Murmer Teams with Gruenrekorder for Songs For Forgetting

“I work very slowly.” The four words that begin Patrick McGinley’s extensive notes for his most recent LP are telling of an artist who brings, first and foremost, a deep care to his craft. This isn’t news for anyone familiar with his catalog, particularly his albums dating back to 06’s superb collaboration with Jonathan Coleclough, Husk. McGinley’s tireless contributions in putting field recording on the proverbial map have seen him rise as a prominent figure in a style of music that’s low enough under the radar to be often labeled ‘non-music.’ Just goes to show that it’s for the love of it and little else, and the same can be said of his friends and fellow sound artists John Grzinich and Yannick Dauby—the three of which you might consider the Estonian axis of captured sound.

MurmerSongsForForgetting

Songs For Forgetting was released about seven months ago now, and before that you’d have to go back about four years to his last proper album. In that time McGinley scrupulously made recordings of things like dripping gutter spouts, fireworks, a giant sand timer, and a bowed radio antenna. He also made a point of evoking a more traditional spirit of song on this release, and as a result a Ukrainian zither-like instrument, a bandura, is also featured. hidden in these songs is a plethora of origin; the album coming across as a kind of cryptic atlas coded in sound. The listener is given a sonic arrangement from which to derive meaning, but only the creator himself can fully decipher the work.

There are many layers to Songs For Forgetting, and as one digs deeper they are rewarded with a nesting doll’s worth of surprises. The LP jacket features an embossed aspen leaf skeleton from McGinley’s personal found object collection, and the paper itself appears to hold bits and pieces of detritus (perhaps also provided by McGinley?). Furthermore, McGinley made recordings of the printing press while the jackets were being made—not a bad call back to a past work should these recordings ever grace a future release. Ultimately, it is the songs themselves that hold the most intrigue, confirming that a Murmer release is still something to get excited about.

Songs For Forgetting may feel skeletal at times, but the quality is a testament to how well McGinley layers his recordings, where multiple sound sources can give off the illusion of a joined origin. The first and fourth songs showcase this well, as the quick, spindly tones of his zithers sit perfectly atop the sounds of rainy gutters and fireworks, respectively (the tempos match up almost perfectly). And if these tracks come across as a bit playful for the devout field-recording enthusiast, I’d counter with a plea to look at it from the perspective of unconventionality, to attempt to embrace the act of a nature artist rolling down his sleeves and venturing into the great indoors.

It is “The Third Song For Forgetting,” however,—a strictly outdoor sourced piece—that is the album’s crown. Frequencies sourced from physically manipulating, or picking up the wind on, telegraph wires, rods, antennae, or metal fences, has been a long standing practice among phonographers. Harry Bertoia and Alan Lamb are my go-to artists for that particular sound, but McGinley certainly gives them a run for their money on this track with a palette-whetting arrangement for ocean waves and a grayscale melody that would rival any long-wire drone. McGinley harnessed these drones from bowing a radio antenna on the roof of an observatory in Tõravere with village native Piibe Kolka. The song marks a high point in the Murmer catalog, and as an album, Songs For Forgetting reveals McGinley as a man who won’t soon take lightly his search for the world’s perfect sounds.

Visit the album’s kickstarter campaign. It’s a good read.

MurmerForgettingDetail

Advertisements

Sala – Scare Me Not

Scare me not, scare me not. One can almost hear Audrius Simkunas, aka Sala, muttering these words to himself like a reassuring mantra, standing alone in the depths of a great, mysterious forest. Memory plays a predominant role in Unfathomless releases, but few seem to encapsulate childhood fear as well as Scare Me Not. It is not that the recordings here are especially sinister, or creepy, but that there is a looming mysteriousness about them, as if, at any moment the boogey man might rear his ugly head. I’d argue that Simkunas isn’t saying we should all face our fears already, but that maybe fear is an important part of our memory, that it plays some pivotal role in human development. In any regard, Scare Me Not provides ample space to mull it over.

