Sound is a resonant ocean, a term coined by Romanian composer Horatiu Radulescu in an essay titled Sound Plasma. Bassist Jakob Heinemann elaborates on this metaphor by transposing the harmonies, frequencies and pitches around him into a quartet of fascinating pieces. In the 1970s people asked, “Is it live, or is it Memorex?” Today we ask, is it natural, or a sonic reflection?
As the album begins, the artist tunes the autoharp to match the frequencies of the O’Hare Airport. When the bass arrives, it sounds like the warp of engines as they approach, while the littering of sonic debris is akin to the hustle and bustle of a busy hub. As a test tube drone rises in the background, the notes grow dissonant and atonal. Finally the plane lifts from the runway, leaving a contrail of sound in its wake. It’s hard to tell where the field recording ends and the music begins, a testament to the piece’s success ~ when we hear conversation, we relax, back on familiar ground. But now we ask, are the birds live or looped?
“Places” is a curve ball featuring no obvious field recordings at all. Instead, the piece presents the pitches of an idling truck, an heirloom clock and a deserted room in successive movements. Once one knows what is being reflected, one can hear the sources, although without the description one might be hard-pressed to guess. At times, the string trio is dramatic, leaping from a crouch to an attack; striking, then pulling back. It feels odd to hear the bass announce the arrival of hours, but then again, why should the bells have all the fun? The introduction of weary breath in the closing movement is a welcome, humanizing touch.
The most approachable piece is “Arbor,” which begins and ends in rain. In the middle, Heinemann uses sine waves to reflect doves, helicopters and other natural and unnatural traffic. This is where we “see” what the artist is attempting and reflect on the tones of our own everyday lives. Classical composers became obsessed with imitating the sound of birdsong (typically with flutes), but today’s biophanies are scattered in hue, mangling nature and industry to the point that even birds imitate the sounds of cellphones and cars, creating a feedback loop so entangled as to be inextricable.
Finally, Heinemann plunges us into the resonant ocean, where four instruments zero in on the pitches of D, F# and Bb. Curiously, although these instruments were not tuned to the pitches of nature, the timbre is brethren to the foghorn recordings of Bill Fontana. The track sounds like the cover photograph looks, each trumpet blast a warning through the grey. The lowest tones are like rumbles felt in the gut, so powerful they can be felt. The album has traveled from chaos to form in less than an hour, or perhaps Heinemann has trained his listeners to hear form: the signal in the noise, the frequencies that surround us, the resonant ocean in which we swim. (Richard Allen)