Yann Novak and Robert Crouch: Fata Morgana
Murmur Records

High-quality headphones are almost mandatory in order to fully appreciate the subtle charms of this collaborative effort from LA-based sound, video, and installation artists Yann Novak and Robert Crouch, especially when the recording has been presented as a stereo mix designed for home listening. The work first entered the world as an audiovisual performance for the AxS Festival 2011 that was curated by Steve Roden.

Emerging slowly out of silence, Fata Morgana initiates its forty-five-minute trip with deep rumbling and rattling textures, the sounds coming at the listener in slow-building waves and suggestive of desolate, wide-open spaces. The travelogue feel is well-earned, as the duo generated the piece from field recordings gathered at the Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah and at Lake Mead in the Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada. The title itself is apropos, too, in referring to a mirage phenomenon whereby a narrow band appears just above a desert or sea horizon that leads to perceptual inversions of figure and ground. Certainly the work itself is mirage-like in how it transforms the originating material into an abstract mass of at times vaporous and even industrial character. Throughout the piece, immense whorls of sound blow alongside an ongoing organ-like tone that acts as a pedal point of sorts for the mutating mass billowing around it. Digital processing and modular synthesis have been applied to the source materials, too, as a way of further transforming them and distancing them from their origins.

Subtle transitions occur throughout, most conspicuously halfway through when elements fall away, leaving only bass pulses and a faint series of melodic pitches to intone beneath a dominant insectoid thrum. A sense of melancholy begins to assert itself in the ghost-like traces of melody that struggle to be heard and in the more restful ambiance that characterizes the work's second half. It's at such moments, in fact, that Fata Morgana begins to more invite the term dreamscape than dronescape.

July-August 2012