Ká returns to the Bohemian forest to find A Hidden River, both literal and metaphoric. It’s a thrill to walk deep into the heart of nature, following the sound of flowing water, and there to stumble on a reservoir, a waterfall, a stream. We find such areas replenishing on an instinctive level, but they can also be sites of pilgrimage. Hymns such as “Wade in the Water,” “Take Me to the River” and “Down to the River to Pray” attest to this connection.
A hidden river may not even be a river; the phrase can refer to any underused source of strength, from a secret spring to faith’s “living water” or “streams of life-giving water.” However it may be regarded, this river beckons the heart, mind and spirit, especially in a time of crisis such as that the world has experienced over the past year. Ká’s forest walks have kept him grounded over the years, but have taken on new meaning during the pandemic. These pristine recordings are a way to share his newfound peace with a larger audience. In effect, they are the next best thing to being there, although of course they are also an invitation to engage with our own surroundings.
The recordings encompass much more than a river. From the very beginning, the album delves into water sounds, but retreats in the second piece to expose the sound of dragonflies. And from “May Morning” on, the birds take center stage. A rooster crows in the distance and the foreground is filled with excited tweeting. The area contains some unique birds, from the Bohemian waxwing to the tawny owl to the short-toed treecreeper, which makes the soundscape distinct from those enjoyed by many of our readers; birders will have a field day, pun intended. But common species abound as well: sparrows, woodpeckers, crows. Hearing the birds inside, the birds outside grow curious, hopping on the air conditioner outside my living room.
The biophony of “Moorland” is a thicket of sound, as each species claims its place in the sonic spectrum. A popping, like vinyl static, comforts the listener. After passing multiple colonies and streams, the artist finally arrives at an identifiably human sound: a piece of metal rattling in the wind of “Towns Under Water-Table.” The track is an odd reminder that humans can alter their soundscape and then leave the new soundscape to the residents. While this knocking is relatively benign, it’s also a reminder of the larger damage as humans sully once-pristine environments. What if one day there were no more hidden springs, save for those in the mind? If the pandemic has led us back to nature for solace, for comfort, for hidden springs, perhaps it will also lead us to greater activism, as we expand the word essential to refer not only to professions, but locations. (Richard Allen)