Angus Carlyle & Rupert Cox: Air Pressure

Roland Etzin: TransMongolian

Air Pressure, a collaboration between anthropologist Rupert Cox and sound artist Angus Carlyle, is as much a book- as sound-based project, given the elaborate textual dimension that accompanies the CD (the project has also been publicly presented as a gallery-installed sound installation and film). Replete with photos, conversation excerpts, blog extracts, and in-depth track details, the booklet is a full-fledged project unto itself that holds up as a stand-alone sans the sound component. The release as a whole testifies to the integrity Gruenrekorder demonstrates in treating its projects with so much attention and care. It's also, due to its content, a field recordings-based project that extends beyond sound documentation into provocative political, ethical, and environmental areas.

Air Pressure deals with the impact of aircraft noise on the daily life of a farm run by Shimamura-San, Fujiko-San, and their two sons and is based on four weeks of field work undertaken by Caryle and Cox in Toho, Japan in 2010 and 2011. The recordings were made at the site of the last farming family (of an estimated 360 that arrived after WWII) to draw their livelihood from the organic production of fruit and vegetables, as well as from products associated with pigs and egg-laying hens. Why the last farming family? Because in 1966 the Japanese Government set about building an airport that eventually opened twelve years later, following bitter clashes between the farmers and developers.

Collisions between the two worlds recur throughout the recording, with the bucolic peacefulness of the one (represented by chirping birds, squealing pigs, clucking chickens, and other farm-related sounds) invaded by the other in the form of overhead planes, whose smothering rumble repeatedly appears in the form of one deafening pass after another. Amidst the sounds of daily farm life, such as the whirr of a tractor and the trudging of footsteps, comes the roar of the planes, often so loud that it obliterates all other sounds. It's hard not to hear its rise as a violation of the orderly rhythms of farm life, especially when fourteen jets land during a twenty-eight-minute period, and it's also hard not to find it depressing when the conversational interactions and food preparations of the family members in the farmhouse kitchen are constantly overshadowed by airplane noise. There's certainly no small amount of contrast between the massive jet and the simple bike that Shimamura-San uses to cycle around the farm to inspect the growing vegetables (as happens in “Wheels on Brown Earth”). The CD ends with “A Soundfilm,” a ten-minute piece that distills hours of material into a kaleidoscopic setting of rapidly shifting impressions.

By comparison, Roland Etzin's TransMongolian is rather straightforward in its presentation of six acoustic portraits of Russia, Mongolia, China, South Korea, and Japan. Little textual detail accompanies the release, making it one to experience almost solely on sonic grounds alone. Also issued as part of Gruenrekorder's Field Recording Series, the fifty-three-minute release, which originally was broadcast on Deutschlandradio Kultur in March of 2012, comes with a lovely little booklet that displays illustrative renderings of landscapes by Katrin Hoedemacker. Etzin, an audio artist and Gruenrekorder co-founder, collected unprocessed field recordings for the project as he made his way through Russia, along Lake Baikal, through Mongolia, China, and South Korea to Japan.

What results is a highly personalized series of contrasting portraits that capture what Etzin deemed to be representative of the locales. A given piece involves many episodes, with each flowing seamlessly into the next. Identifiable sounds, such as hammering and the clatter of a moving train in the Russia portrait, appear alongside parts containing sounds of a more indeterminate nature. The smears and crackle that introduce the Lake Baikal setting appear to be water-derived, though without the clarification provided by the title detail one might be harder pressed to identify the originating sound material, even if the subsequent passages of gurgling and crashing waves make the water connection explicit. The China setting teems with activity both natural and industrial, as voices and engine sounds intermingle, whereas the Mongolia one, dotted with buzzing flies, creaks, and a barking dog, is more sedate and less busy. The South Korea portrait alternates between the violent clatter of machinery and natural sounds of exotic birds and insects; the Japan piece begins with a dizzying swirl of fragmented melodies and voices before moving onto a less frenzied episode of engine thrum, insect chirp, and trudging footsteps. One might best think of TransMongolian as an evocative documentary film for the ears.

November 2012