Under the Arches of Her Voice | Socrates Martinis

Hailing from Athens, Greece, sound artist Socrates Martinis presents Under the Arches of Her Voice. The album is a six-part rumination of rough-hewn sound, with each part acting as a snapshot of an unidentifiable sonic environment. Martinis’ tools are simple yet effective, employing field recordings and “found sound” (the latter of which I’ve always found comically vague as a source material credit. Nice ring to it though). Compositionally, Martinis’ approach is gratifyingly to the point, mostly opting out of the use of gradual fading at the beginning and end of tracks. In terms of transitions, the pieces turn on a dime, not only from one track to another, but within the songs themselves, which makes the fact that this is split into six parts feel not particularly important.

Restlessly, Martinis changes the direction of a given piece before it fully settles. Normally, I’ve found the decision to cut quick and short as detrimental to this type of music, but Martinis achieves a healthy degree of success with it here, and I think it’s due to how the micro-movements that make up this music all seem to complement each other well. More artists working in the realm of field recording are embracing an approach to composition that Martinis employs here, namely, a grittier, drone-based sound pocked with quick transitions that can lend the music a touch of authority when done right. Considering the entirety of Under the Arches of Her Voice, the album could have achieved the level of, say, Patrick Farmer & David Lacey’s Pell Mell the Prolixa like-minded work that I reviewed earlier in the yearbut stacked up against it feels overly constricted.

When honing in on any given track, Martinis’ strengths become more apparent, as it’s clear that his ear is finely tuned to his environments. Even when his naturally captured sounds are bathed in layers of hiss and sonic grime, there is an unmistakable feeling of open space. It could be that I’m picking up on the natural reverb from his recording areas, or it’s the sounds that tend to creep into the mix that hint at space, like the barely audible classical music that exists deep in the background of the fifth songsounds like the music happened to be playing somewhere in the background. Not shockingly, the longer of the album’s tracks provide the most interesting variety, like part two, “…Happiness Smells Like an Orange,” whose vignettes shift from crude and subdued noise to churning, weather-beaten drones and back again. Are these the voices emerging from cavernous ventilation shafts or are we hearing some arcanely processed recordings of wind? Could very well be both. Without a doubt, the allure is in the mystery.

Available now: Organized Music From Thessaloniki.



The Art of Reduction | Yan Jun & Ben Owen’s Swimming Salt

A tube amp warming up. The final stretch of an unwinding cassette tape. A radio with the dial set between stations. For most of us, if not simply the musically inclined, these are but three of the many familiar variations in static sound. Hiss, crackle, buzz, drone, fizzle, hum, whir, whatever you might call it, the liminal sounds of existence are one of life’s constants. These static sounds rarely blip the conscious mind of those unaware of their musical potency. To certain artists, however, these sounds hold the potential to be made alive, transcending a byproduct status that’s resulted from the second nature interactions between humans and machines.

Yan Jun and Ben Owen are two artists who not only recognize the potential in liminal sounds, but have adeptly harnessed that potential over their careers to create innovative and evocative music. Using a reductionist palette of controlled feedback, electronics, amps, and radio, Jun and Owen ease into a composition for approachable noise. Over its course, Swimming Salt balances piercing feedback with an ever-present crackle. As the title suggests, the work is like the sensory equivalent to an epsom salt bath, enveloping the listener in a blanket of simmering electronics. Eventually, parts of the blanket succumb to the void, allowing room for silent stretches that give the clinical tones an added weight when they are eventually reintroduced.

Ben Owen resides in Brooklyn, New York, while Jun, it appears, floats between Vienna, Taipei and Yokohama. While each player has surely been influenced by their respective locales, this collaboration remains geographically indistinctout of context I wouldn’t be overly confident that this even came from Earth. More importantly, Swimming Salt continues to prove these two artists’ respective aptitudes for keeping things interesting. Owen, who also possesses a strong fascination with field recording, and Jun, who is one of the more unpredictable and eccentric Chinese voices in the experimental arena, use their collaborative chops to fuse a mutual interest in the power of unencumbered sound. And Swimming Salt, to these ears, is exactly the kind of work I would hope for when bearing in mind this noble pursuit.

Available now from Organized Music From Thessaloniki.

Swimming Salt