(New Album Review) Kate Carr- I Had Myself A Nuclear Spring

Australian-raised, currently UK-based field recordist and sound artist Kate Carr has been active since 2007, but the last three years in particular have seen her unleash an incredible flowering of intellectually provocative, aurally intoxicating releases exploring humankind’s relationship with the natural world. A great many sound artists base their work on nature recordings, but the truth is that it is not necessarily common to encounter releases in this vein that strive for some sense of deliberation and truly inventive, imaginative sound manipulation and collage. However, on a release such as 2013’s Songs from a Cold Place, one can see the ingenuity and textural diversity of Carr’s style: Carr will mine an unusual environment (in that earlier release’s case, the jagged cliffs and shores of Iceland) to make a survey of the animal-life and natural ambience, and then will collage those sounds with musical landscapes of her own (mostly drones and dissonant interjections on electric guitar) to come up with something decidedly not static or meant to be passively absorbed, but rather tactile and challenging. Her forthcoming release (in the form of USB Flash Drive in a custom tin container)  I Had Myself a Nuclear Spring, due off her label Flaming Pines on November 15th, took a chance discovery of one particularly unusual environment Carr made while travelling through France (hoping to record the Seine with hydrophone mics) and turned it into the acousmatic odyssey of the year. Carr made most of the recordings used on this album in the flooded marshes just outside a nuclear power plant in the small town of Marnay-sur-Seine.

I Had Myself a Nuclear Spring is a post-apocalyptic soundscape in which the seething drone of electrical towers looms above even the chattering avian residents of the wetlands: the frightened caretakers of the monument in the distance. One effect that Carr employed brilliantly arose from how, when underneath the power lines running to the plant, her hydrophones were rendered only capable of capturing an odd buzzing sound when placed underwater, due to the strong electromagnetism of the area. Indeed, I Had Myself a Nuclear Spring is drowned in a sense of the certain something not-quite-right of the environment it explores. Dissonant sounds from Carr’s electric guitar and other tools give a shaky sense of a center to the diffused layers of eerie manipulated sounds– the muffled cries of waterbirds and steady electric hiss of this territory given a wide berth by humankind. This one is a shuddering minor masterpiece of field recording, right up there with the best from Francisco López and all the other explorers of the unknown.

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