1 October

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Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe — Levitation Praxis Pt. 4 (2017, DDS)

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After a September sabbatical, which included lots of work, a vacation, and more work,  Marginal gears are creaking back into rotation at HQ. Just in time too, because we’re sure excited for this release from veritable sonic-journeyman and bonafide aesthete, Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe. For their exhibition Atmosphere for Enjoyment: Harry Bertoia’s Environment for Sound, New York’s Museum of Art and Design commissioned Lowe (and Lizzi Bougatsos of Gang Gang Dance) to produce a series of sound and video recordings at Bertoia’s Pennsylvania sonambient barn. These recordings released on the DDS label, are the result of one such session. As is to be expected, the ambience of the barn coupled with the sculptures’ already ethereal sonic characteristics, results in a set of magisterial, widely resonant pieces, featuring manipulations of Bertoia’s sound sculptures. Where Lowe excels, is in his ability to harness the happenstance of improvised performance. Levitation Praxis allows the artist to demonstrate an artistic awareness and tact that inform the aesthetico-methodological choices: when to push on and further develop an idea, when to refrain, et al. Interwoven layers of choral melodies and urban sounds produce a rich sensory experience for the listener and explode the temporal and contextual framings around the works. Is it medieval religious chanting? Is it musique concréte? It’s dually both and neither all at once. While Bertoia’s original recordings are imbued with a certain otherworldliness, Lowe’s tasteful use of vocal and tape treatments add a new dimension to sonambient execution and composition.

A final salient point: in the relative racial homogeneity of many avant-garde circles (a point itself, that remains woefully under analyzed), as a person of color, this writer/listener can truly appreciate that Lowe’s (marginal) artistic practice(s). Indeed, his very inclusion in this project, helps to illuminate that artists of color, especially those whose artistic practices transpire on the margins, must often simultaneously navigate a host of margins, many of which are far more consequential than one’s chosen aesthetic path. Furthermore, if marginal artistic practices and music(s) are ever to serve as incubators and/or catalysts for radical social change, the spaces and imaginaries that reinforce the avant garde must first begin to chip away at homogenous understandings about who occupies these spaces and in a very literal, normative sense, what the avant-garde looks like. At the risk of succumbing to blind optimism, the future is likely to be diverse (and factually speaking: less white); but the real question is, can the avant garde remain the vanguard?

 

2 July

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Chris Watson – Weather Report (2003, Touch)

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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.