Friday, 9 July 2010

Dragon’s Eye: An Update Of Sorts

Five releases from 2009 and 2010 for which we thank Yann Novak, whose ongoing support and patience are treasured. You can read more about this nucleus of sound-manipulating artists by visiting the label’s website.

SUBLAMP – Breathletters

Los Angeles-based Ryan Connor was born in a family of scientists, growing up in environments such as national parks and rocky mountains. This helped him in developing a keen ear in conjunction with the (unfortunately rarely met nowadays) awareness of being a scarcely significant component in the cosmic order of things, which on the one hand limits the typical human tendency to unwarranted egocentrism, and on the other renders the ability of discerning the inner qualities of sounds more enhanced than the norm. The nine tracks of this very nice CD show exactly that, mixing unconscious responsiveness and concentration in static soundscapes among the most satisfying I've stumbled upon recently, gifted with unpretentiousness and a wealth of harmonic textures despite the almost complete lack of movement or dynamic shifts. Connor used field recordings and regular instruments to expand the borders of his and our perception, which he seems to achieve without excessive effort. Scenarios that unfold consecutively and naturally, like the succession of nights and days. Obvious, and yet surprising, as the changes in the weather: beautiful to observe and, especially, listen to.

JAMIE DROUIN – A Three Month Warm Up

The title refers both to the duration of the groundwork for this effort (consisting of 124 individual field recordings made in an outdoor public square in Victoria – British Columbia, Canada) and the “cacophony of notes played by a symphony during warm up, when a single unified tone emerges out of the various instruments and voices”. I know from direct experiences that a city possesses indeed a monotone harmonic undercurrent whose sampling is possible only from a long distance, with exceptional results. This scribe will never forget - on an August 13 of about 20 years ago – the muffled murmur emitted by a then almost empty Rome (once upon a time people were still able to save some money for vacations) as heard from the hill where he lived at that moment. Drouin captured that kind of permanently lamenting stasis quite effectively by managing to filter out the excessively piercing frequencies and enhance the right ones, necessary for letting that municipal area sing with a wonderfully hoarse voice. This places the recording in close proximity to selected episodes of Thomas Köner’s discography. Not really fresh news - but definitely a satisfying album for lovers of scarce movement, also given its 77-minute length.

COREY FULLER – Seas Between

After reading about the wealth of instruments and treatments Fuller used for this album, and also the fascinating titles of the tracks, I was negatively surprised to find music that might occasionally recall a sedated version of Tim Story (especially when elementary harmonic successions are employed) amidst a rather unimpressive gathering of soft-spoken, or completely still pieces, at times coming dangerously close to sonorities strictly linked to New Age. This refers in particular to the conclusive the title track: a saccharine-drenched, soundtrack-ish atmosphere with a dose of “look-sweetheart-a-star-is-falling” violins - and, needless to say, water all over the place. The only features this reviewer managed to attribute a real value to were the luminously frozen strokes of presentiment characterizing episodes such as “November Skies Tokyo” and Snow Static”, whose naked beauty contribute to save the day at least partially. In consideration of what was just told, Seas Between works pretty fine as a nice complement for the crickets singing tonight around the house, but – artistically speaking – this is not an essential statement, despite the composer’s unquestionable good will and desire to involve.

IAN HAWGOOD – Snow Roads

A collection of aquarelles or, as per the press release’s words, “a demonstration of poetry through image and images turning to sound”. Hawgood is a sonic designer and a high school teacher who lives in Tokyo and London; his music is simple but not one-dimensional, if you get my point. Essentially rooted in the quintessence of contemplative inertia – with few exceptions, and with the contribution of peripheral found sounds – the fourteen tracks of Snow Roads are often appealing and, in general, a refreshing presence enriched by external inputs (Celer, featured on Tingsha bells, being the most renowned). The anal-retentive among us would probably note that there is not too much muscle under the façade, especially from the compositional angle: the pieces are all pretty short and, for the large part, exploiting a single source without concessions to excess of dynamics and harmonic change. Regardless, a definite influence of natural beauty permeates these sketches, making sure that the correspondence between the creator and the receiver is always free of obstacles, an explicit smile with joy in the eyes rather than a serious face implying counterfeit mysteries. Keep this going for a while at medium-to-low volume in the early morning and various layers of graciousness to your ears will be revealed.


Two separate ways of conceiving the alteration of the perception of space in relation to sounds that start as normal but, once processed, become a completely dissimilar source of sensations and aural/psychological fulfilment. This is what transpires from +Room-Room, the soundtrack to a brace of installations situated in adjacent settings at Seattle’s Henry Art Gallery in 2009, of which this recording (published on the Gallery’s own label) captures the fundamental nature. Basically, Novak utilized the higher frequencies whereas Drouin preferred the lower ones; both interpretations of this study are quite engrossing, the former – splendid in its meditative motionlessness and invisibly morphing shapes - recalling an updated version of Charlemagne Palestine’s investigations with oscillators (circa Four Manifestations On Six Elements), the latter generating a gradually expanding huge mantle of finely tuned reverberating murmurs and hums, a hovering cloud that nonetheless leaves plenty of clean air for a different kind of movement, occurring inside the sonic texture and the discerning addressees. Utterly devoid of bells and whistles, anchored to the basic essence of environmental sound, these are brilliantly realized, efficient soundscapes that deserve to be mentioned among the genre’s best releases. An example to follow in terms of acoustic sobriety and artistic earnestness, topping this lot together with Sublamp’s Breathletters.