are really doing, one can’t help but be entertained. It’s a small sport with a small audience, with heart and volume way out of proportion to its presentation. And if curling always sounds like this, it’s a sport even a blind person could love.
On a wider level, Curling is a celebration of teamwork and coaching, no matter what the sport. To cheer with affection is to capture the heart of teammate and spectator alike. Jean-Philippe Gross has done an amazing job creating a dramatic story (including a satisfying ending), and at the end, the listener may be cheering as well. To make someone interested in a subject they had no interest in before, using only sound, is a magnificent achievement. (Richard Allen)