Autistici: Beneath Peaks

In a field of music where the soundscape artist is increasingly challenged to find ways to distinguish his or her work from others, Sheffield, UK-based sound designer and Audiobulb overseer David Newman manages to do exactly that on this debut outing for the Hibernate label, specifically by striking a careful balance between musique concrète and conventional compositional form. That is, a given piece on Beneath Peaks might weave harmonic and melodic patterns into an accessible (if detail-intensive) structure, but it also does so by integrating within it real-world sound sources that largely retain their natural character. In this case, those natural sounds come from the ancient countryside of the Peak District in the United Kingdom where Newman collected them during hiking and camping explorations through the region's pathways, caves, and rock formations. Though Beneath Peaks draws heavily upon this mini-library of nature-derived material, Newman strikes that aforesaid balance by weaving instrument sounds of piano, guitar, synthesizers and electronics into the eleven settings.

Right away Newman situates us within a nature environment when “Asleep Beneath Nests” presents us with a dense stream of bird calls and animal grunts (and, later, the sound of a snoring Newman asleep in a tent at the Fieldhead campsite). But the sounds aren't randomly distributed; instead, Newman arranges those source elements so that a lulling rhythm establishes itself, and what might in another's hands have been a field recordings-based portrait instead becomes in Newman's a formal composition. His penchant for leaving sampled sounds in their natural form is evidenced perhaps most conspicuously during “Mam Tor Soarers' Workshop” when the literal sound of someone hammering appears alongside the tiny sputter of electronic squiggles and tones.

In amongst an ambient-drone setting such as “Mulgrave's Dining Room,” which sparkles with an irrepressible, clandestine glow, are pieces that lend Beneath Peaks a satisfying multi-dimensionality: “Edge Over Millstone View” receives an additional textural boost from the contributions of guitarist Erik Schoster to the shimmering ambient-dronescape, while the piano-centric opening of “Aidele” could be read as an overt homage to Eno's Music For Airports, specifically the Robert Wyatt-Eno collab with which the recording begins, even if Newman gradually blurs the connection between the two pieces when his piano morphs into liquidy thrum that's repeatedly accented by a recurring whoosh (traffic noise perhaps?). “Padley Gorge” calls to mind a setting filled with wide expanses overhead and rocky terrain below, such that one can picture the scene even if one has never visited the site; in that regard, the cover photograph, taken by Newman, functions effectively as a visual correlate to the musical material on this finely crafted collection.

October 2012