Who has the right to define an area: locals, outsiders, or a combination of both? Those who live within the borders of a community may lack objectivity, while those who live without may lack subjectivity.
The sound artists of Symposium Musicum intend to capture more than aural impressions, but the villagers of Lomnička (Slovakia) state that these visitors “were the first non-Romani persons who spent the night.” As such, one cannot call the field recordists experts, but friendly first impressionists; their presentation, after post-production, is positive and engaging. The other territories visited – Podolínec, Levočské Vrchy, and Kolačkov – yield similar reactions.
It helps to know that the album is a curated series of field recordings molded into a soundscape. The one-minute opener combines a multitude of voices in turn: excited, amused, laughing. Children are important in this vision, and remain so across the set, unflappable even when the roof drops in on “Simultan Camps.” This early surprise, an assault of drones and bells, sets the stage for an unpredictable journey. The children seem to revel in the noise, although it’s likely the two were recorded separately; the listener feels the clash more than the residents. Later the children will participate by crunching leaves in “Kavka.”
“In Response” includes watery sounds that seem like a blend of the natural (softly crashing waves) and the domestic (a boiling pot). “Heyyy,” one villager says to another, a happy greeting. A person runs through the street, sandals flapping. One imagines the locals are bemused when the visitors seem fascinated by spaces they have deserted: a ruined church, an abandoned grocery store. The decision to feature children so prominently – at times, the sole focus – lends the project a feeling of innocent exploration, the children proxies for the recordists, wandering into every available nook and cranny. Dogs bark, women sing, trucks appear out of nowhere and disappear just as quickly.
The liner notes are of particular importance, exposing what the sounds cannot, unless one speaks the local language. An elderly interviewee explains that the Romani language is no longer taught, despite a heavy Romani presence. A villager laments that while times are good, before they were better. The visitors are worried about attunement, cognizant of the cultural divide. The choice to use microphones instead of cameras builds preliminary trust; the night spent in tents builds more, although “something heavy” lands by the tent in the heart of the night, and the children warn the visitors that they are “not safe.” The visitors exit in early morning, encountering a thunderstorm, amplified in “Adapting” to an electronic whorl.
One wonders how the villagers reacted when they heard the collage Symposium Musicum created from their dialogue. Were they moved, concerned, complimented? Did the initial encounters lead to further conversation? With each subsequent meeting, the interpretation of both sides may grow even more authentic: distrust evaporating, empathy developing. (Richard Allen)