Leo Okagawa ~ minato / Stéphane Marin ~ tres fronteras

The Unfathomless label continues to release albums in pairs, like animals on Noah’s ark.  The first pairing of 2022 sees two artists produce disc-long soundscapes, each one incredibly active, packed with the dynamic contrasts of transit and nature.

There’s no easing into Leo Okagawa‘s minato, which starts with the blast of a ship’s horn.  Zapping (Station to Station) highlighted the sounds of metro stations in Japan; minato (port) collects recordings taken around Yokohama Port, one of the nation’s largest maritime terminals.  Both albums combine industry and area recordings; the terminal seems nearly deserted here, devoid of the human element, amplifying the waves, birds, motors, screeches and passing planes.

Are these processes automated or human?  An ominous series of breaths in the ninth minute is reminiscent of an approaching Darth Vader.  One thinks of a post-apocalyptic landscape in which the only humans are masked and suited as precautions against pollution.  A few minutes later, the association is cemented with a series of alarm blasts, a rumble, a drawing chain.  But by mid-piece, all is silent save for some soft, continuous beeps: the overnight shift?  Slowly the sounds of activity return, and the water is heard once more.  The port may catch a nap, but the ocean never sleeps.

The visual impression of minato is worth noting; the 72nd release on Unfathomless is the first in pure blue, breaking the usual brown and green color palette.  (Before this, the closest was the ice blue of Jared Sagar’s Holme.)  We applaud the decision as a reflection of the nautical theme, while we continue to hope for a printed collection of Daniel Crokaert’s art.

Stéphane Marin‘s tres fronteras returns to green, conveying the dominant color of the Amazon Rain Forest and the jungles and parks of Colombia and Peru.  The most frightening of Marin’s locations: Piranha Lake, which thankfully did not produce Unfathomless’ first red album.

This recording begins in softer fashion with the sounds of crickets and roosters, then a machete cutting through the brush.  Marin conveys a dual sense of urgency: the urgency of his own flash visit, seven days in the Amazon, so much to see and record, so little time; and the urgency of conservation, these areas and their residents already endangered.  It’s unclear what manner of beast is making the noise in the third minute, but it doesn’t seem happy to have been disturbed.  A subterranean rumble forces a momentary silence, but seems to come from man rather than earth.  The rooster’s caw now seems cautionary: an alarm clock of a different nature.  Planes disturb the morning chorus, which howls back, angrily yet ineptly; Marin catches it all.

Now there are children, happily playing; a distorted song on a passing radio; an agitated, barking dog, a honking horn.  Any thought of an idealized human culture evaporates.  Ten minutes in, still the same track, but silence, as if overload has caused a frying of circuits.  Placid drips arrive in its wake, and then splashes and crashes.  Stéphane, do not put your hand in that lake!  

The cycle continues, quietude and noise, nature and human intrusion.  The field recordist is both observer and participant.  A child’s voice reminds us that little ones know nothing of the danger, thinking every environment will last.  This valley will always be green, this river will always flow.  As Marin increases the volume, he produces dual cacophonies: beautiful biophany and terrible threat.  The third movement traces a line over the lessons of the previous two.  The electronic segment imagines the muting of nature, the future sold by clearcutting, the awful silence that cannot be undone.  But Marin relents, pulling the listener back to the present place of wonder, awakening from a nightmare, still able to act, but only now, with urgency.  (Richard Allen)

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