The work of my friend Tim Westcott, aka Portland’s wndfrm, has over the years found a foothold in the international electronic music community for the wide range of its styles and atmospheres, from deep-listening exploration akin to lowercase (see C60/tmkutekt, for Home Normal, one of my fave labels) to an idiosyncratic take on dub techno ( Formal Variant is crucial). The latest wndfrm release, for Yann Novak’s excellent Dragon’s Eye Recordings (check the new Marco Marzuoli, Geneva Skeen, and of course Novak himself), A Land of Falling Waters is an acousmatic mental journey through Cascadia’s moss-draped rainforests and fog-enshrouded beaches down to the micro-level of undergrowth and tidepools. It is most definitely worth your time, an essential sound art album for the year. Additionally, Tim has a DVD collaboration with visual artist Mark Henrickson out; it is entitled 1412
Tim had time to chat over email to promote the album, recently. I got to pick his brain for his thoughts on the act of listening, so I was naturally pretty happy…
On the release page, A Land of Falling Waters is called “a stereo iteration of a quadrophonic live-performance presented throughout the summer of 2016.” So, maybe tell me a little bit about how this work developed over time?
Like most of my projects, it came from aggregating various textures and elements into a framework that I could use in a performative context… I had a few shows lined up in the late spring/summer of 2016, and half of them were of an ambient nature.
I can’t say that I started out with the “Cascadian” thematic element…that emerged due to the nature of the source material… the quadrophonic aspect is simply a product of my desire to work with as much spatial depth as possible, in any given context.
In this work you capture a very organic sort of soundspace. Where were the field-recordings on the album taken? What sound source was maybe the most surprising or unusual?
To be honest, I don’t really want to give out much in the way of specifics… while I would probably say more in a personal context, I think with this type of work the act of perception is vital to the enjoyment of the piece… to influence the listener in a certain, concrete direction I think is possibly detracting from this experience. I truly enjoy reading reviews that credit this type of sound or another, especially when they are completely wrong! It’s so telling how much our past experiences influence how we perceive the world around us.
I will say there really are very few source elements; they are sourced from a couple of spots in the Pacific Northwest, and one urban locale in Montreal. The piano elements were recording during a tuning session for the last edition of the substrata festival in Seattle, in 2015. I just left my recorder in the room and walked out while the technician was working.
In fact, the piano recording proved to be the most surprising, for some reason I got some “surprise” tonal and harmonic elements from the reverb and notch filter chains I used.. very cool!
What kind of narrative or feeling did you want to convey on A Land of Falling Waters? How is it different from your work from the past?
It’s not so different, perhaps it is a bit more “static” and open than some of my other recorded work. It’s difficult for me to capture these things sometimes, to “finish”, as it were… everything is a work in progress, everything is bits of lego strewn about the floor, waiting to cohere. I think in the performance context, the live aspect, it’s much easier for me to sculpt sound in this manner… to take a snapshot of that process, this I find more demanding…
Honestly I couldn’t pin down any specific narrative… it is what you hear, incorporating your own perceptive bias, and emotional lean… my intent is simply to engage the ear, and hopefully to reward the act of sonic immersion and deep listening… I attempt to encourage these practices through detail and pacing.
What kind of musical influence would you say is happening here, among the more abstract elements?
A few years back I made a conscious choice to engage the world around me without wearing headphones all the time… I don’t have a car, and ride the bus/walk frequently. I think eschewing the “personal soundtrack” aspect of wandering about urban landscapes with music in ear has really helped my own attention span, as it pertains to sound.
I’m not sure if that answers your question, but I think it’s quite relevant..
Who are your favorite contemporary sound artists? Who would you say has influenced you?
Favourites? That’s a tough one… truly too numerous to list… my influences include 80s era new age, late 80s and early 90s hiphop, techno from Detroit and abroad, the whole early Warp Records/IDM scene, the minimalist and avant garde composers I’ve been exposed to, the junglist massive, the lowercase/early 12k scene, Touch Records, Raster Noton, crate digging in the ambient bin, etc….etc….
I have been truly encouraged and influenced by my friends in the local Portland scene… there is such a pool of talent here, it’s almost sickening.
You can buy A Land of Falling Waters here. Enjoy.
