A peregrination is a journey akin to a pilgrimage. Over the course of two years, Christopher Olson (Standard Grey) undertook such a pilgrimage in Nara, Japan and surrounding areas, investigating rivers, trails, mountains and shrines. This journey began before the pandemic and ended mid-COVID, which made the process of recording a panacea.
Having lived in Japan for a dozen years, the artist accumulated a collection of “favorite places,” both physically and sonically. Even though acclimated to the city sounds some might call “noise,” he cherishes the times when he can escape to quieter climes. This sense of spiritual transition is first apparent in the breakdown of the quarter-hour opening piece, as the natural cacophony recedes, if only for a brief period. A fragile peace rushes through the sonic cracks, replaced by an encroaching drone. When one has lived in the city for so long, does one yearn more for industrial sounds while in the forest, or forest sounds when surrounded by industry? Splitting the difference, Olson presents both, blurring the lines between organic and inorganic. The crackle at the end of the piece may be precipitation, sparking wires or a hybrid of both.
When “Saille” introduces the sound of abraded chimes, the spiritual aspects become more evident. Keyhole-shapes burial mounds called kōfun decorate the Yamanobe no Michi trail that leads to the Miwa shrine. Mallet percussion contributes one sort of harmony, the amplified wildlife of “The Monday Spot” another. One understands why the artist wants to keep this location secret; this is his private refuge, a place for rejuvenation. When the artist invites listeners to “find their own” spot, he’s not being territorial as much as he is open-handed. The water is flowing at the Monday spot as the sun sets and the waterfowl bid each other goodnight.
If peregrination has a unique teaching, it is that one’s Monday spot may not be a nature spot, but a generator, a railway, a city square. “iPhone Drowning in a Koi Pond” is surprisingly lovely while open to interpretation: is this the actual sound of a drowning iPhone, or is it a hydrophone? If the artist is in no hurry (8:38) to rescue said iPhone, is it because the device is a distraction, or because it is doing its job so well it cannot be interrupted? The title is a metaphor for the poles of tech and peace, although to be fair, koi ponds are usually human-made.
“Gravel Tora” sounds like a slow avalanche, an answer to those who believe that escaping the city means escaping the din. When the sound suddenly stops and resets, one realizes that it has been manipulated to make a larger point: steady sounds, no matter how loud, may be lulling (which is the foundation of drone music), while interrupted sounds can produce a fight-or-flight response. The downpour of the closing piece explores this facet further; the rain is so loud it drowns out everything but the thunder, but without lightning strikes, the effect is soothing. From this white noise emerge separate strands of sound, one animal and one human, a dual comfort zone. On peregrination, nature can be a temple, but any sound can be a shrine. (Richard Allen)