Frédéric Nogray: Buiti Binafin
Scott Sherk: New York Glyptic
3LEAVES' latest field recordings-based releases are studies in contrast, with the Honduras locale so vividly captured in Frédéric Nogray's Buiti Binafin the polar opposite to the bustling Manhattan documented in Scott Sherk's New York Glyptic. Immersive exercises in acoustic anthropology, the projects pull the listener deeply into their respective sound-worlds, despite their dramatic differences.
Some field recordings releases gradually draw the listener into their worlds; Nogray's, by comparison, drenches the listener from the first moment with the relentless downpour of a thunderstorm, prompting one to visualize the tropical setting covered in rain and the colours of its mangroves illuminated even more strongly as a result (it's worth noting that the field recordings were gathered in May, 2012 during the area's rainy season). His sound diary captures the natural setting—Punta Izopo, a mangrove forest on the north coast of Honduras near the Caribbean Sea—in all its glorious detail: following the storm's cessation, birds twitter, insects stridulate, a toucan caws, and flies buzz, with all of it arising alongside a persistent ambient hum of water-related sounds. Though rustlings and splashes do appear, evidence of a human presence is modest for much of the recording, until, that is, what appears to be a vehicle of some kind barrels into view at the forty-seven-minute mark before just as quickly morphing into the violent rainfall and thunderstorms with which the recording closes. That transformation is the one moment where Nogray's manipulation of the source material is most clearly evident, even if it's likely that his hand has shaped the other sounds as much if less noticeably. An ecological-environmental dimension subtly shadows the project, and highlights the fragility of the setting and the omnipresent threat of human invasion. Consequently, some small undercurrent of anxiety pervades the listening experience, as one luxuriates in the sounds populating the realm while also mindful that the recording might possibly be heard at some future time as a historical document of a land that no longer exists. Even so, the impression generally established is of a peaceful, even paradisiacal, natural setting not yet spoiled by industrialization—a development that might be seen as transformative or desecrating, depending on the point of view taken.The sound artist's shaping hand is more conspicuously felt in Scott Sherk's New York Glyptic—the word “glyptic” does, after all, refer to the art of carving and by extension shaping. Familiar NYC street sounds inaugurate the forty-minute audio portrait—sirens, traffic noise, voices, et al.—but even before the first minute has passed, those natural elements are replaced by a warbling ambient drone that does a pretty good imitation of a mid-‘70s Tangerine Dream sequence (for the record, Sherk created the work exclusively from field recordings made in numerous locales within New York). The city sounds then re-appear but soon enough are again supplanted by a plunge into deep space. Real-world sounds capture the life of the city—children playing baseball, a jet drowning out all other sounds, a construction worker's drill, crowd noise—while the abstract material, which often resembles burbling synthetic sounds, operates as a radical contrast throughout. For the most part, transitions between the two sides don't happen abruptly but fluidly with one dissolving into the other. What explanation might there be for Sherk's approach? In liner notes, he refers to the city's pulsating sound and states, “I have come to understand this sound as a constantly shifting form with many evolving facets and shapes… As a sculptor it is my inclination to reveal these strata and expose the inner edges and planes of sound that create this elusive state.” Perhaps his goal is not only to document the city as it exists as a turbulent physical mass but also to provide a series of inner states that develop as a response to it—to translate the sum-total of sound data into a portrait that in some measure captures the spirit of the city and the individual's experience of it. No matter the intent, Sherk's piece proves to be a fascinating listen that at times verges on hallucinatory, and his destabilizing approach keeps the listener on his/her toes, never knowing what turn the material might take next.