Murmer: What Are The Roots That Clutch
Helen Scarsdale

Since 1996, Patrick McGinley has traveled the European countryside armed with a recording device to collect sounds that are ultimately woven into long-form constructions. On the hour-long What Are The Roots That Clutch, his first full album in five years and follow-up to We Share A Shadow, field recordings, which McGinley gathered between 2006 and 2010 in numerous locales, are threaded into slowly mutating compositional structures. The album includes five untitled parts, with one, three, and five composed from found sounds, found objects, and live room feedback, and the other two consisting of unmanipulated found sounds gathered from Mooste and Dieppe, respectively. Many of the sounds aren't identified by kind or place of origin, and consequently the listener is left to guess at what is being heard as McGinley weaves the elements into stand-alone set-pieces that retain phantom ties to their origins.

The eighteen-minute opening part swells rapidly into an intense tapestry of crashing waves accompanied by the persistent patter of a ticking rhythm. The waves recede, leaving in their wake frog-like croaks and grunts, faint bird chirps, and the shimmer of glassy tones. McGinley wisely lets the material unfold slowly and gives each episode enough time to make its mark before effecting a segue into the next section. In doing so, sounds emerge surreptitiously, such as the fire crackle that gradually forms a subdued backdrop to the glassy shimmer. The tempo of the opening part slows dramatically as it nears its end, and the overall volume likewise grows ever more quiet.

In part two, the unusual sound design evokes the image of a dangling piece of scrap metal blown by a gentle breeze and scraping against a barb wire fence. Part three hews to a conventional narrative arc in having its industrial churn slowly build in volume and textural density until it peaks and the slow deflation of a denouement sets in. Emerging quietly from a mass of water noises, tings, and knocking sounds, the final track builds to a feverish pitch that's like one of Einstein On The Beach's twenty-minute ensemble pieces (minus Glass's familiar cycling patterns). The piece explicitly shows how McGinley uses his raw materials in the service of a compositional design when four minutes in a climax occurs, after which the piece changes character dramatically and grows simultaneously more percussive and drone-like during an extended episode of clattering noises and a blinding harmonics.

McGinley's chosen a fitting alias in Murmer, judging from the generally understated character of What Are The Roots That Clutch. His field recordings- and found sound-based pieces do, in fact, breathe softly in a manner that can deemphasize the large amount of activity in play within a given setting. It's notable, for example, that even the two unprocessed settings register as engrossing arrays of texture and design.

July-August 2012