A quiet space and a good pair of headphones are recommended for this group of albums that share an intent to capture signals, noise, and resonances and sculpt them into fascinating sonic narratives. Featuring Sustainer, José Soberanes, Kate Carr, Arovane, & Porya Hatami.
Sustainer – Radiolas
While recovering from a serious health condition, Alex Alarcón, aka Sustainer, took a page from the book of none other than Brian Eno by embracing his condition as an opportunity for musical exploration within the constraints forced upon him and the equipment within his limited reach. Whereas Eno drew inspiration from the sounds of hospital machinery around him, Alarcón found his unlikely muse in radio frequencies which he fashioned into his latest recording now out on Room40, Radiolas.
“Years ago i used to record things with another shortwave receiver at my parents house. Because it was near the sea and you could catch easily stations from north of Africa. Sometimes I was even able to reach marine stations from boats crossing the Mediterranean Sea. It was an incredibly inspirational feeling tapping into these streams of sound.”. – Alex Alarcón
The label describes the album as “a metaphoric ocean of harmonic noise”. Indeed it takes some time listening to acclimate the ear to the harmonic elements, but the effect is mesmerizing and eventually quite soothing once it does. The grainy hum and sizzling crackle of overlapping frequencies begin to coalesce into patterns as melodic fragments emerge and recede. I found the middle section of the album particularly immersive with a string of tracks that manage to summon a vague sense of nostalgia (‘Radio 04’) and melancholy (‘Radio 06’). It is an ambitious concept, but an inspired one that succeeds in creating a unique and absorbing listening experience.
Radiolas is currently available only as a digital release generously offered as a free download by Room40 (MP3 or FLAC).
José Soberanes – Trazos
José Soberanes, a sound artist based in Mexico who has also recorded under the name Huixtralizer, releases a very personal collection of tracks on the recently founded French label Found Toys. The liner notes for Trazos are posted in Spanish, but an online translation gives a fairly clear indication that it was inspired by a journey through memory in the form of letters, photographs, and notes and a desire to connect sounds to emotions to create an “internal narrative”.
And that is the key to what strikes me as unique about this record. Such emotional territory would be more often explored in melodic constructs, but Soberanes chooses a more experimental approach using field recordings and a filigree of electroacoustic elements instead. This works to create a tactile sense of ephemera to accompany the feelings suggested by the melodic underpinnings, whether it be anxiety, despair or tender nostalgia. The intricate sound sculptures fashioned from this delicate amalgam really catch and please the ear and occasionally reach the heart.
Trazos is available on both CD and cassette, but in very limited editions of 25 copies each with linocut covers that cannot be reproduced due to a loss of the original lino.
‘Lo finito de las cosas’
Kate Carr – I had myself a nuclear spring
Composer, curator, and sound artist Kate Carr’s latest sonic exploration is based in a tiny town of Marnay-sur-Seine, about a two-hour train journey west of Paris. The plan was to gather field recordings of the Seine river. That much apparently was planned, But it was the unexpected presence of a large nuclear complex among the nearby wetlands that seemed to capture her imagination.
It was an astonishing landscape. Most of the vegetation was covered in either water or mud or both. I found fields of abandoned farming machinery, and a deserted quarry with a vast array of rusting equipment. In part it was almost an apocalyptic landscape. These muddy marshes filled with buzzing electrical towers, corroded machinery, shrieking birds and canals feeding a nuclear complex were like nothing I had ever seen….– Kate Carr
Carr meticulously captures the river flow, the electric hum in the air, and the gentle cacophony of bird calls in a ‘confluence’ of sound (one of the track titles). She also gives us a sense the changing landscape with bucolic moments of pastoral beauty which contrast with a sense of mysterious and dystopian suspense or being submerged. On ‘rising waters’, the brief appearance of a doleful guitar provides a narrative underpinning and a reminder of the humanity of the observer who captures this fascinating dichotomy between the natural and the surreal for us to enjoy.
I had myself a nuclear spring is uniquely released solely as a digital recording on a USB stick and was mastered by Taylor Deupree. Her extensive liner notes describing the area and her recording process all make worthwhile reading.
‘Rising Waters Alone In the Dark’
Arovane + Porya Hatami – Resonance
German electronic music artist Uwe Zahn better known as Arovane (Germany) and Iranian sound sculptor Porya Hatami (Iran) formed a partnership last year with the intent to create an album using different sampling/synthesis techniques (granular, modal, additive, wavetable). Their collaboration came to fruition in a September release on Miguel Isaza’s Éter label with the apt and appropriately minimalist title Resonance.
“There is no place where vibration does not wander, nor time in which whispers don’t get dissolved. A sonic concatenation still persists, a tireless continuum made from echoes of echoes; from micro to macro, from grain to texture. Invisibly, time weaves the listener as an experience not of lonely sounds or fixed points but universes of transitory silhouettes gathered in unique union and transmutation; its resonance” – Éter
With two such accomplished artists one would hope for, if not expect, a very rich offering and Resonance does not disappoint. Together they create a veritable sonic ecosystem, albeit a surreal one. Expansive fields of sound and colossal drones serve as vast backdrops populated by a flora and fauna of tactile micro sounds under a shimmering troposphere of synth tones. Their inventiveness expands even to the naming of tracks. Each one is called ‘resonance’, but with a different letter in the word capitalized (reSonance, resOnance, etc), creating a neat visual effect when looking at the whole list. It will take many listens to appreciate everything that is going on here.
Resonance is available from Éter on CD as well as digital download (MP3, FLAC).