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Kate Carr: Summer Floods

img  Tobias Fischer

All five tracks contained on Kate Carr's debut EP are imaginative, intricately crafted and full of surprises. And yet, if one were forced to choose one of them as a summary of her creative personality, it would have to be „Comfort in the Sound“ - if only because of its title. Indeed, Carr doesn't just possess  a natural penchant for making ambitious concepts and challenging materials feel perfectly natural. She's also built an intimate relationship with the acoustic world around her, music literally constituting an inhabitable space and a home. Her explorations into acoustic phenomena have a decided sixth-sense-quality to them, as though she were trying to read between the lines, hear beyond the score and find out where the music goes once the orchestra has stopped playing. In a way, her approach is akin to the refusal of a friend of mine to accept the existence of a „happy end“ in Hollywood movies: „What I'd like to know is what happens after the protagonists finally fall in love with each other“, she would say, „I'd like a movie to start at the closing titles.“ This, too, is where Carr's auditory movies have their point of departure and from where they're taking audiences on a journey far across the borders of the expected.

Each of the contributions on Summer Floods can be considered a slightly different illustration of this philosophy. Opener „Saturday Night“, for example, hinges almost entirely on a sampled Western-style guitar lick. In the first few bars, Carr uses it like a hip-hop producer, quickly repeating the sequence like a rhythmical element and creating what appears to be the foundation for an urban groove. The beats never kick in, though. Instead, both the duration of the sample and the spaces between successive re-appearances increase with each passage, revealing more and more of the original excerpt and gradually releasing an expansive atmospheric drone. Clearly, the introductory sample is in no way the actual Leitmotif of the composition, but a mere marker or gauge against which to measure the expanding second layer opening up in its wake. Aforementioned „Comfort in the Sound“ takes a similar trajectory, starting out with a rhythmical matrix made up of abstract plops and what sound like processed piano attacks. After suggesting a sense of steady movement, Carr then suddenly pulls the rug from under the listener, leaving only a single, almost apathetically repeated tone from the initial statement intact and ripping apart the structure of the piece to dig for hidden secrets in a world of drifting echoes, pitched-down ghost melodies and myriads of micro-noises occasionally merging into patterns, themes and faint figments of familiarity.

Astoundingly, with regards to the proudly explorative nature of these tracks, the EP's title and artwork - depicting (on the front) trunks-wearing swimmers lazily drifting through an ultramarine ocean on green, red and blue inflatable matrasses and (on the back) three brightly coloured palms against a shimmering blue sky – are anything but an ironic statement. Rather than creating a kind of intellectual, serene and hard-to-digest kind of sound art, Carr's pieces are playful, sensual and undeniably summerly, her musical motives floating through the arrangements like weightless sonic clouds. The expertly crafted and the naïve are closely related here; on one occasion, the result even sounds almost like a short scene from a fairytale-adaptation, an electric piano laying down cool chords against the backdrop of water and Carr imitating bird sounds by blowing into a Japanese owl horn. The term cinematic doesn't seem entirely out of place here, albeit more in reference to the processes running in the back than the actual „filmic“ qualities of the results: At times, the impression is one of a director setting up a scene for a movie, arranging his actors within the camera frame and then allowing them to improvise.

And yet, there is more at work here than just entertainment. The idea of sound referencing and setting up environments, of it being capable of expressing and addressing political, social and personal aspects is an important guideline in Carr's work. While there was an obvious ecological dimension to her Listen to the Weather project, as part of which she asked sound artists from around the world to combine extracts from compositions dealing with water and geological data, it also dealt with our perception of particular sonic phenomena in terms of an emotional meaning: While water, for example, has turned into a sonic cliché in most of the Western world, it may imply thirst, dehydration and pollution to others. It is here, in this constant sense of multiple meanings, that Summer Floods gains its real sense of discovery and adventure, similar to how the artwork's frontcover models are enjoying a carefree day – but nonetheless seem to be floating further and further away from the secure shoreline, their mattresses taken out to the unfathomable depths and expanse of the ocean.

As a journalist reporting on questions of ecology Carr is not just theorising on these topics from the safety or her studio, but actually actively campaigning them. Neither is the concept of Summer Floods a fantastical idea about peace and harmony, the concept is her life. Which explains for the sense of urgency and intensity of these pieces and why their stubborn refusal to be cornered.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Kate Carr
Homepage: Flaming Pines Records

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