Sunday, 22 June 2008

new release of note: Annea Lockwood - 'Sound map of the Danube river'

Annea Lockwood - 'Sound map of the Danube river' (Lovely music 3-cd set)

I'm not a critic, despite the fact that I have written about music / sound for various publications over the years. The reason I don't consider myself a 'critic' in the usual sense of the word is that I long ago lost the will to rate other people's music in terms of comparison or by judging their work as if it should have been created for 'us'. I say all of this due to the fact that I have read a few comments about this release from Annea that seem to forget that it must be listened to as being her work & appraised as such.

I could of course listen to this 3 cd set & quite easily comment on areas of this vast river that Annea hasn't explored, methods she has avoided. I could ponder on what another artist with a different approach might have produced & I can think about the sounds of rivers that I enjoy capturing myself. However this release is, simply, the set that Annea wanted to release and all that matters for the listener is whether it offers something to them. It does of course, but only if one allows it to be what it is. It is a sound map, as the title says. Listening to it in one sitting gradually gives one the sense of a journey, of Annea taking these trips and wanting to express that experience.

Personally, I find the interviews (in sound at least) distracting at times. I would have liked to be able to choose to skip these but as they are embedded in the soundscapes that isn't possible. However that is my own wish to listen to the 'music' of the river on it's own but Annea clearly wanted to produce a document that had other elements.

Many of the most successful sections are the simple bank-side recordings of the river itself, recorded above the water. Her work with hydrophones provides for a different perspective although I do think that this is an area currently expanding in such an exciting way that the conventional sounds on display here have slightly less power to evoke a sense of place. That said there are some fascinating sections such as 'Bajkal' & 'Immendingen'.

I first came across Annea Lockwood's work when the company I used to run bought up the remaining vinyl from the Scottish Tangent label (long deleted catalogue featuring mainly field recordings of Scottish traditional music & song). The label released Annea's ground breaking 'The Glass world of Anna Lockwood' - a record made from sounds of glass - both distinctly musical (glass harmonica etc) & percussive. Since then Annea has released many experimental works on labels such as Lovely music, XI, CRI, Harmonia Mundi etc.

Back in 1989 the first 'sound map' release was issued: 'Sound map of the Hudson river' (Lovely music):

'An aural journey from the source of the river, in the high peak area of the Adirondacks, downstream to the Lower Bay and the Atlantic Ocean; Lockwood traces the course of the Hudson through on-site recordings of its flow at 15 separate locations. Annea Lockwood has recorded rivers in many countries to explore the special state of mind and body which the sounds of moving water create when one listens intently to the complex mesh of rhythms and pitches. The listener will find that each stretch of the Hudson has its own sonic texture, formed by the terrain, varying according to the weather, the season and downstream, the human environment whose sounds are intimately woven into the river's sounds. 71 minutes 33 seconds' (from the Lovely music website)

This 3-cd set 'Sound map of the Danube river' continues the series with an in-depth package of sounds gathered in & around the river as it stretches from the Black forest to the Black sea.

Releases of purely 'natural sounds' (though this set also includes 13 short interviews with people whose daily lives are connected to the river) often end up firmly in the new age camp - Annea's approach however places the results firmly on a more substantial and respectful footing. It is what it says on the tin - a sound map. A substantial release and one that manages to avoid many of the pitfalls of this kind of aural documentary.

As I said at the start of this post it's easy to ponder what other recordists would have produced, perhaps gathering more evocative, less literal sounds, but as far as an example of Annea's work in this area this is as good as it gets. A well produced, interesting and pleasurable listen !

Annea Lockwood (taken from the Lovely music website): 'Between the winter of 2001 and the summer of 2004, I made five field-recording trips, moving slowly down the Danube from the sources in the Black Forest through Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria and Romania to the great delta on the Black Sea, recording the river’s sounds (at the surface and underwater), aquatic insects, and the various inhabitants of its banks. At 2880 km. (1785 miles) the Danube is Europe’s second longest river and one of its most historically significant, having long been a trade and cultural conduit between east and west. Its drainage basin encompasses much of Central Europe and it has carved out deep gorges dividing the southern arm of the Carpathians from the Balkan Mountains.

I recorded from the banks, finding a great variety of water sounds as the gradient and bank materials changed, often feeling that I was hearing the process of geological change in real time. Towards the end of the final field trip, while listening to small waves slap into a rounded overhang the river had carved in a mud bank in Rasova, Romania (CD 3 track 2), I realised that the river has agency; it composes itself, shaping its sounds by the way it sculpts its banks.

Along the way I spoke with people for whom the Danube is a central influence on their lives, an integral part of their identity, asking them “What does the river mean to you? Could you live without it?” They responded in their native languages and dialects, their voices woven into the river’s sounds, placed as close to the location where I met them as possible. “What is a river?” was the question underlying the whole project for me.

Many people helped with every aspect of the project at every stage, and I am deeply grateful for their generosity and interest. The installation, A Sound Map of the Danube, was completed in 2005 and first presented during the Donau Festival in Krems, Austria. It was mixed in 5.1 surround sound with audio engineer Paul Geluso at Harvestworks Digital Media Arts in New York, and this version was re-mixed in stereo in 2008'

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