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V.A.: "2 - Favourite Spaces"; "Sound Matter Birmingham"

img  Tobias

Despite a lot of distressing, depressing and disturbing things, 2009 can, on a more positive note, also be remembered as the year that Audiobulb finally broke through. With nine widely acclaimed releases, Dave Newman's outfit not only all but doubled its usual annual output, but furthermore delivered a string of albums that was second to none in terms of quality and diversity. So strong was its performance over those twelve months, in fact, that one was finding it hard to believe that the label had already been in existence for as long as six years without ever attracting widespread attention. Now, however, things seemed to come together: From the charming concoction of Folk Guitars and electronic textures on Ultre's „The Nest and the Skull“ to the daring asymmetries of Craque's „Supple“, and from Hans van Eck's explorations in instrument-design („BassBox“) to the undiluted beauty of Jimmy Behan's „Echo Garden“, Audiobulb established itself as a record company in the best of experimental traditions: Ambitious but accessible, visionary and down-to-earth, daring yet endearing.

If there was one seminal release which helped to pave the way for this success, it was „Favourite Places“, a collection of commissions dealing with  spaces of personal relevance. Taylor Deupree and Biosphere graced the album with their presence, Field-Recording-Guru Aaron Ximm and improvising Jack-of-many-trades John Kannenberg were happy to contribute and a surprising cast of personal favourites added a plethora of stimulating concepts to an album of wild mood swings and a dizzying array of approaches. It was a clear case of inviting the right people at the right time: „Favourite Places“ turned into a medial darling featured in almost every influential publication and significantly raised the label's profile. Some even considered these ten carefully selected tracks the outfit's finest hour yet.

It should therefore seem only natural that Newman would want to follow up this artistic success with a second full-length built on the same concept – a feat already hinted at by a subtle „1“ in the title of the original album - and again, he has managed to attract a anonymously inspiring cast: Lawrence English, Michael Santos, Sawako, Jeremy Bible as well as the label-boss himself under his Autistici-moniker are just some of the names included on the compilation, which spans three continents and travels from the expansive bird-reservoirs of Brisbane Forest Park to the suburban countryside of a Belgian village and documents frantic journeys through London's South Downs as well as a peaceful sleepy-time in He Can Jog's bed in Brooklyn. Complementing the music, extensive liner notes in the lovingly designed booklet provide ample anecdotes and background stories. Some of these are mere sketches (Sawako), while others considerably deepen the auditory experience (Michael Trommer's notes to Toronto's Underground Pedestrian Network). The informal tone of some of these texts occasionally even manages to put a  smile on your face. „Just before we began recording it started to rain“, Michael Santos remembers about his trip to Parkland Walk, London, „but we figured it wouldn't be an accurate document of London without unpredictable weather.“

The first thing one notices it that musically, „2 – Favourite Places“ is considerably more coherent and homogeneous in comparison to its predecessor. The emphasis of the majority of pieces rests firmly on floating drones, delicate and richly detailed field recordings as well as soft echoes of acoustic instruments – Calika enriching the palette with naive rhythms and Sebastian Krueger adding sleepy vocals to He Can Jog's aforementioned lullaby. On the one hand, this has significantly increased the immersive character of the collection as a whole. On the other, not all tracks convey the same sense of being true representations of the relation between a particular place and the emotional resonance inside of the artist any more, as a result making the concept seem slightly less stringent. Which is why the less obvious works here leave a more profound impact: Bible captures both the physical properties of a concrete factory as well as the sensation of mysticism and memories in a piece of stuttering drones and flutes. And the label boss himself succeeds in turning a five-minute soundscape into a compelling narrative about an early-morning excursion to Peak District National Park. All artists, however, seem to have been inspired to provide some form of  intimate confession. Which is why this sampler is not just a seductively glowing gem in musical terms, but a fruitful collection of personal portraits to boot.

Even though the line-up wouldn't immediately suggest as much, there are a lot of tangents between the idea behind the „Favourite Places“-series and Francisco Lopez' „Sound Matter“-project. For the latter, Lopez is joined on his field-recording explorations through Birmingham by a cast of local artists. Their materials are pooled and, in turn, processed by the entire group. The result are two collective folders of sources, which can be used by each member of the group their compositions. As a consequence, two aspects to sonification are again emerging: An attempt at documenting a particular place through sound and a self-revelation by the artist through the way he or she approaches this goal.

Following in the philosophical footsteps of Kant and Anais Nin („We don't see things as they are, we see them as we are“), Lopez doesn't even try to deny the fact that the fingerprints of his collaborators are all over the place. On the contrary, he encourages them to leave their marks. The idea of „Sound Matter“ is to understand that each medial representation is a new reality in itself, establishing its own borders and following its own logic. And so these nine pieces do not seek to act as a tourist guide or to be representational in any way. Their aim is not even to demonstrate different „takes“ on the same object. Instead, they regard the city as a living, sound-producing organism whose emanations are considered as invitations to create.

The outcome is marked by the freedom this approach allows for: Helena Gough contrasts foggy drones with crackling distortion and rhythmical cuts. Martin Clarke fills a pastoral park-scene with the majestic resonances of church bells. Bobby Bird moves from heavenly chime-patterns to cascading and pulsating discharges of electricity. Cormac Faulkner holds his ear close to the ground in search of a microtonal world underneath the city's surface. Lopez (whose „Untitled #225 closes the album), meanwhile, erects the disembodied abstraction of a picture postcard in an almost ten-minute long piece filled with digital metaphors and allusions, which acts both as a kind of summary and post-introduction. It is this variability which turns these researches into a rewarding trip: While predecessor „Montreal Sound Matter“ was, at times, hard to digest, „Birmingham“ is equally exploratory and of an endearing accessibility. Just like the label behind it, really.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Audiobulb Recordings

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