Francisco López & Lawrence English: HB

Symbiosis Orchestra: Live Journeys

Fifty-three minutes of evocative field recordings and musique concrète “mutations,” HB is pretty much what you might expect from a collaboration between electronic provocateurs Francisco López and Brisbane, Australia-based Lawrence English. More precisely, the sound artists each contributed a field recording and then composed a new piece using the other's field recording as raw material.

Close your eyes while listening to López's “Untitled #175” and you could easily imagine yourself at an aviary on a hot summer day (interestingly enough, liner notes report that at López concerts the audience is often blindfolded). Originally recorded at Villablanca (San Ramón, Costa Rica) in October 2001, the piece is essentially an uninterrupted, sixteen-minute flow of soft ambient noise, faint bird chirps, hog-like snuffling sounds, and insect buzzing. “Pattern Review by Motion,” English's “mutation” of “Untitled #175,” opens as quietly as the original but is soon drenched by a wave of noise; surprisingly, though, English opts to rein in the intensity and returns the piece to a state of microsound calm before transplanting it to a jungle filled with piercing bird cries, animal chatter, and low-level industrial churning.

Recorded in Samford Valley in 2006, English's “Wire Fence Upon Opening” is as subdued as López's field recording and isn't dissimilar in content either. Again faint outdoor noises, rustles, and bird chatter abound with an occasional rumble disrupting the quietude. “Untitled #204,” López's “mutation” of “Wire Fence Upon Opening,” evokes a rain forest of amplified insect chatter about to be drenched by advancing thunderstorms. Flouting expectations again, the sounds cut out after seven minutes, leaving a sub-atomic drone and softly cresting waves in their wake for the duration. By now it should be obvious that HB is a surprisingly understated collection by two highly-respected artists which won't shatter anyone's eardrums or speakers. Headphone listening is not only recommended but required in order for the material's microsound charms to be appreciated.

Considerably more dynamic by comparison is Live Journeys, the first full-length release from Symbiosis Orchestra, a collective of acoustic and electronic musicians initially assembled by Italian sound artist Andrea Gabriele (keyboards, computer, guitar & bass) for the Peam 2005 festival in Pescara , Italy. Symbiosis Orchestra is similar to Strings of Consciousness in its propensity for stylistic shape-shifting, fusion of acoustic and electronic sounds, and integration of composed and improvised material (Tedesco is a member of both outfits). In both cases, personnel shifts lead to variations in group size, with trio, quartet, and quintet formations appearing on Live Journeys. Gabriele creates the group's experimental acoustic-electronic synthesis in tandem with Robin Rimbaud (computer), Mario Masullo (computer, drum machines), Iris Garrelfs (processed voice), Geoff Warren (woodwinds), Stefano Tedesco (vibes, percussion), Diego Conti (violin), Roberto di Egidio (trumpet), and Michele Scurti (piano).

There are many memorable moments: the mournful cry of Conti's violin humanizes the opening piece, and the intertwine it pursues alongside Garrelfs' voice and Tedesco's percussive accents is powerful; augmented by the fizz of Masullo's electronic interjections, “See How It Goes” presents a meditative duet between Gabriele's bass guitar and Warren's flute, who later exercises his jazz chops with soprano sax soloing in “Jam at Joy's House, Pescara” while Garrelfs indulges in some Meredith Monk-styled soloing of her own during “Live at Post Post Studio 2.” A sense of menace pervades the two pieces featuring Rimbaud: the second one a nightmarish setting of electronics, beats, and ambient atmosphere, and the first—arguably the disc's most powerful piece—a dramatic and tightly woven fusion of hammering tribal-funk pulsation and light-speed electronic flurries.

Though the album's pieces were recorded at different locales, they sometimes flow into one another and consequently foster the illusion of a self-contained set. The absence of crowd noise (the exception a brief smattering of applause at disc's end) also makes the recording sound more like an in-studio recording. Despite its concise thirty-nine-minute running time, the CD offers a comprehensive portrait of the group's sound, though it obviously doesn't include Claudio Sinatti's live visuals. That absence isn't keenly felt, however, for there's ample activity in the tracks alone to keep one listening.

March 2009