SA Recordings‘ The Hearing Experience was released one track a month, beginning this spring and ending today. The series tackles a subject close to our heart: the act of listening closely, not just to music but to sound. Across these singles, four artists delve into disparate yet interrelated ideas, forming a unified whole. Their story is larger together than it would have been apart, an aural Rashoman.
Lola de la Mata starts the series with a study of tinnitus. “KOH – Klee – uh” (a phonetic reference) is packed with high pitches and sudden pings, reflecting the experience, especially accurate if one is wearing headphones. de la Mata composed the piece after a medical leave caused by the condition; but why would she desire to hear more of such sounds? The answer lies in the search for meaning and in the idea that de la Mata is in control of these sounds while the others arrive unbidden. While she doesn’t tame her tinnitus, she translates it so that others can hear what she has been hearing. A line from “The Gods Must Be Crazy” comes to mind: “Does the noise in my head bother you?” As dark scrapes give way to amplified tones, one can begin to feel her pain; struck chimes serve as a relief, while lower drones attempt to provide balance.
Astrid Sonne‘s “How Far” shifts from inner noise to inner voice, although it does include the outer voice as well. A plethora of a cappella layers imitates an inner conversation, leaving the question unanswered: “How far do you wanna go?” Sonne tumbles the thought, allows it to rest, resurrects it and holds it to a mirror. She seems to listen not only to herself, but to her many selves, seeking cohesion. Snipping the thought in two, she holds a fragment up to the light: “Do you wanna go?” Thought shifts into language, language into texture, texture into a miasma of sound.
Field recordings are the launching point for “Echoes of Lalia” (a form of echolalia), chronicling the sounds of Damsel Elysium‘s day. The artist translates these sounds into music via voice, double bass, violin and piano. In the early going, one can hear a train followed by a string glissando, the repetition of rails on tracks transformed into new percussion. Through this practice of listening and echoing, the artist joins the company of starlings and Mynah birds, who incorporate their external environments into their own songs.
Finally Tara Clerkin Trio plays a game of “Exquisite Corpse” within the band, passing rips and dangling chads of music to each other, seeking thread and tape. The stitched product yields an internal cohesion based more on tone than note, as aural curiosity bleeds through the bandages. The transitions are occasionally jarring (3:04), a splice instead of a segue, but the same minds lie behind it all. The piece imitates a conversation that travels down side roads before correcting its course. The footsteps and song of the seventh minute are intriguing, as if the singer is testing her voice against different surfaces. Then everything dissolves in an eruption of IDM.
Whether listening to inner dialogues or establishing outer dialogues, taming unwanted sounds or imitating cherished sounds, these artists highlight different angles of the hearing experience and teach that listening need not be passive, but might also be participatory. (Richard Allen)