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Rodolphe Alexis: The glittering thing on the mountain

Positioning itself firmly within the field recordings genre, Rodolphe Alexis's The glittering thing on the mountain presents an immersive, fifty-one-minute sound portrait of Iriomote-Jima. This southernmost island of Japan is almost entirely covered by jungle and mangrove, and as a result the largely human-free locale is home to a plenitude of insects, frogs, birds, flying foxes, and even a famous leopard cat called the Yamaneko. The recording itself came about rather serendipitously for Alexis (b. 1975), a sound recordist and designer with a particular interest in electroacoustic composition, site-specific installations, and the impact of human activity on the environment. When he found himself in the spring of 2009 in close proximity to this remote part of Japan, he vowed he would someday return with recording equipment, which he did in 2014. Armed with a four-channel microphone setup, he explored the region, collected recordings, and subsequently assembled the material into its presented form.

Alexis artfully weaves the elements into an effective, nine-part composition that alludes to a narrative without imposing one in concrete terms. “Cicada of the dusk” makes for an effective scene-setter when rattlesnake-like thrum evokes the image of a dense forest teeming with insects and other life-forms. Following without interruption, “The hill was sinking into the night, some frogs were playing the harp” documents the sounds, vocal and otherwise, produced by various frogs and owls and their chicks. At various places on the recording, the low- and high-pitched vocal cries of Emerald doves, Ryukyu jungle crows, White-breasted waterhens, Brown-eared bulbuls, Eiffinger tree frogs, and Ruddy kingfishers intermingle, their different positioning—some close by and some far away—enhancing the impression of stereophonic space. Elsewhere, the air, seemingly thick with fog and mist, is filled with the croak of the Sakishima rice frog and piercing, near-violent screech of the bat-like flying fox. Spanning morning, noon, and night, veritable orgies of conversational to-and-fro occur throughout.

For those unfamiliar with the region and its inhabitants (most of us, no doubt), an accompanying colour booklet provides helpful insight in presenting photographs of the island's various species. Needless to say, The glittering thing on the mountain is the kind of recording ideally played on a high-quality surround-sound system at high volume and experienced with the lights low. Under such conditions, one might begin to imagine oneself transplanted to the island itself and enveloped by its abundance of animal and insect sounds.

January 2016