By way of a bubbling mixture of ambient loops, fingerstyle guitar, and spoken word fragments, Rootless, the project of Brooklyn-based artist Jeremy Hurewitz, dips his toes into the waters of eternity. Distant Cities, off Wise, Virginia’s excellent Otherworldly Mystics and produced by Mountains’ Brendon Anderegg, is a great point at which catch up. Our guide for this cosmic tour muses off and on over the tenuousness of our mortality: “a troubled clay figure succumbing to the mossy encroachments of his alien surroundings / he forgets to dream of the dreamer / haunts the epicenter of its polarity/ this trick of unbecoming / no light whose color renders darkness” Someone once observed that you can travel the world and never feel wonder for what lies just a few steps outside your home. Sounds like someone else came to know this well, himself. A sadly brief (just under the thirty minute mark) album I could not recommend highly enough for anyone in search of poetic and clear-seeing psychedelic sounds…give it a listen, pronto!
Conjoining Currents: Drone, Psychedelia, American fingerstyle
Label: Otherworldy Mystics
Perugia, off Preserved Sound, the debut of the drum and guitar duo of Francesco Covarino and
Alessandro Incorvaia (with some help from guests on electric and double bass and lap steel Marcos Muniz and Alfonso Alcalá) was recorded live without overdubs or fades-outs– this is worth noting because it is syntonic to this impressive collection’s organic vibe. This is overcast post-rock that circumvents crescendos (not that I don’t love that kind of stuff) in favor of the jazzy, minimal spirit of Tortoise’s Millions Now Living Will Never Die, The Necks’ Aquatic, and all that other good stuff, filtered through a dreamy haze. No conventional song titles to be seen here, just numbered recordings– further evidence of a humbleness underlying it all. These five emotive explorations reveal themselves in no big hurry– sometimes with a quiet joy, elsewhere with hands stuffed in the pockets on the walk home. There are many textural touches to savour: best of all might be Incorvaia’s psychedelic splatters of reverb on “#3”, the centerpiece track, and Muniz’s lap steel on “#5”. More like this, please!
Conjoining Currents: Post-rock, Ambient
Label: Preserved Sound
Soundspace is a new radio-based installation series for Freeform Portland focused on recontextualizing radio as a space for new modes of listening, hosted by sound artists Samson Stilwell (who played the second Foreign Accents show ever at Turn! Turn! Turn! in October, thank you Samson!) and Ben Glas. Each month a new sound artist installs an exploratory piece to the airwaves for you to mull over, get lost in, and whatever else works. The series, which meets every other Sunday from noon to 2pm, is live-streamed at Beacon Sound, but the general idea is that the broadcasting medium puts the concept of a sonic installation tied to a specific locality in a new, far more flexible cast.
The first installation for Soundspace was Roarke Menzies‘ Anamnesis Study: The Little Bell, a loop-based ambient piece which I caught on November 6th from the comfort of home. Roarke’s broadcast, which manipulated an obscure recording of a Russian folk song to highly evocative effect, was a real pleasure to hear not least because of my admiration for his new album Corporeal. In December, Soundspace featured Eli Coplan‘s piece Substractive Synthesis, which I sadly missed. This show is not being archived at the moment. See, this is why you really need to tune in!
I recently got the chance to have a brief but illuminating chat with Samson and Ben about the project over email. Have a look-see:
How did the two of you meet? What was the impetus for SOUNDSPACE?
S: We met through a radio show I did called Nocturne. I had heard Ben’s work through a mutual friend (Roarke Menzies) and invited him to perform on the show. Nocturne aired from 4-6 in the morning and it was Ben’s birthday. It was very romantic.
B: The inspiration to start Soundspace came from a series of conversations that Samson and I had about the possibility of transmission art and ephemeral space. When Nocturne ended we felt a desire to continue radio-based experiments and further question modes of listening and experiencing.
What is SOUNDSPACE “about”? What kind of considerations do you both make in curating the series?
S: Soundspace is an attempt to turn the radio in on itself, to consider the radio as holding space, as well as a an opportunity to showcase sound artists we admire. We consider our by-monthly transmissions as radio installations. The tuning in and out of a radio frequency acts as a way to interact, to enter or exit the radio installation. Using this framework the Soundspaceartists have created work that really utilizes the radio as a site-specific mode of listening.
What kinds of possible proclivities/biases do you guys think you may show?
B: I definitely see a leaning towards open and aleatoric structures, as opposed to set-in-stone or seemingly serialist compositions. There is an urge to mimic the show’s experimental nature through the content.
I was not present at Beacon Sound for Anamnesis Study: The Little Bell, but I listened to the entirety of the piece and was really mesmerized by its evocation of memory. Tell me about how you guys got in contact with Roarke and about your interpretation of the installation. Was the first broadcast the first time you had heard the piece yourselves?
