Scott Smallwood, Sawako, Seth Cluett, Ben Owen, and Civyiu Kkliu: Phonography Meeting
Phonography Meeting—the words call to mind a gathering from the 1920s, with cigar-toting gentlemen convening in a well-appointed lounge and comfortably ensconced in leather chairs to discuss the important issues of the day, in this case the latest developments on the audio front. Jump ahead ninety years and a different sort of meeting is in session, this one involving five sound artists presenting personalized mini-sets of unprocessed field and or location recordings. Recorded live at the Issue Project Room in Brooklyn NYC on August 23, 2007, the forty-seven-minute recording finds Scott Smallwood, Sawako, Seth Cluett, Ben Owen, and Civyiu Kkliu each contributing approximately ten minutes of material in rapid succession.
Smallwood's set presents a stream of natural and man-made sounds, including the rhythmic tap-tap-tap of water droplets striking a surface, traffic noise, cowbells, bird chirps, and, most prominently, rain drizzle. His material forms a natural segue into Sawako's, though the NY-based sound sculptor's contribution quickly establishes itself as more urban in character, given the marked emphasis on the controlled cacophony that characterizes daily life within that setting. Excited voices appear amidst a backdrop of industrial clatter and human activity (such as children running) before the ringing of church bells takes over. Cluett's material incorporates the sound of him moving through various environments, the trudge of his footsteps plainly audible as an ongoing accompaniment to the nature-based and industrial sounds around him. Owen's set plunges us into a micro-sound realm populated by static, ripples, smears, and scurrying noises, with in each case the originating sound source rendered unidentifiable and re-presented as abstract texture—a satisfying contrast to the real-world sounds coming before. Less engaging and interesting is the recording's final part by Kkliu, a monotone drone that largely buzzes and occasionally combusts for ten minutes.Phonography Meeting is presented as a single-track piece, which can pose a challenge for those of a trainspotting bent. Without indications of where precisely one person's material ends and another's begins, it's difficult to know whether the church bells at the nineteen-minute mark are the tail-end of Sawako's piece or the beginning of Cluett's (one guesses the former). The absence of indexing, on the other hand, reinforces the impression (even if an illusion) of the recording as a cohesive production. Regardless, the recording rewards one's attention and definitely does sharpen one's sensitivity to the ambient sounds within one's immediate environment. Designed and printed by Owen (in an edition of 300), the release also is striking on presentation grounds, with the CD housed within a letterpress-printed sleeve and accompanied by a fold-out sheet displaying notes by the five participants (in Owen's case, six images) on the field recording process.
Lacunae, the Winds Measure Recordings release by audio-video artist mpld (real name Gill Arnò), is actually a DVD project that, while obviously different from it in fundamental ways, is as captivating as Phonography Meeting. Available in an edition of 150 copies and presented in another attractive letterpress-printed sleeve design, Lacunae presents material recorded in April of 2006 and realized by Arnò using modified and amplified slide projectors and computer. A hand-drawn illustration of the set-up helps clarify how he generated the material live: accompanying a laptop, MIDI controller, mixing board, and fan box are dual sets of projectors, fans, contact mics, speakers, and light dimmers, with all of it facing a single screen.
Arnò presents his idiosyncratic material in two parts, with the first pairing creaks and clatter and a low-level industrial flicker with ambiguous visual details that are so shadowy and foggy they elude identification. That four-minute introduction is a mere warm-up for the thirty-three-minute second part, however, as it's the latter that's obviously the central part of the project. It's here where Arnò's aesthetic comes into—pardon the expression—clear focus, as he synchronizes the visual overlapping of two flickering projections with the corresponding thrum of an insistently pulsating rhythm component, the sounds apparently the amplified product of the projectors. Faded Kodachrome slides of mountain vistas, barren plains, and lakes imbue the presentation with a nostalgic dimension by evoking childhood memories, despite the alienating effect of the audio's roar (that soundtrack, by the way, isn't static, but grows so increasingly relentless and intense that describing it as frenzied and violent isn't an exaggeration). As the project nears the half-hour mark, silhouettes of human figures—tourists, basically—begin to appear in addition to landscape details, a move that, in turn, emphasizes the depopulated character of the imagery seen before. Consistent with the tone of the project, Arnò transcends the purely personal in this case by keeping the identifying details of the figures obscured.