Monday, 27 August 2012

a few recent reviews on 'the field reporter' blog:

Rio Douro / Douro River, Vol 2. VIRGILIO OLIVEIRA
(Green Field  2012)
Review by Cheryl Tipp
Earlier in the year I reviewed Virgilio Oliveira’s first compilation of field recordings made along the Rio Douro. This collection of 13 recordings took in the sounds of the river itself as well as the surrounding environs to create a sonic overview of his journey alongside this Portuguese waterway.
A different approach has been taken with Rio Douro Vol 2. Recordings have been gently mixed to create a flowing composition that gradually shifts from one sound source to the next. Again, variation is at the heart of this publication. The Rio Douro is not always sonically apparent, yet all recordings, whether environmental or not, are linked in some way to the river. Water does of course play its part, but these sections are counterbalanced with others that feature subjects such as singing, music, snippets of conversation and much more.
The pace of this second volume seems that much slower than its predecessor; this probably reflects the fact that recordings were made during the winter months of 2012. Life alongside the river seems to be in a state of semi-dormancy; things are still happening but at a much slower tempo than was encountered during the previous recording expedition over the summer of 2010. When comparing the two publications, the lack of wildlife in volume 2 is starkly evident. With volume 1, insects and birds create a continual thread that runs throughout the compilation, yet their absence is keenly felt here. This void reinforces a feeling of latency, of a torpid environment patiently waiting for its revival at the first signs of spring.
At just under 20 minutes in length, Rio Douro Vol 2 comes to a close far too quickly. I for one could easily have listened to more. This is not a criticism though. In many ways, this composition is perfect the way it is; the piece is just long enough to facilitate a good number of varied field recordings yet never becomes boring or repetitive. Thus, being left wanting more can only be taken as a compliment and reflects Oliveira’s competence as both a field recordist and an artist.
With two volumes of related field recordings under his belt, I wonder whether we will see further compilations or compositions from Oliveira that have their roots in the Rio Douro. I really hope we do as these two forays into the many soundscapes of this river have definitely left me hooked.

Sceneries from the Castellated Wall. YASUHIRO MORINAGA
(Galverna 2012)
Using words to describe sound can often be anathema to the emotional experience of listening, our reactions to sound existing beyond the mental processes used by our everyday lexicon. This fact is clear when listening to “Sceneries from the Castellated Wall”, a sonic tribute to imagined landscapes and time by Japanese sound designer Yasuhiro Morinaga. Implementing field recordings from the streets of Ireland and Sicily’s Ear of Dionysius Morinaga effectively uses sound to build territories both real and mythological, from the past and present, in what could be considered one of the most intriguing releases of 2012.
“For La Donnaccia”, the first of three tracks, is Morinaga’s homage to a little known film of the same name by Silvio Siano. The film, set in a village suspended in air, is ripe for sonic exploration. A faint ethereal drone is juxtaposed with the quiet rural sounds of cowbells, birds, sheep and cattle, allowing the listener’s imagination to run free. Morinaga’s village is as serene as the air in which it floats, an Arcadian scene that is difficult to leave behind. The deceptively simple use of field recordings in this track illustrate the power of sound in creating imaginative landscapes in which we might all wish to reside. To Morinaga’s credit his composition complements Siano’s film without foregoing his own aesthetic.
“Parade”, the second and longest track, moves to a more concrete world. By modifying field recordings taken in Londonderry Morinaga constructs an imagined landscape from the sounds of this real city. Smooth waves of processed sounds create an atmosphere reminiscent of a city late at night, the streets desolate and thick with fog. As the track nears its end recordings of birds and a female voice briefly appear, bringing a more ambient edge to the soundscape. This section serves as a bridge to the more electronic beats which bring the track to a close.
The final track, “Ear of Dionysius”, uses various techniques of sound design to present a moment Morinaga experienced within this natural acoustic chamber. The Ear of Dionysius, a limestone cave on the island of Sicily, is shaped in the form of a human ear. The acoustics in its space are said to be so acute that political dissidents were held there under the reign of Dionysius I (432-367 BC) in order to monitor their whispered conspiracies. The acoustics were also said to carry the screams of the tortured prisoners throughout the cave. Enveloped in these ancient stories Morinaga’s choice of subject neatly fits within his exploration of real and mythological spaces, bringing “Sceneries from a Castellated Wall” to a perfect end.

There is something romantic and whimsical about “Sceneries from the Castellated Wall”, yet the mastery of Morinaga’s work is completely solid. At no point does the tension of each composition waver. Morinaga’s background in film has honed his skills in projecting images through sound, an admirable feat and one that has set a precedent to future sound designers. “Sceneries from the Castellated Wall” is the second official release from the new Galaverna catalogue, a valuable addition to the world of field recording and sound design.

The Darkness and the light. SETH COOKE
(Compost and Height 2012)
For ‘The darkness and the light’ British artist Seth Cooke captured recordings on Leed’s underground parkin lot ‘The Light’, and on ‘Dark Arches’ a stretch of brick-walled tunnels beneath Leeds train station. It’s possible, after reading the liner notes and listening to the piece, that for ‘The Light’ he played a sinusoidal wave in site that will appear on the recordings as part of the environment. On ‘Dark Arches’ he recorded the tunnel while it rained on a Monday morning.
An interesting fact is that, due the hour and wheather circumstances, no cars moving where recorded on the parking lot and no trains moving where recorded on the train station. This fact probably gave to the work a complete different outcome and again, sometimes being left to the derive and the surprise is a big poetic part in the artistic documental process.
‘The light’ is a strong piece in terms of the tensions that arise through the 31 minutes. The idea of making the ‘montage’ on site on real time by playing a sinusoidal wave on location pays off as a rare and beautiful sense of environment is established merging the incidental with the action. The listener’s potential tendency of converting ‘noise’ into some sort of pleasant soothing ‘lullaby’ is dealt with here with big success: the lullaby is already there instrumented through the sinusoidal wave allowing for the incidental sounds to retain their exogenic and external environmental character. Through the beginning of the last third of the piece the listener can notice the presence of some sort of rising drone that strongly affects the piece’s tension and structure. Cooke wrote that the origin of this rising ‘drone’ is unknown. The loud grave sound after a few minutes acquires this lullaby-like character turning into a soothing sound that finally fades away.
“The dark arches”, the second piece, presents a more uneven structure as the rain seems to have moments of more and less pouring intensity. A detail that I find quite interesting in this piece is the eventual sound of water dripping recurrently appearing; these are the only times on this work where the ‘detail’ is formally dealt with. Through the end of this second piece the dripping water is left alone while ‘silence’ and quietness surounds it. This is a very intimate moment that brilliantly closes the release.
Another fact that I would like to point out is that sometimes we can hear a ‘breathing’ sound through different segments of the work. Is it Cooke? I’d say it’s very possible that is him; now I ask why? Why the sounds of the artist breathing are there? Was it accidental? Really doubt it. Was in on purpose? Probably. For me as a listener and reviewer, this breathing sounds establish an observer in location: is not only the sinusoidal waves or the rain but it’s Cooke there recording and being there making it all to happen.

From the overwhelming sounds of parking lots drones and pouring water to the detailed, intimate and textured sounds of leaking water ‘The darkness and the light’ is a very effective release in terms of the emotional content that can be found on location sounds when an additional element is added into the scene, in this case the rain, the sine waves and him Cooke, breathing reminding us that without an observer there is no subject.

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