Stéphane Marin ~ K ~ Ö

As the curator of the ongoing series Each Morning of the World, sonographer Stéphane Marin has played an integral role in championing the art of field recording. While he’s occasionally contributed his own pieces to this project, it’s been a while since he’s released an album.  K ~ Ö is an evocative soundscape that either makes complex ideas simple or simple ideas complex, depending on one’s vantage point.  The digital release includes 26 photographs, 25 of them black and white.

The release page contains only a few source cues:  “a lighthouse on an island, lumberjacks and chainsaws, a forest, a glass factory.”  These hints are all the listener needs to construct a narrative.  Marin provides a tidy framework, positioning the album as a tour that starts and ends with footsteps, as if a family is making its way through the factory.  But as the factory is part of the forest, it may be more proper to say that the family is entering a fairy tale.

The enchantment holds as long as the listener doesn’t learn too much.  One of Marin’s main points is that the boundary between organic and inorganic sound is difficult to glean.  While certain sounds are sharp and easily identifiable ~ breaking glass, local birds ~ there’s a finer line than expected between machinery and precipitation.  When the first is steady and the second is hard, they share a dronelike aspect that challenges classification.  Glass is made by heating sand until it becomes a liquid, which blurs the line even further; the factory itself is bordered by lakes.  We hear the workers in the sixth minute, and recall that the process involves capturing material from the outside, manufacturing it inside and sending it back out.  Down the line, much glass will end up in lakes and seas, eroded by time and tide until it becomes sand again, or is discovered earlier as cherished beach glass.

The recording locations range “from Södvik protected wetlands to Otenby’s lighthouse on the windy island of Öland, to the forests, lakes and glasswork factory of Kosta.”  By linking these locations in a loose narrative, Marin creates a field recording version of a Bond film, traveling to exotic locales in the pursuit of a prize.  This prize is a philosophical understanding of the symbiotic relationship between humans and their environment, nestled in a celebration of fire, water, earth and air.

There’s great meaning to be found here, and it’s intriguing to search for the seams between sources.  But the surface reading is even more enjoyable: a family follows a bridge into a forest, expecting to find fish, fowl, and fauna.  Then, in the heart of the forest, they stumble upon a glass factory where wonders are made.  A kind-eyed worker hands the boy an end-of-day marble.  Clutching his souvenir, the boy follows his family out the door, past the sands that spawned the glass, stroking the surface to reassure himself that it was more than a dream.  (Richard Allen)

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