Giesela: Schwarz
Two Lines

Yoshio Machida: Hypernatural #3

Lasse-Marc Riek: Islands
Oem Records

Simon Whetham: Landlocked

Issued in small runs of fifty to one hundred copies, Landlocked, Islands, and Schwarz are three EPs (two of them field recording-based) by Lasse-Marc Riek (under his real name and the Giesela alias) and Simon Whetham. That the latter's release is dominated by water sounds isn't in itself so unusual but it is when one discovers that the material comes from recordings Whetham made during a 2006 visit to Mongolia, an arid country that, caught between Russia to the North and China to the south, is completely landlocked. The EP, part of Gruenrekorder's Field Recording Series, presents a twenty-three-minute episodic piece that moves from pure water sounds to percussive episodes (created by droplets striking a metal windowsill) and from micro-sound passages to ones where water barrels forth with crushing force (sound sources include the holy spring in Dulaanhaan, water run-off at a Ulan Bataar power station, and ice floes). The submersive Landlocked offers an interesting, almost diametric contrast to Whetham's 2006 Ascension_Suspension EP where cable cars in the French Alps provided sound material.

Like Landlocked, Lasse-Marc Riek's Islands begins with water sounds, though in this case augmented by birds and numerous other noises. Based on field materials the Gruenrekorder co-founder and Frankfurt am Main resident recorded at the islands Amrum and Poel in Germany, the thirty-four-minute collection presents ten settings that succeed in heightening the listener's sensitivity to natural sound, whether it's the violent flap of a duck's wing or the deep-throated moo of an Aberdeen Angus, the changing percussive patterns a wooden flagpole produces when wind picks up and then dies down, or the polyphonic whistle generated by migrating birds.

Hypernatural #3 is in many ways a natural complement to Islands. The concluding part of sound artist (and Steel Pan player) Machida's electroacoustic trilogy, Hypernatural #3 departs from the thematic foci of volumes one (“memory in Eastern Asia”) and two (“transparent existence”) by taking “oblivion” as its theme. This is oblivion approached not as annihilation but as a natural phenomenon that concerns the ongoing transformation of all things, hence the material's shared focus on human and natural phenomena. The eight pieces strike contrasting balances between musical and field elements: in some cases the former are strongly present, in others the latter dominate, and in some Machida combines field recordings and treated instrument sounds. The musical potential of a natural element is exploited in “Silhouette” where wind tones form a natural backdrop to the ambient setting's muffled tones. In the more naturalistic “Scene05: Bubbles,” the distant sound of Buddhist chanting is juxtaposed to a machine's engine rattle, bird chirps, and muffled voices. In “Camouflage,” on the other hand, taped conversations are so squelched by distortion and interference the voices sometimes resemble the wailing cry of an elephant, while “Ocean of Memory” assumes the form of a jaunty whirligig that dances through a shredding pool of crackle and dust (strangely, that same whirligig later re-emerges alongside crashing waves and gurgling water in “Scene27: Symphony”) and, over the course of the piece's nine-minute duration, scatters into prismatic flickers.

Composed and recorded by Riek under the Giesela name, Schwarz is a different animal altogether. Given titles like “Altocumulus” and “Nimbostratus,” one anticipates an EP of vaporous ambient material but instead gets five pieces of slightly more varying character, even if two do conform to that template: “Nimbostratus,” a streaming mass of billowing howl, and “Stratocumulus,” where what sounds like the faint tinkle of a harpsichord can be glimpsed within the blurry cloud. The other tracks noticeably depart from that style, however: following a quiet intro of distant rumbles and indoor creaks and footsteps, “Altocumulus” explodes into an agitated mass of percussive rattles, knocks, and thuds; “Cumulonimbus” plunges the listener into a nightmarish soundscape; and “Altostratus” closes the thirty-three-minute EP with an eight-minute organ drone.

August 2008