V/A ~ New Chronologies of Sound

The pandemic has produced all manner of change within the music industry, from an increase in home recording to a dependence on digital formats.  In auditory terms, it has changed the way we hear our world by producing a heightened awareness of sound.  The amplified silences of the past 16 months are now balanced by the restoration ~ healthy or unhealthy ~ of gathering and industry.  Motivated field recordists set out to document the sonic changes, producing a auditory diary of before, during and after: the final stage yet to be determined.  New Chronologies of Sound is a product of this process, combining sound and philosophy through field recording and essay, offering a preliminary overview for perusal.  The project is not only the rare multi-format physical release, but an exhibition and a sound bank.

With sound, I am re-immersed in the moment, living it again through the time it took to happen in the first place.  César Vallejo’s opening words serve as overture.  Throughout the set, listeners will hear a mixture of sounds related to lockdown, as well as those of emergence.  Sirens, applause (as if for health care workers) and chants (as if in protest) arrive in tandem.  But then Laura Romero folds in snippets of “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” and “Across the Universe,” recalling joy, blending memory and hope.  Lawrence English (who also masters the set) goes back even further, pre-pandemic, to the small town of Shizumi, Japan, to record the frogs and rice fields: a simple, calm piece that produces the feeling of its homonym.  Will we ever return to these times?  Should we?

Kyoka normally records dance music, but few people were dancing last year, at least together.  Afforded this opportunity, she slows the beat to a sluggish pulse.  Miguel Isaza (whose piece is available in shortened and extended versions) folds field recordings into electro-acoustic forms, which in their louder moments sound like rain on bamboo.  The uncredited Gustavo Costa (listed as Sonoscopia, the name of the collective) offers an intricate work of traffic and chimes, creating a contrast that serves as a metaphor for the busyness of “normal” life challenged by the quietude of the pandemic.  Matthew Herbert sheds “10,001 Drops of Composer’s Blood,” creating metallic sounds where one expects liquid.  The trick (a relief): it’s actually one drop of blood landing on metal, digitally fractured 10,000 times.

The album’s second half begins with a lonely wind.  The title of Hugo Branco‘s “Stereolized (We Shall Not Be Tamed)” implies resistance and resolve.  Again the sirens sound.  In what is possibly the first and last of its kind, the piece samples hand sanitizers to symbolize lockdown: the wind is free to go, but we are not.  A church bell sounds, but is anybody in church?  Then more wind, this from a Finnish island, as AGF scores the disruption of a broken metal dock, left to corrode in the elements.  Is this what we did to the weakest members of our society, or are we carrying the association too far?

Diana Combo‘s piece also appears in two versions, one three times longer than the other (edits essential for vinyl).  The artist plays with “time and geography” in an abandoned cinema, where natural resonances create their own cinematic score.   Thankfully, Budhaditya Chattopadhyay‘s “Indecent Whispers” is less about people than objects, the title referring to the sounds heard when others are absent: a mark of isolation during lockdown.  A poem is whispered like a secret kept.

Natalia Valencia Zuluaga presents a muted “Journey Through the Glass,” which calls forth 1 Corinthians 13: now I see as through a glass darkly.  Sound and interpretation are both occluded, while portions ~ in this case, birdsong ~ grow exceedingly clear.  Fittingly, the album concludes with an Amsterdam recording from BJ Nilsen, whose daily field recordings during the lockdown were a revelation.  In retrospect, “Three Locations” seems premature: a skateboarder emerging from the house, a street musician testing his sax, a tricycle spinning its wheels.  Last spring, we thought, “This is it!  We’re emerging!”  And then we weren’t.  But now we are, and these newly recovered sounds are like life renewed.  (Richard Allen)

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