Stephan Barrett & Sylvia Hallett ~ River . Pathway . Static

The ever-popular daily walk (see last week’s Balgay Hill) takes on new meaning on River . Pathway . Static, as the performers introduce an array of instruments: whiskey glasses, spring box, mbira, bicycle wheel, bells.  We’re assuming the music was added post-field recording, but it’s endearing to think of the composers trying to carry everything at once, setting up shop in a glade, by a lake, near the train, along the marsh.  The point of the recording is to “highlight the ordinary” by enhancing the natural sounds with human reactions, spoken and played.

Poetry is a major factor as well; the bonus b-side (for those who purchase the cassette) is a reimagining of the poetry collection HOME, with additional sound by Nick Murray.  But whether “official” poems or not, the snippets of the main project encase the work in literary light.  The thunderstorm of “Elsewhere” is met by musing:  “conceived in a storm on foreign shores …”  Weather has always had a soulmate in the poetic heart.  The birds come to craw; the poet recedes, footsteps echoing against the low drone of pocketed objects.  In “Morning Light,” gears and brakes compete with birds for sonic dominance.  If anything, the train seems desperate, the birds content to continue their morning routine.  Sylvie and Stephan stand to the side, both passionate listeners and active participants.  Passing snatches of conversation are folded into the mix like an egg into a soufflé.

“We prayed in every shade there is wonder, a confluence fluid and meant to be.”  The poet returns and recedes, having said his piece.  The artists are motivated to investigate every avenue of sound.  The River Lea rolls, steady as the bells.  Such music seems like a mirror held up to itself, building on the strength of its own reflection.  The rain continues; this is Tottenham, after all.  “Count your blessings,” the poet says.  The ability to walk; avian companions; breath to blow into hollow shells. Sirens in the distance, not wailing for us.  We say we will never again take such things for granted. We know better, but we say it anyway.

The voices grow active at the “River Exits.”  Children are heard in the distance.  What we thought was a train begins to sound like a choo-choo, then a marching band.  The mbira plays along.  For the first time, the tape has a tempo.  And yet, one of the children cries; is there no placating him? Briefly the tempo increases; the child is satisfied.  “Come join the dance,” the artists seem to say.  A spontaneous band is still a band.  And haven’t we missed this kind of joy?  (Richard Allen)

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