Chris Watson — El Tren Fantasma (2011, Touch Music)
Having visited field recording mastermind Chris Watson’s superlative Weather Report in July, today felt like an excellent day to bring the English recordist back into rotation. While his ability to identify, capture, and edit sounds into new artistic works is largely unparalleled, one point that goes largely overlooked is Watson’s abilities as a storyteller. Using sounds (and occasionally speech) in place of written words, Watson manages to craft a deeply immersive and stimulating narrative that captures the listener’s imagination. 2011’s El Tren Fantasma is haunting mix of archival recordings and sounds captured while Watson traversed Mexico on the now defunct Ferrocarriles Nacionales de México as a sound-recordist for the BBC. The listener becomes a passenger on a thrilling ride across a country of diverse landscapes. Boarding announcements feel as frantic and coarse as if one were on the platform; the anticipation of the journey upon hearing diesel engines come to life is equally tangible and immediate. Insects, birds, wind, and the twitch and spark of steel on steel all contribute to the journey and dually reinforce Watson’s creative prowess and the affectivity of sound. While few tracks match the musicality (in the most reductive sense of the word) of “El Divisadero” with its Cascading strings coupled with the rhythmic thud and clack of a train wheels soaring over lengths of track, the abundantly rich sounds captured by Watson take the listener on a thrilling voyage. As the N de M has since been dismantled and/or privatized, the recordings are something of a sonico-historical document which evokes questions related to memory, space, development and how these factors impact acoustic phenomena. As is the case with most of Watson’s work, a brilliant release.
Listen/Download [free through Pan y Rosas]
Formally trained as a jazz musician, Hanoi’s Luong Hue Trinh, now works primarily in the realm of electroacoustic music. Her digital-only debut through Pan y Rosas Discos, Illusions, is a half-hour of power and arguably one of the most engaging and profoundly engrossing experimental releases in recent years. Startlingly (and most appropriately), the opener, “illusions,” begins with the sound of breaking glass. The track evolves into a 12 minute exploration of non-musical industrial sounds melded with traditional South-Vietnamese music. The result is emotive, captivating, and far from predictable. Whilst the opener positioned traditional musics alongside industrial sounds, the dichotomy between old and new is effectively inverted on “return ii.” Predominately “driven” by electronic musical treatments, the track employs pastoral sounds in place of those produced by industry. The denouement builds anxiously before giving way to fading strings and chants. Despite its brevity, Illusions is not to be missed. Given the strength of her debut, everyone here at Marginal HQ eagerly awaits Trinh’s next release.
Chris Watson – Weather Report (2003, Touch)
Nope, this isn’t an album called Chris Watson by jazz fusion icons Weather Report, nor is it a jazz fusion album courtesy of this former Cabaret Voltaire member. Instead, Weather Report is an assembly of sounds recorded by a true master of nature and field recordings (and as alluded to, one time Cab Voltaire member), Chris Watson. Consisting of three 18 minute tracks, Watson boasts not only a plethora of heterogeneous source material, but a keen ear for mixing and splicing this material into rich sonic collages. Animal and human, flora and fauna, weather and oceans flow continuously into one another to create a listening experience that is simultaneously terrestrial and ethereal. No, it isn’t the high art of the old world (Mozart, Beethoven, Stravinsky, et al.) nor does it have the commercial viability demanded by late-capitalism in its attempts to legitimize (or at least justify) artistic endeavor. Instead, Weather Report taps into something much deeper than commerciality or artistic prestige. It taps in to something which Bruce Russell (Dead C) managed to articulate succinctly and pithily: sound is fundamental, songs are not. Whilst recorded and manipulating for human consumption, Watson achieves a rare feat: he produces a cultural object which both reproduces fundamental sound(s), decentering the anthropocentric conceit that every cultural object must ultimately be “about” or at least reflective of human social imaginaries or aesthetic schemata (even implicitly), while also crafting something that can be enjoyed by human listeners. Undoubtedly, Watson’s selection of material and his decision to capture sounds in the first place raises questions about whether or not this release truly challenges the primacy of the human experience (a legitimate concern which cannot be fully addressed due to space restrictions of this medium); regardless, this release celebrates a great number of aural pluralisms and possesses the ability to remind the listener both how mysterious the planet we inhabit is and how wonderful it is to be alive. At a critical juncture in human history, one cannot help but think, it would be manifestly appropriate to send this album into space in the faint hopes that some distant alien civilization may one day discover what earth sounded like, long after the ship has been negligently run aground.
Jeph Jerman – For Henry F. Farny 1904 34° 48′ N / 111° 54′ W 3308/4708 (2011, After Music Recordings)
When I was in my early twenties, I picked up a copy of Blowhole’s Killing Noise from an “experimental records” bargain bin. At the time, I had scarcely ventured beyond my modest collection of punk and jazz records and had no idea what I was getting into, but I liked the gritty black and white album art and the track listing indicated a medley of Jimi Hendrix covers. Suffice to say, the record deviated significantly from my expectations. On a personal level, however, I was ready to be sonically challenged in ways that defied the dogmatic parochialism of punk. As I had never before heard anyone mention Blowhole and I could find little about the project, Jeph Jerman, the solitary figure behind the ruckus entered my consciousness. Over the next few years I became acquainted with later work, most of which was released well after he moved away from musical idioms altogether. His 2011 recording For Henry F. Farny 1904 34° 48′ N / 111° 54′ W 3308/4708 is one such release which documents the sounds of an abandoned telephone wire as heard and captured by the artist. The sonic richness of the high desert mixes well with the eerily captivating sounds of steel wire roused by the elements and other manipulating forces. The first half of album’s title, For Henry F. Farny 1904, no doubt alludes to the western painter’s piece The Song of the Talking Wire (1904), which depicts an indigenous person breaking the fourth wall with a resolute gaze, ear pressed to a telephone pole. Farny’s motivation is alleged to have come from his witnessing of an indigenous man leaning closely to a newly erected telephone pole listening in inspection and introspection. While the representation strikes me as somewhat problematic, Jerman in part channels the sentiments of the figure represented in Farny’s painting. Though operating in a totally separate realm from visual arts, Jerman’s work is living proof that sonic art is every bit as affective.