Gilles Aubry & Stéphane Montavon: les écoutis le caire

les écoutis le caire, the latest release in Gruenrekorder's always captivating Field Recording Series, is a dual project involving a sound composition (premiered on Deutschland Radio in 2009) by Gilles Aubry, a Swiss sound artist currently residing in Berlin, and a poetic text in French by Basel, Switzerland-based Stéphane Montavon. The CD, which arrives housed within a large-format cardboard case with die-cut circles punched out of its cover and blind embossed type on its backside, features two long-form settings (a half-hour and twenty-four minutes, respectively). The opening piece is a half-hour sound portrait of a busy city where public transit systems and blaring car horns jostle for position and crowd into a mix that draws from recordings collected in Cairo at a bathroom, market hall, basilica, courtyard, and parking house. The source materials lose their identifiable character as they blur into a huge, rumbling mass of relentless, hyper-intense activity. It often sounds like what one would expect to hear were a microphone placed at the center of a city's busiest intersection at rush hour and the results amplified to their fullest. Halfway through, the transit-related intensity retreats slightly to allow voices to emerge more clearly—not that there's any lessening of intensity in general terms as surrounding the voices are hydraulic emissions of the kind one might associate with steam machinery. Aubry gradually brings the intensity level down as the piece enters its final minutes and as he does so the individual sounds come into clearer focus, even if only briefly. Track two unspools in a percussive rumble, rather reminiscent of the agitated rattle of an old car engine. Speaking voices and waves of abstract sound keep up a constant, unwavering churn throughout the piece until it too grinds to an abrupt halt. Montavon's contribution to the project is in the form of a large fold-out poster or word-map whose French text is laid out in a spacious, rhythmical manner that reads like a visual counterpart to the sonic pieces. Images and sounds weave through the text to form a word-tapestry that complements Aubry's material—an alternate way, then, to ‘listen' to the city.

May 2010