RSS feed RSS Twitter Twitter Facebook Facebook 15 Questions 15 Questions

Christopher McFall, David Velez: Credence; Claudio Curciotti: Indica - Sounds from India; Alexander Baker: concentric_eccentric

img  Tobias Fischer

The Impulsive Habitat netlabel, started in 2009, has been a valuable standard bearer for music that is at home in the fertile slipstream between object and environmental affect. The label itself is responsible for creating and maintaining some of the qualities that make this space so productive for the works it hosts. Their model seems to be roughly one release per month, so although these are not considered podcasts or rough drafts, their periodical-style frequency and regularity inflects each release with a kind of open-ended flow through and around the entire catalog that allows works to resonate with each other effortlessly. In contrast to both mAtter and Gruen Digital, all their releases are free, allowing one to download even the FLAC files gratis. This keeps the stakes relatively low for each release in a way that fosters the kind of experimentation that especially emerging artists need to develop a coherent, mature voice. And it also fosters an emerging audience, allowing easy discovery that may in many cases be more important than financial return.
Alexander Baker’s “concentric_eccentric” (IHab023) is pure Musique Concrete, and a treat. In many ways it would serve as a fine introduction to the label’s offerings in general. The record begins with a breathing proximity closer to touch than to any sense of hearing; it’s a roiling, creaking, wheezing and all-too-human fabric of dirty domestic incidental sounds that reduces eventually down to a whisper and begins to let the air back in. The vivacious sense of exploration never lets up in the work, even though the transitions can at times feel arbitrary, and some of the “wetter” effects could be handled with more care. A flair for dramatic timing and gesture creates the overall sense that we are following a keen consciousness roving close and tight over the surfaces of a rapidly expanding world.
This theme of the congested but expanding world is taken up more directly in “Indica: Sounds from India” by Claudio Curciotti (IHab024). This is a work of straightforward phonography, taking fairly static and mid-field perspectives of various credited locations in India, focusing on the sounds of human action within the environment. I was excited to hear this release, thinking of Phil Niblock’s films of “the movement of people” and workers working, where it is suggested that simple tasks, through repetition and focus, can become transcendental. However, by and large Curciotti seems content to plainly document, without the layer of de-familiarization or aural focus that would bring these moments toward something other than sound snapshots. Only a few pieces lean in this direction, like “Raga rain” and “Mosquito theme” in which (despite the explanatory titles) you are not sure what combination of events is making up the sound you are hearing. It’s the archetypal situation for the excitement of acousmatic listening, and one that would have been nicer to encounter more often. But clearly Curciotti’s intentions don’t lie here, and that is fine. A PDF booklet of photos documenting each recording location with a nice color image states this visually: this is what it looked like where this sound was recorded. It all resolves into a very concise picture, and that is perhaps the unsatisfying thing ultimately.
Photography is the most resonant linkage between “Indica” and the latest release by Christopher McFall and David Velez, titled “Credence” (IHab025). Because in many ways, the cover image says it all here: A truly haunting superimposition of 19th century men’s portraits, suggesting both early trick photography and the spirit photography movement that accompanied it. The sense of photographic detail being melted away to create a more true, and frightening, image of a reality beyond the visible world is a fitting summation of the record in general. “Credence” is lovely and decayed, seeming to revel in its own eclipse. This is a work of Hauntology that brings to mind both the Caretaker and certain classics of dark ambient like Lull. The balance between concrete recordings elements and gothic/romantic synth pads is quite interesting, giving the whole a tension that moves viscously between dread and pathos. Despite the unending darkness of the record, it is quite wonderful to listen to, with a consistent sense of curious alertness behind the record’s movements that never allows it to slip into narcotic autopilot. Perhaps best of all, it seems to present another fresh facet to Impulsive Habitat’s interests. The kind of welcome surprises that netlabels and digital distribution services seem uniquely poised to deliver.
The album, I suppose, has not gone anywhere. It’s just not necessary in the same way that it used to be, it is no longer an essential standard. Yes, this creates a wider, deeper, messier, more chaotic map of the world of music objects. But for many of the records reviewed above, this is a rich opportunity. The aesthetics of microsound and field recordings musics are based on a consciously unstable border between silence and noise, between intention and accident, and between making sound and listening. This zone of openness can be seen to extend, I believe, into issues of what constitutes a “complete” work, and how one should approach it “properly”. These are issues that digital downloads always engage with, whether incidentally or as an integral part of the work. In the more loosely controlled format of the digital download, both the form of the work and the forms of its consumption are left open; open to other works, to future works and revisions (often made explicit in the Creative Commons license that accompanies many net releases), and most importantly, open to the world of experience generally. It is exciting to imagine works functioning less like cells in the corpus of some musical history, and more like strands of DNA in the rapidly mutating genealogy of possible forms. In this family tree there is room for any number of expressions, in any imaginable formation, all the time.

By Andy Graydon
Berlin, July 2011

Homepage: Christopher McFall
Homepage: David Velez
Homepage: Claudio Curciotti
Homepage: Alexander Baker
Homepage: Impulsive Habitat Records