S: I heard Roarke’s work for the first time about a year ago when he came to play a show in Portland. I missed the show (which oddly enough Ben was also performing at) but listened to his record Corporeal and loved it. I invited him to do a guest mix for Nocturne. Then we became pals!
B: And yes; the first we heard the piece was when it was first presented on air. It was a pleasant and beautiful surprise! My interpretation of the composition, in conjunction with the writing, was definitely nostalgic; I felt a deep longing for a moment in time that can be described by no words I know.
S: At one point in the piece the original recording, which gets warped and reworked by Roarke’s complex electronic processing, becomes almost morse code like; the pulsing signal is so precise with wordless meaning, reaching back for itself, reaching for the moment of the recording and yet knowing it will never fully be able to reach it. It’s sad but fitting that the piece was only audible twice when we aired it and now disappeared. That is unless Roarke uses it for something else.
Your latest broadcast was of an installation by Eli Coplan. If you were asked to make a succinct introduction to his work for someone unfamiliar, what would you say?
B: I would say that Eli’s installation for Soundspace was very much focused on networks and the grey area presented by radio broadcast technology.
S: Eli opened Soundspace to the wider radio, feeding back different radio signals into the Freeform Bandwidth and filtering and manipulating them through an open source software called Pure Data which Eli wrote a patch for. Networks within networks.
What is on the docket for this coming January?
B: Max Wolf (formerly Schneider) is on for New Years day (Really excited to see how Max goes about installing!) and
S: Lutfi Othman, a sound artist living and working in London, is installing his piece The Sculptural Adhan which is truly beautiful and you gotta hear it!
What kinds of hopes and anxieties do you both have for 2017?
S: That art finds purpose and beauty. That the world isn’t ruined beyond repair. And for compassion.
B: My hopes for 2017 and the rest of 2016 are for some deep healing on a National, Global and introspective level. And for simple and loving growth for everyone. Anxieties: that the masses won’t be silent and listen to each other’s ideas or fears (or Soundspace).
Tune in to 90.3 FM on Sunday January 1st for some work Max Wolf. I saw him perform with Ben for a series entitled Shortspace in October of 2015, as well as with my friends at Sanctuary Sunday and SIX, so this ought to get interesting. Happy listening.
Blu Deux, off Phinery, a collaboration between painter and sound artist Philippe Lamy and sound artist MonoLogue (Marie Rose Sarri, aka Marie le Rose and Moon Ra) is torn and furrowed at its the edges, but there is something about the cumulative spaciousness of its collage-like, artifact-riddled assemblage that never jars you. But all the same, its timbral zig-zagging holds you in thrall– you would expect nothing less from a duo in which one-half (Marie) has a background in music therapy. Yet, with that in mind, you might be surprised who did what, here!
Lamy’s take on sound art is often based in field-recording and suffused with lo-fi rustles, clicks, and background chatter (take a moment when you can to check his 2012 EP entre deux, off taâlem). Sarri, on the other hand, goes the route of fragmented electronica and obscure highjinks on synths and unlikely objects. The two artists, tending towards the textural and aleatoric in their solo works not only ultimately found each other well-matched in their basic ideas, but meshed perfectly in their interplay. There is an oneiric comfort in all this seeming chaos.
The episodic feel of Lamy and MonoLogue’s soundscapes flows from an internal logic, just like the peculiar mish-mash-of-French-and-Italian of the pieces’ titles. Steady waves of hiss hang in the air like digital cicadas. A bed is laid for deep-listening ecosystems which range from near silence to the whipping clouds of noise on “Prime parole, dernière pensée” that bring to mind Bernard Parmegianni’s L’Enfer. Muffled eruptions rush underneath limpid crackles and alarms. Yet on tracks like “Les Yeux des Mezzanotte” and the opener, “Les merveilleuses aventures de il suono misterioso (Hours D’oeuvre)”, it is clearer to see how the glitches often find a fire and propel a broken rhythm for a time. They never limit themselves much, and perhaps that comes from MonoLogue’s daring sensibility. But the both of them have enough commonalities that their roles intersect with each other. It is a mostly-soft-focus, nocturnal noise that they have conspired to craft, the sort that invites you to peer deeper. Many have made the point of how noise music can actually be an effective aid for meditation and sleep. Look no further than here for that! A master-class in acousmatic hypnosis from two unsung sculptors.
