Roland Etzin: Sonic Drawings

As both a listener and reviewer, I'm grateful when a release comes with a generous amount of background detail, but I'm also charmed by those that don't. In the latter case, the absence of information grants the listener greater speculative room regarding a recording's origins and production, and generally the enigmatic character of a release is enhanced by leaving some degree of mystery in place. A case in point is Roland Etzin's Sonic Drawings, which has been appropriately issued on Gruenrekorder, the German label Etzin co-founded with Lasse-Marc Riek, as part of its Sound Art Series.

A note on the release's inner sleeve does provide some clarification: “Found sounds: Italy, Ireland, Germany; Using several kinds of microphones, analog & digital machines, and self-built instruments.” Ranging in duration from two to thirty-six minutes, the four engrossing sound collages are designed, in part, to re-sensitize the listener to the musical richness of real-world sounds and those sourced from electrical devices. Though Etzin largely works with field recordings, the new material emphasizes electronic elements to a larger degree than might be expected given his previous output; that in itself is no bad thing, as the soundworlds featured on the release are all the richer for it.

Someone has a rather hard time getting a rickety old machine to cooperate in the opening “Wand,” its sputter and groan providing a brief entry-point for the fifty-minute collection. The recording's electronic dimension then advances to the fore during “Vinschgau,” though the grind of the swollen synth drone is gradually joined by a myriad of field-recorded sounds: cowbells, crowd chatter, industrial noise, tolling church bells, and the like. It's a sound collage in the truest sense, and at ten minutes a substantial amount of sonic ground is covered.

Electronic elements also figure prominently in “Wasser” (though water does also), but at thirty-six minutes it's “Garten” that naturally casts the largest shadow. In bringing so many disparate sounds into a shared space, the piece exudes a character similar to “Revolution 9,” especially when the mix broadens to encompass electronic, vocal, real-world, and instrument details, and those familiar with Etzin's earlier productions might be surprised to hear the collagist both threading electronic rhythms into the setting's fabric and venturing into space ambient territory. Episodes of soothing calm alternate with moments of intense activity, and “Garten” smoothly segues between sequences featuring pure electronics, ones dominated by field recordings, and still others where all of the sound dimensions in play are called upon. It's a remarkable accomplishment, something of which Etzin should be justifiably proud, and the variety and stimulation sustained throughout the work is impressive.

September 2016