Handpan player Manu Delago is having a lot of fun on his latest album, AND his work been good for the environment ~ as the title offers a revealing play on words. Even the vinyl is made of recycled materials. This spring, he and his band toured Austria by bike, generating electricity through solar panels and pedal power alone. The playful first single, “ReCycling,” is also the name of the tour and the album’s most relatable piece. Gears, spindles and bells form the percussive backdrop; oompah horns punctuate the proceedings, providing the feeling of a carbon-free carnival. As the wheels slow, an electronic melody emerges. One can ride to it and one can dance to it.
A series of videos adds to the allure. “Liquid Hands” begins with liquid (naturally), then hands dropping stones into water. But as soon as the near-junglist rhythms emerge, four sets of hands do their best imitation of synchronized swimming, solidifying the thought that one does not need a big budget to create an effective video, merely a good idea and perhaps a few friends. “Curveball” attaches light to three velcro ball players and their equipment, highlighting the use of velcro as percussion (which we might not otherwise have identified).
“Interference” is the best of the initial batch, as it displays Delago in action atop power cable rigs. We can hear the interference in the form of static, as watch the artist and friends as they tap on wires, ladders and wheels. The video makes the music come to life, but readers, please do not try this at home! Squirrels have lost their lives for less than this.
Now that we have a head start, we begin to play match-up with the other sounds on the set. Are the footfalls of “Transformation” taken from the Alpine sessions of Parasol Peak? What toys are used in “Autoshred” apart from the bicycle wheel and Slurpee straw? The expansion beyond the handpan has been good for the artist, as he demonstrates that anything can be a musical object if one has a musical mind. The modest turn to the electronic realm adds even more optimism to an already encouraging tone.
As fun as it is to hear popcorn on one track and birds on the next, Delago does have weightier themes in mind. When we work with our environment instead of against it, we all benefit. The artist plunders only sound: a sustainable resource that is not drained when it is recorded. When wildfires enter the picture, the listener remembers the fury of a world scorned. Environ Me is a reminder that we are part of the environment, not separate entities. Not everyone will pick up on the sombre note ~ “oh, cute, he’s sampled fire!” ~ but those who do may recall with humility that we are but guests on this earth, as vulnerable as the flora that purify our air. (Richard Allen)