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CD Feature/ Annea Lockwood: "A Sound Map of the Danube"

img  Tobias

You know the saying about things not being what they used to be in the record business? Well, “A Sound Map of the Danube” makes you feel as though it weren’t true. It is one of these releases you unpack from the envelope with incredulous eyes and then marvel at for a couple of minutes forgetting everything else around you: A box holding three CDs with a total of almost three hours of music and a booklet which folds out to a map of the river’s trajectory through Europe combine into the apple of every true collector’s ear and into a set which is as beautiful on the outside as it is to listen to.

Personal Relevance
Despite the blissfull shock upon being confronted with its appearance for the first time, there were signs that a publication of this kind was immanent. Already for the final track on Annea Lockwood’s last album, “Thousand Year Dreaming”, the NewZealand-born composer had asked friends to provide her with recordings of nature and later glued these together in the studio. The outcome was a dreamy piece of musique concrete and a surreal invitation to a different perspective on the world around us – foremost, because it comprised of parts which were of personal relevance to their contributors.

For reasons which are never exactly specified but which prove to be utterly irrelevant in the end, the Danube is, vice versa, of personal relevance to Lockwood. During the Winter of 2001 and the Summer of 2004, she undertook a total of five trips, following the river down its bed from the point where it is born from the confluence of two smallish German streams, the Brigach and Breg, all the way to the Ukraine, where it dissolves in the delta of the Black Sea.

For two and a half years, Lockwood regularly lived by and with the Danube, listening to its waves crashing on the shore and talking to the people who grew up close to its banks. She chatted with the Austrian Captain of the cruise ship “Prinz Eugen”, who claimed that “water came through everywhere, even the largest, best dams” and stil did not consider it his enemy. She laughed with Csaba Kiss in Slovakia about the story of his father, who would allow himself to drift down the river for 15 Kilometres to a restaurant, where his brother would wait for him with fresh clothes for dinner. Choral Director Gizela Beba Ivkovic presented her with a haunting account of the hardships of the war in Serbia, while Nicolau Vergos elucidated on the mystery of the Danube’s floating islands.

An ongoing source of life
To claim that the Danube has influenced those who dwelled near it is trivial, but Lockwood’s acoustic journal transcends this banality through the vividness of their stories. The river is neither a nostalgic abstraction nor a self-evident given to them. Rather, it constitutes an ongoing source of inspiration and life. “The Danube is one of Europe’s most significant rivers”, Lockwood writes in her introduction, “having long been a trade and cultural conduit between east and west.” Her album is a living testimony to this thesis, an audio theatre of amazing plasticity.

Lockwood has incorporated a total of 59 field recordings into her “Sound Map”, most of them taken from the shore and a select few on board of boats or subaquatically. You can hear subtle splashings, lively flows, happy gurglings and rapid cararacts, the birds and horses on and above the green meadows and woods, rumbling oil barrels, distant voices and gargantuan trucks pulling up right in front of you. On one occasion, the waves violently sweep over from the right to the left, almost flooding into your living room through the speakers – moments undoubtedly designed for the original 5.1 Surround installation, but which work just as well in Stereo.

A subjective Map
The aforementioned native narrations structure these impressions. You can hear Swabian dialect turn into Austrian accents and follow the language more or less discreetly morph from Slovakian to Hungarian, Croatian, Serbish, Bulgarian, Romanian and Russian. Just like these transitions are not always smooth, Lockwood does not pretend to offer a completely realistic picture with her sounds either. Sometimes, the water disappears as quickly as though someone had pulled a plug, silent passages are suddenly shaken by energetic waves. And yet, nothing is arbitrary, everything serving to underline the diversity of the river’s environments.

This “Sound Map of the Danube” is therefore a subjective one, but its very subjectivity lends it the emotional thrust needed to last the distance. If you turn off the light and close your eyes, you will be taken on a trip which is as threedimensional as it endearing, as exciting as it consoling and which oozes inspiration to follow down the composer’s tracks and explore the stream yourself.

At the end of the journey awaits a quiet culmination: Nicolau Vergas speaks of the Danube as the last paradise on earth and only minutes later, it flows into the big delta with a satisfied gush. You can hear the infinity of the sky above you and for a moment his words make perfect sense.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Lovely Recordings

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