Jay-Dea López: The Great Silence
Simon Whetham: Un Año Tranquilo
While they're both, of course, field recordings-based projects, 3LEAVES's latest releases offer dramatic studies in contrast. Whetham's seventy-four-minute recording presents a constantly mutating kaleidoscope of natural and man-made sounds, whereas López's piece attempts to indelibly capture one particular context. It must also needs be said, however, that said difference is, as it should be, rooted in the concepts underpinning the respective works.
In Simon Whetham's own words, Un Año Tranquilo aims to present the listener with an aural diary of sorts, with the work a documentation of various locations Whetham visited during a 2012 global tour. As a travelogue, it effectively captures the diversity of experiences any traveler would have during such an adventure. Un Año Tranquilo is also about as collage-like as a field recordings-based recording could possibly be, though purposefully so as it's designed to capture chronologically the locations Whetham visited during that year. A formal list of the countries he visited isn't included, however (the intent being to emphasize the blurring together of experiences wrought by memory), though it appears that Argentina, Mexico, China, Japan, and the United States formed part of the itinerary.
Episodes last for only minutes at a time, sometimes mere seconds, before a transition occurs. Near the outset, a nocturnal mass of crickets and bird species segues into a brief sampling of a folk singer-guitarist's song, which in turn leads into a campfire crackling under stormy skies and multi-layered conversational babble. Over the course of the recording, snippets of traditional Chinese music, Gamelan bells, chanting, and both saloon- and conservatory-styled piano playing surface. Segments of natural and industrial character appear, with Whetham by turns contrasting the heavily populated activity of city life and the purer sounds of natural settings where no human presence save his own attends. Though some of the sounds are by now common fodder for the field recordings genre—buzzing flies, water drizzle, bird chirps, animal grunts, boat creaks, et al.—, the travelogue concept lends Whetham's material a structural coherence that makes Un Año Tranquilo register as something more than a mere patchwork of contrasting sounds.
The focal point of Jay-Dea López's The Great Silence is more precisely The Great Australian Silence, the idea being that when the country was colonized in 1788, “its soundscape was so unfamiliar to the foreign British ear that it was deemed inferior and unworthy”—an attitude that consequently evolved into a characterization of the landscape as silent and a corresponding imperialistic belief that prior to colonization the country lacked a civilization of any significance. López's corrective intent is to re-capture that past in such a way as to present the kind of soundscape the first colonialists would have encountered, one which, needless to say, is anything but silent. A nocturnal recording, The Great Silence thus presents a forty-minute sound portrait of crickets, cicadas, frogs, and fruit-bats that sees their individuating voices coalescing into a vibrant mosaic of natural richness. If ever a field recordings project were meant to be heard in a state of total darkness and at peak volume, it's this one, as doing so will make one feel as if one's been airlifted to Australia and dropped into the very storm-drenched setting those colonialists would have found themselves within hundreds of years ago. As mentioned, López's recording is unlike Whetham's in that the former fixates on a single setting whereas the latter takes the listener on a global excursion. While that makes for a lesser degree of episodic variety in the case of The Great Silence, there's still an ample degree of stimulation on offer—it's just that one must attend more closely in order to notice it. The multi-layered thrum of bird and insect sounds cumulatively present a dazzling web of detail that can't help but be engrossing for the active listener.
On a final note, mention should be made of the presentation of the artists' recordings, with 3LEAVES packaging the CDs in black cases that also house miniature full-colour booklets featuring generous amounts of photos and text. The manner of presentation in this case significantly enhances the impact the recordings make.