U41

From the number of albums I’ve heard that come from Lithuania, the place seems brimming with abandoned war era locations. Inspiring for field recordists, these sites beckon their reawakening through sound, and it was one of these locations where Simkunas found his inspiration for Scare Me Not. Using the cavernous space of bygone, rusty objects as his base note, Simkunas reigns in sounds from his surrounding environment. Bird song is the first thing that is heard, appropriately enough, as birds are the true commencers of the day. The remaining environment is introduced very slowly, a short, bellowing drone here, the soft shuffling of human activity there.

Things pick up around the 15 minute mark, where three or four different sound sources coalesce into a soupy alien soundscape. It’s hard to say how Simkunas achieved a lot of these sounds, perhaps with some specialized sensitive sound equipment. He seems to allude to something of the nature on his description of the work, referencing “esoteric surgical instruments of sonar knowledge extracting,” whatever that means. Later on, around 19 minutes in, there is a pleasing, higher register tone that undulates in the background, acting as a nice counter to the more tactile elements. Reminds me a bit of Ora.

Unfortunately, Scare Me Not peaks a little early, and I’m not entirely convinced that it warrants it’s 65 minute run-time. The 20 minute second part meditates a little too heavily on a drone that sounds like someone leaned a guitar against an amp and walked away. However, there is more going on to the piece then that one uninspired drone, and Simkunas is smart enough to have more than a single element at play at any given time, keeping things interesting. I can’t imagine returning to this work too often, but it is an interesting album nonetheless, if not at least for the unique sounds and feelings it conjures up.

Rihards Bražinskis & Raitis Upens – Aldaris

Here is the first of two new submissions from the phonography focused label Unfathomless. Founded and run by the tireless Daniel Crokaert, Unfathomless challenges sound artists to create work based around a physical space. As Crokaert puts it, the work should evoke the spirit of a specific place, “crowded with memories, its auras and resonances and our intimate interaction with it…” As of now, Unfathomless seems to be taking precedence over its sister label, Mystery Sea (also run by Crokaert), likely because it seems to allow for a more diverse output, expanding on the dark ocean drones that populate the Mystery Sea releases.

U40

For the better part of last year I spent my time working as a bartender for a brewery in Vancouver’s “Yeast Van” brewery district. Although most of my time there was dedicated to front of house, I got to know the basics of the beer making process as well. As someone with more than a fleeting interest in field recording and sound, I was frequently enamoured by the strange and enriching sounds that came from the process of brewing beer. Whether it was the bubbling and churning from the boil, the vacuous pings from the inside of empty tanks and kegs, or the hissing drones from Carbon dioxide canisters, there was a lot of intriguing sound to get lost in.

Rihards Bražinskis and Raitis Upens take this idea and run with it. On Aldaris, the two captured recordings from a 150 year old brewery in Riga, Latvia, and wove them into a 36 minute sound piece. According to the Unfathomless site, the duo were given freedom to interact with the 80-year-old beer kettles, which, no doubt allowed for a substantially richer final product. From the opening seconds it sounds like the two making use of these kettles, as slowly, bass-heavy creaks and rumbles fill out a pleasant low-end. From here the sound only intensifies, reaching a small earthquake-like magnitude by the 7 minute mark.

In my experience with field recording work, the most potent albums abide by, more or less, one of two artistic approaches. Either a work is steadfast in its use of explicitly unaltered, unprocessed field recordings, or, moderate liberties are taken in editing and processing as a way to accent a given work. On the other hand, albums of this type that heavily obscure the source of their sounds really don’t do it for me.

Bražinskis and Upens avoid the pitfalls of heavy-handedness. Their editing approach seems to respect that their audience has the patience to hear how Aldaris subtly shifts over its duration. The transitions here are especially choice, namely the punctuated blasts of soft noise that guide the piece into its second movement (starting at 7:59). The album’s mid-section, with its skittering, almost free-jazz like tactility and haunting, fever-pitched drones, evokes all the feeling of being squarely within an ancient ruin. Or, in the case of Aldaris, speaks to a great industry that has risen and fallen, and a land that is forever at the mercy of time’s reclamation.