Ákos Garai: Barges & Flows

Simon Whetham: Connection

Two dramatically different approaches to field recordings-based soundsculpting are captured on these CD-R releases from the 3LEAVES imprint (both available in 100-copy totals and presented in the attractive Arigato format): the “purer” one of the two, Barges & Flows, is by label overseer Ákos Garai, and the second, Simon Whetham's Connection, weaves its field recording elements into a striking long-form composition of arresting musical character.

Garai's unprocessed field recordings document sounds collected along the Danube River during the autumn of 2010 in Budapest, Hungary. His recording immediately corrects any thought that there might be little sonic activity in play during even the earliest hours of the day, as the air is filled with the rhythmic creak and groan of moored ships rocking against the docks and water splashing against the heaving vessels' sides. The scrapes and groans of the ships at times seem almost violent as they convey the immense weight of the boats. Burbling water, garbled voices, and the hum and clatter of nearby traffic intermingle to form detailed sound paintings that bring the locale to life in aural form, and lest anyone doubt the musical dimension of such source material, the eight minutes of to-and-fro creaks heard during “U-10134-30” suggest nothing less than the primitive, high-pitched sawing of a novice cello player. A comprehensive portrait of the geographical area emerges over the course of the recording's forty-four minutes, with the six tracks documenting different settings along the river. Some areas appear congested with people, ships, and traffic noises, while others seem almost devoid of human activity altogether, the primary sound the rusty song of a single ship. As one listens to Barges & Flows, a clear contrast comes into focus (during the closing piece most directly in its pairing of bridge-related noises and splashing water) as the recording spotlights both the industrial sounds associated with human production and activity and the unadulterated nature sounds that exist in a realm unto themselves and do so regardless of whether humans are present or not.

Whetham's Connection, which draws upon sounds collected during a visit to Prague, effectively documents the artful way in which the producer weaves materials into a grand compositional design. Listening to the thirty-nine-minute piece, the image forms of Whetham reviewing and then selecting from the materials at hand, and then sequencing and arranging them into a piece that satisfies as both a field recordings-based work and as a musical composition that just happens to include within it a predominant number of real-world samples—in short, Connection presents Whetham as more full-fledged composer than sound diarist intent on capturing a literal transcription of a geographical locale, a difference that becomes all the more evident as the work escalates in intensity during its final five minutes. After a rather unassuming setting of low-level clinks and emissions initiates the piece, the material gradually grows in detail and stature via the gradual accumulation of natural, industrial, and interspersed musical sounds. Episodes quickly follow one after the other, with the listener exposed to an understated flow of whooshing winds, electrical tones, mechanical train noises, bird chirps, and industrial rumble with moments of silence occasionally providing rest stops. Though there are moments when associative aspects of the city appear (bell sounds, for example), the final result is less a specific portrait of Prague and more one that alludes to it by severing literal ties to the city through the creative manipulation of the source materials. That the recording is less literally an evocation of Prague doesn't make it less satisfying, however, as loosening that bond allows the piece to be experienced as a more open-ended work that can be experienced at the level of pure sound.

June 2011