Philip Samartzis ~ Atmospheres and Disturbances

Sitting somewhere at the crossroads between researcher, activist, scholar, composer, and recording engineer, Australian sound artist Philip Samartzis seems preoccupied with sound as both a natural and artificial phenomenon. While it would be easy to categorize Samartzis’ previous electroacoustic collaborations (H, One+One) as sitting on the “artificial” side of this divide, his turns towards “natural” environmental sound on projects like Array (2021) and Polar Force (2021) have also included their fair share of man-made sound, whether it be recordings of radar equipment or layers of live instrumentation. Through a concise set of spatially-connected field recordings, Atmospheres and Disturbances further complicates the dichotomy between man-made and environmental sound while making clear that even the remotest sound environments are experiencing profound and rapid changes.

According to Samartzis, Atmospheres and Disturbances “is designed to place audiences deep inside an extreme environment to afford embodied experiences of an alpine ecology under stress.” The High-Altitude Research Station at Jungfraujoch in the Bernese Alps is, with Samartzis’ guidance, its own sound world, one of wind, ice, metal, water, and electricity. Although aimed at capturing the stresses and fractures of a world in flux, Atmospheres and Disturbances is a quiet and reflective listen combining the focus and concision of scientific research with the restraint and careful pacing of the best in contemporary composition.

Despite their simple titles, each track of Atmospheres and Disturbances is a well-shaped and remarkably varied exploration of this unique location. On “Wind”, fluctuations of layered white noise emerge out of a gradually receding silence, yet it’s clear where we are and what we’re doing: at the top of the world, listening to crystalline, icy snow scatter over itself in the wind. A cloud full of sleet floats slowly overhead until out of hearing, cascading ice chimes against metal, and equipment begins to shake, rattle, and vibrate as the wind picks up speed. Here at the top of the world, human outposts are in unfamiliar territory, and must contend with an environment not suited to human needs.

In subsequent tracks, Samartzis introduces two recurring sounds: the trickle of meltwater and the electric hum of the station sustaining itself. “Station” begins with the familiar sound of a trickling stream before being interrupted by a raucous helicopter flying overhead, while on “Melt”, the thundering of an avalanche is answered by the protests of an anxious bird. “Tunnels” features sounds from the bustle of public transportation at the highest railway station in Europe, while “Valley” connects back to the opening track with a high-pitched whistle and a chaotic metal clang: a herd full of tinkling bells passes by, and life continues.

While Atmospheres and Disturbances can occasionally lean on the more obvious sounds that Jungfraujoch provides — particularly the sounds of running meltwater, which open three of the album’s five tracks — the subtle musicality with which each track unfolds creates more than few moments of real beauty. Samartzis manages to maintain a compelling balance between documentation of a changing sonic environment and the creation of interesting sonic art in its own right. This is arguably the key to the album’s success: while capturing the ways in which humans impact their sonic environment on a variety of scales — from global shifts in climate to the intimate hum of fluorescent lighting — Samartzis has also managed to create some of the most sonically unique and gracefully composed music being made today. (Peter Tracy)

About petertracy

staff writer for a closer listen

One comment

  1. Pingback: Philip Samartzis / Atmospheres And Disturbances – Ficción de la razón

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