Tag Archive: silent listenings


Writing about music is like dancing to architecture, Elvis Costello once stated. In this sense, the effort of this blog is in a way pointless. Helena Gough writes on her homepage: “Sometimes I hope to offer a moment in which someone might sense that things do not have to be as they are… Because ‘words fail me’. Language leaves too much to be desired.” We rather listen to Gough’s challenging debut “With What Remains”, published on Entr’acte in 2007. Crackle, hiss, static, ground humming and electronic disturbances are the main ingredients of 7 pieces of which the first, named sift, stands out as a masterful composition of odd sounds and noises. Everything she does is based on recordings of mostly small things and happenings, which will be then transformed in various ways. This is how she describes her approach in few words:

“Using the real world as a source. Exploring the qualities of a sound. A process of uncovering, of revealing hidden details and turning perspective on its head. Searching for beauty in situations that might be considered ugly or irrelevant. A commitment to the potentials and possibilities of all things in the shadows. A fascination with states of stasis, by matter that appears to be still yet is always in motion. Searching for sounding movements that change our perception of time and textures that slowly evolve, rotate and turn in on themselves. To listen, rather than just to hear with dumb ears. The power of sound as a transformative experience, a place for uncertainty and substance.”

Every second of this short running CD is abundant with meticulously hand-graded sounds and precisely measured pauses that demands highly concentrated listening and rewards with ear-opening revelations of sonic correspondences between contrasting sound elements. The opening piece “Att fälla grova träd är förknippat med risker” (in english: to fell trees is attended with risks) imposes the idea of a falling tree, that can be imagined in various sonic incarnations, only the sound of the falling tree itself is never heard raising a tense and likewise ironic atmosphere of aural hide-and-seek. Hanna Hartman received the german Karl-Sczuka-Price for radio art 2006 for this work, but the other pieces on this CD are as intense and impressive as the first. Stripped bare of the unnecessary, Hannas highly concentrated compositional style focuses on the inner qualities of known daily live sound objects, the metaphorical sense attached to most of the used sounds is dissolved in favour of a pure listening experience of a peculiar and unprecedented sound world.

Everybody knows the constant whisper of air vents in hotel bathrooms or in restrooms of public places, a permanent sonic background to many modern buildings. The network of mechanized ventilation imposes a sound continuum on modern architecture that  provides an image of the rationalization of our interiour living conditions. Eric La Casa collects 30 recordings of such ventilation systems for his CD air.ratio that he made in different locations all over Paris. First the sound stamps are assembled in a quick sequence as a reference point, 2 seconds each location, then the 30 ventilation recordings are presented each for 2 min and finally followed by a minute of silence. While listening to the amplified humming of ventilation, certain psychoacoustic effects appear: one might hear voices or strange instruments in the modulated white noise of the air vents and think, those may be transmitted from other rooms in the building. At least I can easily imagine to start hearing ghosts if exposed to steady sounds like this. Eric remarks that this CD is intended to be an object without distinctive function. Neither scientific nor musical, this project could hold as an art installation (I envisage empty cold bathrooms with white tiles, in which the sounds are played) and by the same token as a minimalistic piece of sound art (just like the piece buildings by Francisco Lopez). Out at sirr records.

4 rooms was recorded in abandoned places in Chernobyl, former meeting points for people who had to leave immediately after the nuclear catastrophy. Kirkegaard utilizes a setting that was already put into action by Alvin Lucier in his historic piece „I`m Sitting In A Room“: a recording is played back repeatedly into the space it was recorded until the signal gets blurred and finally unrecognizable, leaving only a fuzzy drone that represents the resonating frequencies of the room. In this case though, there is no voice, the rooms are left empty and quiet and what builds up over some time is nothing else then magnified silence, the resonating vacancy of left places. The layers of sounds resemble somehow the tones of aeolian harps, only in a more static way as a reference to the radioactive radiation. A conceptual work, as the other pieces of Kierkegaard with a strong emphasis on a scientific approach towards sound and media. Check other works of Kierkegaard at his webpage. 

Chris Watson is one of the world’s leading sound recordists of wildlife and natural soundscapes. He once played in bands such like Cabaret Voltaire or Hafler Trio but is more well know today for his collaboration with David Attenborough on his famous nature documentaries. From the decades of location recording around the world his expertise in the technical aspects of field recordings is unrivalled and his collection of spectacular sound cuts might only be surpassed by Bernie Krauses archive. On this CD Watson assembled recordings of places in Kenya, the Scottish highland and Iceland that represent certain moods and characteristics that unfold and change over time like the weather. The slow natural shifts are condensed in three pieces of 18 min. length that bear a strong sense of drama and the narrative. One can hear a lion attack his prey, cattle running through the field and glacier ice mourning under pressure, only interrupted by episodes of rain, thunder and wind. The fidelity and directness of the recordings is stunning and the way Watson edited this album conceals far more an artistic statement than his previous – also highly recommended – releases Outside The Circle Of Fire and Stepping Into The Dark. 

The completion of Francisco Lopez‘ tryptich of american environmental recordings moulded into compositions of formal strictness and reduction. The first of the three – La Selva – featured sound recordings of the costa rican jungle, the second – buildings – consisted of noises of airconditioning and ventilating systems as well as other machinery found in buildings around New York. Both works are constructed after the same principle: every sound atmosphere stands for a couple of minutes and is then followed by the next atmosphere, any other compositional construction is neglected. In this way Lopez focusses the attention of the listener on the inner qualities of the sounds, without distracting tricks from the side of the composer. He believes in the “possibility of a profound, pure, blind listening of sounds, freed of the procedural, contextual or intentional levels of reference”. The live perfomances of Lopez are actually listening experiences of transcendental magnitude: he asks the audience to carry blindfolds and exposes the listeners to extremely processed field recordings at highest volume followed by abrupt level changes and super slow crescendi. This is then the conceptual change in his third piece – wind – that is basically the longest conceivable decrescendo: not a series of related sound atmospheres but a congruent montage of windshaked places found in Patagonia that progessivly diminuate in sound intensity. Listening to the piece is a very interesting physical experience: while the strong wind sounds of the beginning leave a kind of unrestful feeling, the eerie howling of the empty landscapes gradually gets more calming and peaceful, a sense of the pitiless being of nature evokes, of a place where the human is an alien in a dreamless surrounding. An essential recording of epic asceticism.

When it comes to processed field recordings, this is one of my favourite albums. BJ Nilsen used various location recordings from such places like Iceland, Sweden, England and Italy and mingled them through a set of old worn out tape machines and analogue equipment. Surprisingly the drony sounds unfolding out of nature backgrounds resemble the warmth and lively texture of artists like Fennesz, who utilizes MAX/MSP patches to tweak his guitar playing. Nilsens electronic landscape produces a hypnotic atmosphere that elevates the listener to some outer places. Highly recommended. Out at touch.

Marc Namblard made a beautiful recording of a frozen lake in January 2006. The 56 min. running time follows the temperature change when the first sunlight comes out and the ice sheet starts working under increasing pressure. From my own experience I know that it is unforgetable and awe-striking to feel the cracks flash through the ice surface like thunder bolts. Marc recorded with microphones placed on the ice surface, therefore some background atmosphere is catched as well. Marcs CD is the best capture of such ice sounds as far as I know, it is exactly what you hear while staying on a frozen lake during temperature changes. And it is a hard job to get the right moment where such sound events occur, because the days of frozen lakes are more and more rare in our latitude. The CD is available at Kalerne. You can hear my own ice recordings here.