Francesco Fabris & Ben Frost ~ Vakning

Few field recording artists experience risk recording in urban, suburban and forest environments, but the Room40 roster revels in extremes: Antarctic storms, sub-zero temperatures, and now the boiling opposite.  Vakning was recorded at Iceland’s Fagradalsfjall and pairs well with Alyssa Moxley’s Underdrift: Volcano Music, which we reviewed back in 2021.  This time the dangerous trek is taken by Francesco Fabris and Ben Frost, who record magma and lava, seismic rumbles, the ruptured crust.

The opening pings sound like ice cracking across a large landscape.  Iceland, the land of ice and snow, lends itself well to such extremes.  The compositional approach hews to Frost’s own music, especially By the Throat.  The seismic world produces its own manner of whistles and drones, peaking in literal eruptions of sound.  An artist whose music is influenced by volcanos now invites them into his studio.  The very title “Harmonic Tremor” reveals a musical angle to field recording, more than just anthropomorphism.  The track builds to a dense, exciting segment that continues without interruption into the title track.  One might call this “rock music,” again in a literal sense, although the rocks are still in the process of being formed.  We already have post-rock; shall we call this pre-rock?

Volcanos exist at the intersection of destruction and creation.  Humans often recall the damage done by Pompeii, Krakatoa, Mt. Fuji, even Eyjafjallajökull, while forgetting that most of Japan and Hawai’i were produced by eruptions.  “Walking Like a Royal Snake Down a Mountain Towards the Sea” offers sounds like cracking ice sheets, tumbling rocks and precipitation, while “Magma Fields” begins like a thunderstorm.  The metamorphic activity of “Öskubrot” (“Ash Breaks”) is reflected in its dynamic contrast.  The only recognizably unnatural sound is the frantic beep of “Gas Warning,” which we hope was enough to prompt Fabris and Frost to retreat to a safer location.  An increasing intensity suggests they instead drew nearer, collecting rare sounds in the same way as the subjects of last year’s documentary “Fire of Love” gathered images, albeit with a happier ending.

Fabris has appeared on various Bedroom Community releases, and is the founder of Iceland’s field recording imprint Outer Fields. Fabris and Frost’s most famous collaboration to date is the score to the Netflix series “DARK,” although one might suggest watching Iceland’s “Katla” with Vakning as an alternative soundtrack.  The lone wobble at the end of “New Shield Loop” alerts us to their presence: like the earth, they too are sculptors, and sound is their magma.  (Richard Allen)

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