Federico Durand: El Estanque Esmeralda
Federico Durand's El Estanque Esmeralda (The Emerald Pond) perpetuates the warm, organic soundsculpting style the Buenos Aires, Argentina-based sound artist has explored in previous releases on Home Normal, Own Records, and Desire Path Recordings. As before, field recordings figure prominently within the album's eight settings, though so too do sounds sourced from acoustic guitar and cassette tapes.
In text accompanying the release, Durand offers contextual background for the recording that's undeniably Proustian in character, though in Durand's case it's flowers within an ornamental pond viewed from a cafe at the Museum of Decorative Arts in Buenos Aires that triggers a childhood memory as opposed to the ingesting of tea and a madelaine that resurrects the world of Combray for the narrator of Proust's great novel. For Durand, the cafe setting transports him back to an emerald pond he visited in his country's southern mountains with his grandparents, the blurry memory of which came to serve as the inspiration for El Estanque Esmeralda. In keeping with the innocent and wistful tone of this remembrance, Durand chose to keep the music simple, despite the fact that a number of different instruments were involved in its creation.
Bell tones and tinklings in the opening piece “Clavel” immediately conjure the image of a warm country setting unspoiled by humanity, a vision reinforced in the subsequent “La linterna magica” in its presentation of hazy melodies and general mood of peaceful languor. As the forty-minute album advances, the listener comes to feel more and more as if a magical setting far removed from the violence and darkness of the ‘real' world has been accessed. Within the serene space, time stands still and the stressors of daily life fall to the wayside as one attends to the nocturnal whirr of insects and surrenders to the vaporous swirl of softly whistling tones. While there's not a weak setting in the bunch, “Iris, la nina invisible” stands out as a particularly lovely and soul-soothing moment on the album. One leaves El Estanque Esmeralda wishing that Durand's earthly paradise were not something that existed in memory only.
Durand's other new release, Saudades, finds him collaborating with Tomoyoshi Date (Optiope and Illuha) under the Melodia name. Though the album was previously issued on Own Records as a vinyl-only release, the CD version supplements the original five tracks, which were created in 2012 when the two did a European tour together, with four new pieces recorded in early 2014.
Whereas no instrumentation details are provided with El Estanque Esmeralda, Saudades credits Durand with guitar, bell, field recordings, cassettes, and electronics and Date with guitar, zither, trumpet, piano, and pump organ, among other things. Any listener familiar with the individual output of the artists involved might expect that the music the two create will be relaxed and intimate in character, and the expectation turns out to be well-founded. Though Saudades' sound-world is less hermetic than El Estanque Esmeralda's, an aura of peacefulness still permeates the album's nine settings, and field recordings, acoustic guitar, tinkling bells, and electronics meld together to form settings rich with detail. And whatever the differences between the albums, some pieces on the Melodia disc (“An Old Photo of Our Family” and “Memories While Walking in the Sunlight and Leaves” two such examples) wouldn't sound out of place on Durand's. At the same time, other tracks, such as “Music Box for Nils and Noe,” put a greater degree of instrumental distance between the recordings.
Many of the field recording sounds will be familiar to those conversant with the electroacoustic genre within which Melodia operates, among them bird chirps, crashing waves, footsteps, children's voices, and traffic noise, though that isn't so objectionable that it threatens to undermine the project; certainly Durand and Date show themselves to be as deft in their soundsculpting abilities as anyone else working within the genre field. Though Saudades includes tracks that are modest in duration (the minute-long “Prelude”) and others that are longer (the ten-minute “The Rise of Early Morning”), all nine are crafted with evident care and an attention to fine detail, and despite the fact that the two sets of tracks were produced two years apart, the listener comes away from the album with an impression of it as a unified whole.