Kate Carr’s work aims to sonically express the relationship between people and places. The Story Surrounds Us is her latest tape and is released on the Helen Scarsdale label. The album is dream-like in mood, often shifting into oblique tangents away from the direction in which you thought the music was progressing. Field-recordings: wind turbines, ice crack laser beam ricochet noises, liquid turbulence, insectoid scuttering, lapping water, soft firework crackle melts into ringing wintry guitar melodies, disembodied voices, piano pings, and pulses of drone. The occasional heart-thump beat adds temporary rigidity to what are largely patchwork compositions, a sound collage of disparate elements. Taken as a whole, The Story Surrounds Us has the unhurried sleepiness of Pan American, a long rewarding yawn and stretch but examined minute-to-minute it is a hive of activity.
Cities and Memory is an ongoing project and label that also explores people and places through field-recordings both raw and manipulated. Their latest release Protest and Politics collects reimagined recordings of protests, political activism and demonstrations; each track about a single issue and place. Brexit Means Brexit (London, UK) by an unnamed contributor pairs soft swelling Stars Of The Lid synths with a series of statements ranging from Nigel Farage’s inflammatory Danegeld comparison to depressingly familiar anti-immigrant tirades. Techno-industrial clank and rhythmic machine-judder acts as a clockwork frame in Stephanie Merchak’s Systems Collapse (Reykjavik, Iceland); its originating material obscured in the, perhaps metaphorical, clanking and grinding. Unpaid Intern smears a protest from Hamburg, Germany into a beautiful frosty ambient drone; what might be whistles stretched into taut wires of sound.
The context around each piece could perhaps be more explicit in the tracks themselves, the listener is often left with a babble of voices run through various effects or protest noises woven around beats; the field-recordings themselves in danger of being reduced to garnishing. The best tracks leave the street noise, dialogue and anger most naked – the music highlighting rather than burying the politics. The raw recordings are captured in a fascinating sound-map for the listener that wants to explore the project to the depth it deserves.
Plinth, aka Michael Tanner of United Bible Studies and a multitude of other musical aliases, on Collected Machine Music gathers and refines his music with a different intent and method to the above artists. Recorded over 2005-2011, and released in 2012 on the Time Released Sounds label, it has recently been reissued in a vinyl edition. Rather than remaking field-recordings into seed beds for electronic computer music, Plinth takes as his raw material several Victorian parlour music machines, wax cylinder recordings, a French carillon and a seafront calliope and has added tape effects, sampled voices and subtle adornments to the instruments dusty wheezing, tinkling and knocking. Collected Machine Music sounds like a haunted version of Colleen’s et les Boîtes à Musique. Every second of this beautiful album is impregnated with a fading past, resembling James Kirby’s albums as The Caretaker; half-remembered sound-impressions fading over the memory horizon, sad and eerie. Some of the tracks are a confused jumble of clangs, like a set of kitchen pans banging together on a storm-shaken ship. Melodies are picked out more centrally on the spooky music box pieces, especially Eight Tooth Movement which has an underlying sinister electrical throb. The Musgrave Ritual is a lullaby gone nightmarishly awry. The crackle and hiss on Pinned Butterflies conjures dusty fluttering from long-forgotten insect display cabinets. The ghosts of seaside activity haunts Lulworth Calliope, that location’s Durdle Door acting perhaps as an entrance to Plinth’s clockwork kingdom.