Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Wovenland

I thought it was time to bring back my regular surveys of 'landscape music', having had a couple of years off.  The last one I did was in 2015 - it contains links to the earlier ones, or you can just check back through my old December posts.  I should apologise for some dead links in my previous surveys, as videos and tracks have been moved or taken down over the years.  Looking back I see there's now a missing video in a post I wrote back in 2010 about Toshiya Tsunoda, the Japanese sound artist.  He's the first of my picks for 2018, with the album Wovenland, a collaboration with Taku Unami (the title refers to the way their separate field recordings are woven together).  Reviewing it in Wire Magazine, Derek Walmsley thought this 'one of the most original and startling recording projects in recent years.'



One of the albums I missed by not doing this in 2016 was 3hattrio's Solitaire, inspired by Edward Abbey’s nature writing classic, Desert Solitaire (1968).  Abbey, author of The Monkey Wrench Gang, based this, his first non-fiction book, on the time he spent as a park ranger at Arches National Monument.  3hattrio say they play 'American desert music':
'Their aim is to create a new music which responds to the natural world of their sacred homeland near Zion National Park in Utah.  They also strive to acknowledge the cultural traditions of generations of people who have worked and lived on the deserts of the American southwest. The subject matter of the songs is often desert oriented, sometimes not. Mostly, they express the desert experientially from a daily-ness of watching light off distant mesas and hearing the way sound plays off sheer sandstone cliffs. Then they play music. They don’t over-think it.' 
Their new release is Lord Of The Desert and includes tracks called 'Night Sky', 'Skeleton Tree' and 'Dust Devil' (see video clip below).



My earlier round-ups always featured music from Touch and their most recent release is relevant - Howlround's The Debatable Lands.  This was inspired by the border region in Cumbria which Graham Robb wrote about in his latest book (quite interesting, but not as rewarding a read as I was expecting).  Another liminal space was the source for Jana Winderen's Spring Bloom in the Marginal Ice Zone, originally a sound installation for the 2017 Sonic Acts Festival:
'The marginal ice zone is the dynamic border between the open sea and the sea ice, which is ecologically extremely vulnerable. The phytoplankton present in the sea produces half of the oxygen on the planet. During spring, this zone is the most important CO2 sink in our biosphere. In Spring Bloom in the Marginal Ice Zone the sounds of the living creatures become a voice in the current political debate concerning the official definition of the location of the ice edge.' 
I'm listening to the album now as I write this, streaming from Jana Winderen's bandcamp page.


In my round-up for 2012 I featured Erland Cooper's Orkney Symphony.  In March this year he released Solan Goose, its tracks named after the Orcadian words for seabirds (the solan goose is a northern gannet).  He also released Murmeration, with a Norman Ackroyd picture on the cover (incidentally, Ackroyd's daughter Poppy is a Brighton-based composer, whose work sometimes references landscape themes and uses field recordings).  Erland Cooper is planning a third record in this vein, as he explained in an interview for The Island Review, which will explore 'our relationship and respect for the sea: how it surrounds the community and the landscape; how it supports the greatest ecosystem of all.'  Together these albums are inspired by the words of the poet George Mackay Brown. “The essence of Orkney's magic is silence, loneliness and the deep marvellous rhythms of sea and land, darkness and light.”


Stuart Hyatt's Metaphonics: The Complete Field Works Recordings comprises 7 LPs and a book, based around his own field recordings but incorporating collaborations from around forty other artists.  The YouTube clip below presents a track from the album Pogue's Run - 'from its source, through the city, into a mysterious three-mile underground tunnel, and finally to the White River, Pogue’s Run represents the ongoing tension between nature and civilization.'  I enjoyed seeing field recordists filmed as if they were in a pop video, although as this goes on and they reach the underground river, it more closely resembles scenes a scene from a science fiction film.  There is an interview with Hyatt at the online art/science magazine CLOT.  He quotes from an essay by Yiorgis Sakellariou in the Metaphonics book, which views field recording as "an alchemical practice, a transformation of perception of both recordist and environment. A recording location is not simply a geographically framed scenery, but more importantly, a place of inquiry, experimentation, and wonder."


I will stick there at five main recommendations, but here, briefly, are a few other albums from 2018 that reflect landscape in different ways.  Further suggestions in the comments below would be welcome.
  • Grouper's Grid of Points, written by Liz Harris during a residency in Ucross, Wyoming. One of its tracks is inspired by Zabriskie Point, a film I wrote about here in May.
  • Richard Skelton's Front Variations subjected sine waves 'to increasing amounts of feedback in order to simulate the so-called ice-albedo feedback mechanism. This is the process whereby the action of melting glaciers reduces the global surface area of ice, thereby reducing the amount of solar radiation that glaciers reflect, which in turn increases global temperatures and causes further glacial melting.'
  • Laurie Anderson's Landfall is a cycle of songs about Hurricane Sandy - a recording was released this year with the Kronos Quartet.  Tracks include 'Wind Whistles Through the Dark City,' 'The Water Rises' and 'Our Street is a Black River'...  
  • Daniel Bachman's guitar in The Morning Star is set against a background of field recordings.  It continues a sequence of 'Songs for the Setting Sun' that he began on the 2015 album River (which was featured on my 2015 round-up). 
  • Jim Ghedi's A Hymn For Ancient Land, was a bit too pastoral for the Quietus reviewer: 'only on ‘Phoenix Works’, a song dealing with the decline of traditional industries in the north, does he explicitly deal with darkness. This, coupled with the dense, meandering tonalities of ‘Fortingall Yew’, saves the album from being a landscape painting.' 
  • According to The Quietus, the album of the year was Gazelle Twin's Pastoral, which 'picks away at the bucolic, Constable-generated image of English countryside like a fetid scab.' Gazelle Twin is Brighton-based electonic musician  Elizabeth Bernholz, whose previous project was based on J. G. Ballard's last novel Kingdom Come
Finally, I will conclude here not with an album, but with an app.  Numero Group's 'Environments collects the entire historic record series by master sound engineer Irv Teibel into one easy to use package for the iPhone and iPad' (it costs £2.99).  If you're not familiar with Irv Teibel's 1970s psychoacoustic nature recordings, there's a good article about him at PitchforkAquarium Drunkard described the new app as 'an ingenious re-contextualization of this retro-futurist “gebrauchtsmusik” that recapitulates the series’ initial novelty. However captivating Teibel’s tale, the Environments app now illuminates an anthropocene landscape where 'Dusk in the Okefenokee Swamp' and a 'Summer Cornfield' are mediated by an inescapable layer of sleek, fabricated hardware and playfully nostalgic software.'

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