Budhaditya Chattopadhyay: Landscape in Metamorphoses

Feu Follet: Paradis Paysan

Say the word “Gruenrekorder” and field recordings come to mind. In that regard, Budhaditya Chattopadhyay's Landscape in Metamorphoses—in essence, field recordings of India—is perfectly in keeping with the label's reputation. Paradis Paysan, on the other hand, a recording by Tobias Fischer under the Feu Follet guise, surprises by being less a pure field outing and instead more of an ambient work.

The Landscape in Metamorphoses title is pointedly chosen, as Chattopadhyay's twenty-six-minute “phonographic” documentary was recorded in early 2007at Tumbani, a landscape undergoing transformation from a green pasture into an industrial belt along the Bengal-Bihar border. The area undergoing change was inhabited by a tribal population whose long-standing natural lifestyle (land cultivation, hunting) found itself subjected to rapid industrial change when the locale's stone resources were discovered and then used to establish cement and concrete industries. Consequently, the rich tapestry of village life heard at the beginning—voices of adults and children, the caw of roosters and snort of pigs—is slowly supplanted by an impersonal industrial ambiance—sounds of building and hammering and rapidly churning machinery—that reduces the bustle of the original community life to a mere memory. During the closing minutes, the community's multitude of voices and chanting returns, indicative perhaps of a community spirit that can't be obliterated by industrial “progress.” In this case, Chattopadhyay's work distinguishes itself from an hypothetically “pure” field recording by its strongly delineated narrative trajectory.

Fischer's Feu Follet recording lists five track titles on the sleeve but presents itself as a continuous thirty-nine-minute piece. The explanation? Fischer intended Paradis Paysan to be a collection of short, interrelated pieces but when he submitted the promo to Gruenrekorder he inadvertently presented the tracks as one piece—serendipitously it turns out, as the final product is best heard as a single, fluid composition comprised of several scenes, rather than separable and interchangeable units. Conceptually driving the work is Fischer's disenchantment with city centres such as Frankfurt and Berlin and his concomitant attraction to the calm and comfort afforded by visits to the countryside. Not surprisingly, then, the recording migrates from the busy traffic sounds (cars racing past, honking) that initially dominate to a progressively more tranquil and “pure” sound design that's cleansed of its machine-like qualities. As traffic noises slowly recede, the soft synth tones that have also been sounding placidly grow more audible until they're supplanted by the flute-like exhalations of a church organ at the ten-minute mark and then crackling noises (a fireplace perhaps?). The piece subsequently oscillates between the two poles with both industrial rhythms and sparkling tones emerging during the minutes following but, in essence, Paradis Paysan grows ever more delicate as it advances towards its conclusion. Liquid pools of shimmer and spectral flourishes relaxedly intermingle but the most appealing part arrives during the last quarter when the gentle tones of the church organ, slathered in nocturnal forest chatter, return. Fischer's sensitive handling of the piece's contents and his careful execution of its transitions help make this episodic work a captivating travelogue.

November 2008