Rebecca Joy Sharp & Simon Whetham: The Clearing

A new installment in Gruenrekorder's Field Recording Series, The Clearing is an hour-long document recorded by Simon Whetham of Rebecca Joy Sharp playing harp surrounded by sounds of wildlife at Liverpool's Sefton Park. The recording session began at daybreak on May 3rd, 2009 (also International Dawn Chorus Day) with the two meeting at 3:45 in the morning and recording for two hours at the center of the park. Rain complications forced the session to be cut short (the album's shortest piece appears to capture Sharp tuning up against a crackling backdrop of rain) so the two reconvened the next day at the same time and place, with the weather more cooperative the second time around.

The album is so titled because during one part of the album Sharp performs a lovely serenade called “The Clearing” that she composed as an homage to John Martyn's “Small Hours” (in this case too rain gradually enters the picture and swells in intensity). Aside from that through-composed setting, however, much of her playing feels improvised, as if she's simply responding in the moment to the sounds appearing around her. In essence, then, the album documents Sharp conversing, so to speak, with the wildlife and the setting. Rather than filling every moment with her playing, she often plays a phrase, sometimes even hesitantly, and then lays out, allowing the plenitude of natural sounds—bird chirps, sea gull and crow cries, the rustle of ambient noise, and the distant thrum of traffic—to occupy the space; faint traces of people shouting also surface during the thirty-eight-minute track, the longest of the album's six, and apparently a fox fight transpired while the tape rolled too. The bright tinkle of the harp's strums and arpeggios clearly stands forth from the dense surround, and there are moments when Sharp and the park's birds appear to indulge in the kind of call-and-response that one typically associates with improvising jazz musicians.

The result is about as bucolic and calming as one might expect, given the nature of the project, and with one's eyes closed one is easily able to transport oneself to the setting and visualize Sharp strumming her harp at the park's center enveloped by a wealth of natural (and non-natural) sounds.

November 2010