On his Christmas Drone for the Sad and Lonesome tape, off Finland’s TVEI, Vienna-based sound artist and musician Dino Spiluttini holds vigil for those left behind in darkened times. With headphones in and blankets piled deep, the endlessly planing tundra of sound puts you in the mood for contemplation. Spiluttini has been hard at work crafting epic drones for the likes of Phinery and Umor Rex year after year and is a veteran of numerous bands from the Vienna scene: the lost howl of this endlessly sustained, subtly-drifting wall of drone is the most captivating of his recent offerings. Across the two sides of the C54, we sway from a loneliness more immense than life itself to enveloping calm, in that order. A cinematic drone soundscape is just the thing for winter’s pall…
Conjoining Currents: Drone, Ambient, Here, for now by Celer & Nicholas Szczepanik
The 1931 silent feature Tabu, a collaboration between master filmmakers F. W. Murnau and Robert J. Flaherty, is an artifact both timeless and deeply dated. A woman and man (the woman is named Reri, the man, Matahi) on an island paradise (Bora Bora) fall in love after a seemingly trivial encounter at a moment of vulnerability, but their chance for happiness is cut short when an elder from Fanuma, Hitu, declares Reri to be an untouchable vessel of the gods. The decree can be abode by all but two. Matahi easily convinces his love to flee the island with him. But their past seems to follow them, and Reri is haunted by visions of the old warrior who sealed her fate. You may have some idea of where this is going. And all this is captured in some of the most gorgeous black and white imagery ever committed to celluloid.
Appreciating the pictorial beauty of Tabu has to be balanced with some awareness of the context in which it was made– Murnau and Flaherty are two Whites enlisting/utilizing a cast of non-White South Pacific and East Asian non-actors for the sake of a tragic allegory. It’s clear that the way the film came about was through a pseudo-ethnographic approach that might (as is the case with Flaherty’s work as director, which pioneered the idea of documentary filmmaking) come off as condescending in this day and age. However, the actual content of the film, its fatalist, pantheist vision, definitely transcends time and specifics, almost like the art of Lynd Ward (whose best-known books were contemporary to this film’s production). It’s ultimately very poignant, and stands out for its time for how it sympathetically depicts the exploitation at the hands of Whites that Reri and Matahi face after their flight from home.
Hugo Riesenfeld’s soundtrack for the original release (as “talkies”were getting popularized, some films were shot silent but presented with musical accompaniment on a soundtrack anyway) is, similarly, kind of dated by today’s standards for its melodramatic feel (I tend to dislike film music up to the 50s for this reason), but it is still memorable enough that it may have even been influential to other filmmakers and composers in the long run. In a key scene from the beginning, in which Bora Borans paddle out en masse to intercept Hitu, a motif from “The Moldau”, a section from Czech composer Bedřich Smetana’s symphonic poem My Homeland, is heard. I was not even familiar with the name and composer of this piece at the time, but it took me only a moment to remember where I had first heard that melody: in The Tree of Life by Terrence Malick. Crazy. And there are some basic parallels between Murnau and Flaherty’s film and The New World, now that I think of it…
So, fast forward eighty-odd years. In 2016, Christine Ott, fresh off of finishing her luminous second album Only Silence Remains (check: “Sexy Moon”) announced her intention to release a soundtrack to Tabu she had composed in 2012 through Gizeh Records, along with performing in live accompaniment to the film in a series of concerts. This new work puts Murnau and Flaherty’s film in a very different light. It does not have any connection to the previous soundtrack (though Ott got around to listening to that later on), and in many ways it makes for a more satisfying viewing. It is all the more beautiful on its own, as well.
Ott’s take on Tabu is all rippling, insistent motifs on piano and subtle shading on ondes martenot (early electronic keyboard), while Torsten Böttcher gives a lightness and sense of being in a different world on hang (instrument developed by a Swiss company that sounds like a steelpan…). This new interpretation is impassive modern composition that does a better job of complementing the film than the original soundtrack; its suspension of emotional release contrasts with the doomed love on the screen to intuitive effect. Perhaps it is better when film music does not tell you what to feel or is creating something separated from the action by a degree or so. In Ott’s version of Tabu, for the key scene I brought up earlier when referencing the original soundtrack, the pastoral, celebrant strings are replaced by a foreboding ambiguity– Ott’s rippling, pleading piano motif. The siren-song of that ondes martenot enfolds Matahi’s tragic struggle at the film’s end in a sense of the cruel mystery of fate. There is a drama to it all, but easy answers are averted. We’re engulfed by the cold arms of the sea in the end.
This delicate and dark experimental soundtrack deserves some major props for the way it subtly reshapes the experience of watching a great film. Essential.