Fonogram: Fonogram
The Land Of

Fonogram is the self-titled debut full-length from Vicente García Landa under the Fonogram alias, though the Mexico City-based audio-visual artist and experimental musician has also issued material in partnership with Matias Bieniaszewski under the One Second Bridge name (a self-titled album on City Centre Offices in 2006 and EP + Remixes on Symbolic Interaction in 2010). Designed to capture Landa's subjective experience, Fonogram's dozen tracks were inspired by particular places and times, and, appropriately, each piece feels like it's a distinct part of an overall puzzle. It's a noticeably wide-ranging collection, stylistically speaking, with post-rock vignettes, miniature ambient soundscapes, field recordings-based settings, and vocal-based pop songs (“Come One, Vamos” could even be called unplugged shoegaze) all rubbing shoulders during the album's fifty-minute running time.

That diversity is clearly captured in the album's opening three songs: conceived as a hypothetical soundtrack for a science fiction story and inspired by the films of Andrei Tarkovsky (Stalker et al.), “Cruz del Sur” is a shimmering overture that's grandiose despite its brevity. Sounding rather like a work-in-progress song still in search of a chorus, the sonically poppier “Victory Days” could pass for a New Order demo, what with its acoustic guitar strums, bass playing, and Bernard Sumner-like vocals. Then, in the field recordings-based “5 X 5 (One Second Bridge Reprise),” fragments and flickerings of guitar and bass almost disappear under a smothering mass of percussive noises, nature sounds, and public address announcements. Landa's also clearly one for contrast, so much so that in a number of cases an individual song undergoes a change of character within the span of the song itself: in “Nubes 1 & 2,” a vaporous first half of ambient soundscaping morphs into a hard-hitting post-rock exercise, whereas “Light & Dark” segues from a delicate, string-based ambient dreamscape into a more forceful instrumental post-rock treatment. Field recordings play a significant role in other pieces, such as “Invisible City,” a soundscape where the high-pitched squeal of a train and the ringing bell of a bicycle swim within an opaque, rumbling mass. In addition, night-time insect chirps, distant traffic and dog barking sounds, and treated electric guitar shadings evoke the desolate character of a vast open space during the peaceful quietude of “Andrea 2.”

Fonogram is, of course, a homonym of phonogram, a term that stands for a speech sound (e.g., a syllable) or sequence of speech sounds without reference to meaning—an interesting detail for the simple reason that Landa's sounds clearly do have meaning, specifically very personalized meanings for him. When distilled into the more abstract medium of the recording, such sounds do, of course, become amenable to the myriad meanings each and every listener brings to his/her listening experience, a fact that makes the choice of moniker and album title all the more apropos.

September 2011