Listening - Monday, Jan 20th 2020

Extract From Field Recording Archive

I’m excited that I’m finally dipping into this Lionel Marchetti boxset that Sonoris put out a couple years ago. I loved their Jim O’Rourke and Steve Roden box sets – functionally sturdy and nice-looking boxes too. This one is partly a retrospective like the Roden box, including music that goes back at least to the 90s like the track that kicks off disc one. If someone had played me just the first track (Psychopompos) and told me the subtitle for this disc was Inferno I’m not sure I would have gone out of the way to listen to the rest – assuming I had no idea who Marchetti was, at least… Psychopompos starts things off on a surprisingly cheesy note with hokey ghost groaning sounds, scraped / bowed cymbals, low thudding ritualistic drums and some shimmering that could be the scraping of chains. Something I’d maybe expect from a high quality Halloween theme CD. Play this on a loop at your entryway and your house will feel very spoooooky!

Thankfully that’s where the cheeseball stops on this death-themed CD. The rest of the disc consists of really top notch wordless audio plays mixing field recording and spectacular concrete acousmatic sound shapes. The final track (also called Inferno) explodes with teeming brass – amazing-sounding unclean brass that growl fantastically against the edge of the tape. Knowing Marchetti the brass is actually some scrap metal or a broken pipe or something. I wish I could read French because there is an extensive-looking booklet too, but the music very well speaks for itself.

After being really surprised by a teenage Nathan Michel expertly prefiguring his rock work 30 years later, today I checked out the most recent project he has posted to his bandcamp page: a film score. It looks like he’s been pretty focused on writing music for film and now I understand why there hasn’t been much solo music released since The Beast. His score for The Departure Variations doesn’t get nearly as digital as his earlier solo laptop music and features a very film-music-y instrumental world of pianos and strings and whatnot, but this is probably the most beautiful stuff I’ve heard him write. It’s I guess genre-ish, it has that film music idiomatic knowhow, but it’s not at all bland or cookie-cutter in execution. The collection is short and left me wanting more, I actually ended up playing it on a loop four or five times this morning before I had to give it a rest. The electronics work is really expertly subtle, reminds me a bit like Jóhann Jóhannsson except overall much less stark and instead more lilting and soft. It’s not a follow-up to The Beast but I hope he keeps sharing more of his scores in collections like this.

Coming back to M.C. Schmidt’s (best known as 1/2 of Matmos) second solo album still had me leaving happily overwhelmed. This one goes all over the place without losing itself somehow. Moments of Return To Forever style fusion, 50s electroacoustic music, landscapes of microsound hypertextures… really impressive and very fun to listen to.

I picked up Seth Parker Woods’ asinglenoteisnotenough because it includes a George Lewis piece. As a computer musician and onetime trombonist, George Lewis is a personal hero. If I could play trombone worth a damn, I wish I could play like him. His piece on this collection is great and Woods makes you forget you’re listening to an album of solo cello music. The whole album is timbre-city and all the pieces really show off where he can take the cello. The final track written by Pierre Alexandre Tremblay is the only one that really leans into synthetic-sounding processing. The rest of the processing is derived from the cello and stays tightly connected to it – the effect is more like an extended cello (like Mario Davidovsky’s Synchronisms) than a duet between electronics and cello.

Speaking of subtle processing, Wovenland’s processing seems to amount entirely to simply alternating three recordings at a relatively fixed interval. It has an amazing effect despite the extreme simplicity of the approach. Some tracks combine Tsunoda and Unami’s field recordings by layering with minimal if any editing once the environment has kicked off – while others (which are probably the strands of the Wovenland title) combine recordings vertically by alternating brutally hard digital cuts at regular intervals from recording A to recording B or A and B and C, etc so you have a sustained parade of evenly-lengthed fragments marching ABABABABABAB until they start to mix in strange ways in your head.

This put me in the mind to hear some of Tsunoda’s retrospective box set on ErstPast (an Erstwhile sub-label) and I ended up listening to all six hours of it. He’s kind of known as the field recordist who puts mics in weird places and comes back with other-worldly sounding field recording, nothing at all like the sort of nature recording you’d find with most of the acoustic ecology Chris Watson types for example. Tsunoda will stuff a recorder and contact mic down a tube at a fish market near an idling freighter and capture something that sounds like an understated Franciso Lopez, or some minimalist computer music.

I think my new favorite track on the collection is track 10 on the final disc where he went back to many of the places he took recordings of in the 90s on the first few discs and tried to recreate them for the box set reissue. Inside The Former Fish Market has a gorgeous sustained choir-like drone resonating through some empty space that gets punctured by a distant rattling bell that makes a perfectly consonant harmony. It’s maybe the most “obvious” or immediately striking track of the collection – possibly with the exception of the track where he claps slowly in a huge tunnel which is the only track of its kind in the entire box set – but it also pushes far enough into the realm of “traditional music” to remind you how touched these recordings all are, really. The booklet has a very detailed gear list and catalogs the type of vibrations being recorded in what sort of location and so on very carefully and it’s worth remembering that the music here is not just the space, it’s really moreso the framing of the space.