Much time is spent considering the way we view nature, and some on how nature views us; but very little on how nature views nature. On a recent trip to the island of Amrum, LFSaw (Berlin’s Till Bovermann) attempted to enter the mindset of birds, shrubs and even seaweed, practicing a curious combination of anthropomorphism and empathy. The result is attuning, a collection that develops a narrative as it progresses, from pensive to conversational, quiet to cacophonous.
At the beginning, we hear the creaks of a dock, the whoosh of the wind, the distant cries of birds. In the opening track, it’s still okay to be self-centered; the title is “us.” But by “them,” we are asked to make a shift. What are the birds thinking about the waves? Are the fish enjoying their day, oblivious to the predators above, or are they hugging the bottom of the ocean floor in fear? If wind had a mind, would it enjoy wrapping around trees, or consider them a nuisance? A series of black-and-white photographs alternates angles as well. A shot of the ocean, taken from behind a break in the dunes, is an obviously “human” view: “We’re going to the beach!” But a diagonal shot titled “waves” defies definition: are these ocean waves or sand protuberances?
The album contains three movements: “contra,” “waves” and “utterance,” each denser than the one before. As the wave triplet is titled “below,” “inside” and “above,” the instant thought is of surfers, who know each position intimately. But we’re not asked to think of surfers; we’re asked to think of waves, thinking of other waves. This is difficult to do at first, until we recall the mind of a child. Does the bottom of the wave envy the top, because it gets to be in the sun? Or is it happy to remain on the bottom, safe from breakage? And what of other creatures in the waves? Dolphins love to ride the wake of boats; sting rays bodysurf. And while one would think a sand crab would enjoy a quieter existence away from the wrack line, something about that space is perfect for the species.
The concluding triptych is the album’s finest. There are a lot of birds in amass, sparking memories of a certain Hitchcock film. (“Cover your eyes!”) Again we have to remember that we are not the subject of the story. The birds might not be pondering us, and certainly don’t seem to be pondering Bovermann, who seems invisible here. What, then, is the topic of their conference? Are they discussing the search for a king, the danger of the approaching clouds, or what to do about Jonathan? It’s impossible to tell, but fun to speculate. attuning‘s thought exercise prompts an out-of-body experience, a welcome break from the spinning of our own anxious minds. (Richard Allen)