Broken Chip / Kate Carr / Field Rotation / Marcus Fischer / Billy Gomberg: Rivers Home
Flaming Pines

In honour of World Rivers Day, which was celebrated on September 25, 2011, Kate Carr's Australia-based Flaming Pines imprint has issued the first half of a ten-chapter series called Rivers Home featuring contributions from Broken Chip, Field Rotation, Marcus Fischer, Billy Gomberg, and Carr herself. In a project that aims to sensitize us to the river as an ever-valuable yet also vulnerable eco-system, each producer was asked to create a work celebrating a water locale that holds personal meaning for the artist. Rather than combining the five works on a single CD, Carr has seen fit to present each three-inch disc, which in most cases contains a single piece of between 10-20 minutes duration, in its own colourful little sleeve, a handmade approach that enhances the project's appeal (each one available in an edition of 100 copies).

Carr's Brisbane River is generally melancholy and plaintive in tone yet nevertheless affecting in the force of its presentation. Muffled tones and strummed electric guitar chords resound dramatically while water sounds burble, as if to suggest the gradual submersion of musical materials by the natural element. The evocation is in keeping with subject matter that concerns the severe flood Brisbane experienced in January, 2011 and the considerable damage the river's flooding caused (the city was shut down for days as a result of this one-in-a-hundred-year event). At certain moments, the water noises threaten to bury the musical elements altogether, yet through it all the guitar chords stubbornly persist until the piece crests in a seeming gesture of triumph, as if to suggest human resilience and determination.

For Cox's River, Broken Chip's ten-minute contribution to the series, Australia-based Martyn Palmer selected a remote and fertile setting which features an abundance of plant and animal life, something that is clearly conveyed in the rich field recordings-based sound design integrated into the piece. An air of sadness permeates the musical dimension, however, in its weave of plangent guitar shadings and e-bow-like effects, the approach reflecting Palmer's anger and frustration over the pollution that has seeped into the river due to the presence of the Delta Electricity's Wallerawang power station.

Billy Gomberg's Gowanus Canal finds the Brooklyn-based artist creating an impressionistic, twenty-minute suite of four pieces that eschews field recordings for industrial dronescaping. On most days, Gomberg cycles past the canal on his way to work and has grown accustomed to its familiar presence and its not always splendid odours. It's also a far from beautiful sight, and consequently Gomberg's evocations are more grime-laden and brooding than pastoral and bucolic—in short, the release offers a satisfying change of pace when heard alongside the other four Rivers Home parts.

Marcus Fischer's Willamette River is the 12k artist's attempt to distill into sonic form a western US river that flows from south to north, and follows the river as it passes through Portland and under bridges and by homes and industry sites before eventually meeting up with the Columbia River. In keeping with the style of his Monocoastal release and the 12k aesthetic, the twenty-minute setting assembles instrument (guitar, electric piano) and field recordings sounds of nature into a delicately shaped and calming electroacoustic whole of consistently mutating design. It wouldn't be stretching things too far to suggest that Fischer's patiently evolving mass of micro-sounds could even be mistaken for a work by kindred spirit and 12k head Taylor Deupree.

Though Christoph Berg's Field Rotation piece, Kielerfjorden, is, at under ten minutes, the shortest of the bunch, it's still a memorable contribution on account of its nostalgic tone and evocative character. Berg grew up by the Kiel Fjord (Kielerfjorden) but recently relocated from it, and as such the reverberant collage of industrial sounds, scrapes, and drones that evokes the shipyard's cranes and ferries exudes an air of wistful melancholy, as if the piece is more like a fond memory distilled into sonic form than an attempt at rendering the grey and muted Baltic Sea setting more directly.

Carr clearly has hit upon a fertile concept in the Rivers Home series—all one need do is consider the varying character of the five installments as proof of that—, and it wouldn't therefore be unreasonable to expect that the next five should be as varied. The concept itself acts as a unifying principle, too, despite the fact that one artist's contribution might be a lamentation (Broken Chip's Cox's River) whereas another's might be a drone collection (Gomberg's Gowanus Canal).

January 2012