Scott Allison and Ben Owen: Untitled (for Agnes Martin)
Lawrence English: Studies For Stradbroke
Lawrence English: Suikinkutsu No Katawara Ni
David Papapostolou: Contrastes (Dispositifs d'écoute / C'est moi qui souligne)
Winds Measure Recordings has established a clear and distinctive aesthetic in its thirty-plus releases. Typically issued in a modest number of copies (somewhere between 150 and 300) and featuring field recordings and experimental minimalism as general focal points, each release's CD is housed within an exquisite letterpressed sleeve designed and printed by Ben Owen (co-designed with David Papapostolou and Scott Allison in the case of their recordings). Textual detail is kept to a minimum, the idea being that the content should speak for itself, even if its meaning remains elusive. In general, one could be forgiven for seeing the label's releases as minimalist art objects as much as conventional recordings.
Owen teams up with Scott Allison for Untitled (For Agnes Martin), a co-release with Senufo Editions that has an interesting connection to Allison's viewing of Martin's painting Garden at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, DC. At first glance, the work's grid of horizontal and vertical lines struck him as cold, but Allison warmed to it after looking more closely and noticing a number of details that revealed the human hand of the artist in the work's construction. Seeing the work as the product of a step-by-step process as opposed to simply a finished piece reminded Allison that the work he had been developing with Owen was also very much about process, the difference being that in their case sound materials—field recordings, radio transmissions, et al.—were the tools used. The five untitled pieces on their thirty-one-minute release grew out of improvisations begun in 2009, with Allison using field recordings, sine waves, and contact mic, and Owen using a speaker with rose pedals, oscillators, radio with FM transmitter, and contact mic to generate the tracks' contents. The listing of source materials offers a pretty good indication of the kind of explorative, slow-motion soundfields that make up the recording in its finished form. Real-world and experimental sounds flow in a subtle and carefully balanced manner throughout Untitled (For Agnes Martin), its creators' focus as much on texture and sound design as linear development.
The first unusual detail one notices about David Papapostolou's Contrastes (Dispositifs d'écoute / C'est moi qui souligne) is that each of its three pieces is precisely thirteen minutes and forty-nine seconds long. The second unusual detail is Papapostolou's dramatic use of silence. “Contraste 1,” for instance, doesn't merely separate its sound passages with pauses; instead, veritable blocks of silence interrupt the sequences. Constant dropouts appear—one ten seconds long, another two minutes—to offset material of two contrasting kinds, the first a field recording wherein hammering, scraping, bird chirps, traffic noise, and a distant siren emerge and the second a single-pitched sine tone (the contrasts between the two are exacerbated by the industrial-sounding reverb with which the field recording elements are covered). Text provided by Papapostolou clarifies that the recording has to do with issues of authorship; in his own words, “Although the listening experience is mediated by a sound environment and pre-existing conditions beyond my control, it is clear that adding those particular sounds to an existing environment is a pre-determined situation set out by myself.” As it turns out, the splitting up of the recording into three equal sections is rendered moot when the sound design of the first piece continues on without interruption into the second, a move that ultimately turns Contrastes into a single, forty-one-minute setting that fluctuates between the three distinct sound passages.
Room40 helmsman Lawrence English is in pure field recordings mode for his two Winds Measure contributions, the first one forty-eight minutes of site-specific settings recorded in Japan and Australia between 2003 and 2011 and the second a collection of hydrophonic recordings captured at Stradbroke Island, Queensland during 2007. English resists the urge to doctor the field recordings or dress them up with extraneous elements, preferring instead to leave them in their natural form; certainly there's more than enough aural stimulation present to keep the attentive listener engaged and immersed without superfluities being added. Suikinkutsu No Katawara Ni includes no shortage of bird- and insect-related sounds (the shimmering black hawk, raven, and cicada among those featured) in its nine pieces, but they're hardly the only sounds featured. An active urban setting, for example, is conjured during “Bamboo Shinjuku” when traffic whooshes and industrial clatter mingle with speaking voices and bird cawing. English captures the music contained within (some might say hidden within) everyday sounds in “Taima Bells” when bird chirps and clanging noises create a gamelan-like rhythmic flow, the faint punctuation of a distant bell the only additional sound. A similar gamelan-like effect emerges during “Slowly Turns Blue,” in this case the content reduced almost entirely to a dancing percussive rhythm generated from an unidentified source (though it sounds like it could be amplified water droplets, it's impossible to tell for sure).
As a collection of hydrophonic recordings, the thirty-seven-minute Studies For Stradbroke naturally shifts the focus to water-related sounds of varying kinds, whether it be microsound burble and strangulated swirls (“Slide (Open)” and “Slide (Close)”) or insistent engine thrum (“Terminal Motor”). When lifted out of their originating contexts, natural sounds can assume a rather alien form, and that's sometimes the case here. “Intercepted Communications,” for instance, could easily pass for the crackle of a campfire, while “Rock Walls” at times suggests insectile noisemaking heard at an amplified level. Though English's is hardly the first water-based recording to surface within the field recordings genre, it features a generous number of stimulating sounds. Even so, Suikinkutsu No Katawara Ni offers more variety in its sound design and thus makes it the more satisfying release of the two.