|Various, Listen to the Weather|
From the title, you would think the LP Listen to the Weather is going to be an exercise in field recording-based acoustic ecology. Surprisingly it is quite lean on figurative acoustic samples and offers instead an intriguing collection of weather-inflected experimental ambient electronica.
This limited edition LP is the first release from Australian sound artist Kate Carr’s Flaming Pines label and draws on material she has collected through a web project of the same name which was part of the 2010 Ear to Earth festival in New York. Taking a new approach to the ecology genre she invited artists around the world to create pieces that included two components: (1) a sense of place created from weather data and/or a recording from the area in which they live; and (2) a sample from a song that references water. (Interestingly many of the artists chose digitally sonified data over field recording.) Through this project she hopes to “explore how water has contributed to our understanding of being human” and suggests that “these understandings will shift as our climate changes” (website).
The first track “Treading Money” by John Kanneberg utilises a figurative approach in which thunder, rain and sirens recorded in Ann Arbor, Michigan, segue out of a sustained strident synthy tone. It offers just the right amount of real world ambience floating in and under the digital soundscape drawn from dew point, humidity and wind data and the manipulation of a sample of Eddie Money’s rock classic “Walk on Water” to create something haunting and atmospheric.
Two artists chose samples from the classical canon. From Kiel, Germany, Field Rotation’s use of Händel's “Wassermusik” is not so disguised, taking a chunk of orchestral chord and pitch-shifting it to make a sombre loop, dusted with static. A serpentine melody slides around the background and occasionally there is a dramatic sting—a much darker and foreboding Watermusic than the original. On the other hand "Mer Verte" by Green Kingdom from Detroit, US, uses a sample from Debussy’s "La Mer" which is pitch-shifted, reversed and stretched to create new chordal units while maintaining the searching feel of Debussy’s original.
From Australia’s Blue Mountains, Broken Chip offer one of the more rhythm-driven tracks “Hydrosphere.” Chime-like tones and chirpy beats are underpinned by a harmonically shifting drone and enveloped in mists of data static (dew point, relative humidity and wind direction) through which wafts the most subtle of vocals from Jessica Bailiff’s “Lakeside Blues.”
A particular highlight is Michael Tromme’s “August Drift”, which uses the rain data for the month of August over the past 16 years in Toronto, Canada and samples from the Beach Boys’ “Til I Die” and “Surfer Girl.” A big droney chord with evolving harmonics slides into guitar arpeggios, with dustings of dirt and little squirts of digital bleepery, offering a sense of a slow undulating deep-sea environment.
Kate Carr’s own track “Wait for me under the water, wait for me here” is also a highlight, with a bolder, less ambient approach. Using dollopy water samples that are treated to cavernous reverb she creates a strong rhythmic drive, over which plays a pizzicato melody snatched from the Sugar Cubes’ “Water.” Digital insects and delayed beeps and bops play out a pattern reminiscent of raindrops falling from different heights. It walks the fine line between figurative and abstract, which is totally absorbing.
From Manchester, UK, the Boats’ “10” offers a tangible sense of place, using samples from the Rochdale Canal which are twisted into dark, bubbly percussion lines, through which a sludgey drone drawn from Tar Water’s “Water Sample” cuts a path. Similarly Letna’s “Kisa Pada” utilises a sympathetic sample, a pretty guitar figure from Stina Nordernstam’s “And she closed her eyes” which plays delicately with the drip drop rhythms of Paris rain. The final track “The Abbey Grounds” by Model Citizen draws on a field recording of a stream from Gwespyr North Wales and Bob Dylan’s “Shelter from the Storm.” Its dark discordant sense of drama conjures a strong sense of place and a fitting conclusion to the album.
As a whole, the tracks on Listen to the Weather display a homogeneity of structural approach, with most artists favouring an introductory drone, a scattering of digital debris (the results of the weather data sonification) followed by the interplay of melodic material drawn from the mostly well-disguised song sample. However the manipulation of this harmonic material offers many surprises and makes this album a particularly pleasurable listening experience and an interesting addition to the area of ecologically focused sound practice.
These 11 tracks and many more can be found on Kate Carr’s Listen to the Weather site: www.listentotheweather.com
© Gail Priest; for permission to reproduce apply to firstname.lastname@example.org