VA: Landscapes of Fear
Obviously the first eye-catching thing about this double-CD installment in Gruenrekorder's Sound Art Series is the package design, specifically its vertical case and even more the wall-sized fold-out insert displaying track-related photos and text on one side and a map on the other.
Having been summarily dazzled by the visual component, one's next move is to get a handle on the conceptual side. As a title, Landscapes of Fear carries with it an ominous undercurrent, and sure enough the project, which grew out of the seminar series Unsite Temporalities at the Academy of Media Arts Cologne, deals with issues of borders and territoriality, the lines of demarcation that separate the autonomous from those subject to control and manipulation. The movement of a group from one zone to another, as in the current plight of Syrian refugees, raises related issues of localization and dislocation in a project whose tone can't help but be fundamentally political. Fear and disorientation invariably emerge as people grapple with the various ways by which human beings are spatially positioned, whether it be the protection offered by gated communities and wildlife reserves or the danger associated with death zones, restricted areas, and killing fields (examples of which are identified on the map). Gruenrekorder's sound-based treatment, which presents approximately 130 minutes of audio material, explores fear as it's exploited from a spatial viewpoint and relatedly the emotional experiences of those possessing control versus those without it.
Soundscapes, field recordings, Deep Listening experiments, and radiophonic works appear on the CDs, the treatments encompassing a broad range of responses to the theme by the contributors. Fifteen sound works in total are presented, each one of which is complemented by visual and/or textual content on an individual poster panel. That added context is at times illuminating. The blurry, granular treatment of audio interviews presented in Ali Chakav's “a shimmer of reality,” for example, grew out of a real-life incident involving a person living with six bullet fragments lodged in his skull after being hit by a sniper at a 2009 public demonstration in Tehran (his death, two years after the assault, was caused by the movements of the fragments in his head). Without the benefit of that background, the eight-minute piece would register as a purely abstract electronic-styled exploration. In some cases, however, the text is shown in German only, which obviously won't be of much help to those lacking command of the language (much the same could be said of Lena Ditte Nissen's “Imaginary Orb,” which features eight minutes of spoken German).
For “Kölner Bucht Küssk,” Sebastian Thewes used special software to convert elevation data of two areas, the first around Cologne and the second waterfalls above the Arctic Circle, into waveforms, resulting in a ten-minute exercise in abstract, electronic-styled mutation. At the level of pure sound, it's hard to top Tzeshi Lei's soundscaping exploration “The wreckage that runs our barrage,” which advances from a placid intro into disturbing territory. Elsewhere, violence is suggested by simulations of gunfire and the desperate cries of people under attack, satellite data is converted into raw audio transcriptions, and Stephanie Glauber and Miriam Gossing's “Mercure/Mondial” presents sixteen minutes of vocalized GPS-styled street directions punctuated by grainy instrumental accompaniment. Specific details aside, Landscapes of Fear is the latest addition to a long line of provocative sound art-based recordings from Gruenrekorder. Though it's conceptually unified by theme, the collection is naturally wide-ranging given the large number of contributors involved and the dramatic differences in sensibility and approach they bring to the endeavour. As one listens to the collection for the first time, it's impossible to predict what unusual sounds the next track will bring.