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V.A.: "Feeding the Transmitter"; "Sounds of Slow Flow Vol. 1"; "Au Clair de la Lune"

img  Tobias

Word has it that samplers continue to sell badly, but for fledgling labels, an atmospherically balanced compilation featuring artists from their roster still represents the best way of introducing themselves. Even though decades of major label policy have corrupted our view of the original proposition, record companies were really intended to be creative catalysts, philosophic families and aesthetic complexes, subsuming scattered signatures under an umbrella of a singular, embracing vision. In the hands of skilled label heads, what could be a random selection of loose tracks turns into a work of art in its own right. Several recent „V.A“-branded CDs are reinforcing the image of the compilation as one of the more stimulating artistic expression of the 21st century.

By far the most non-descript of the pack is „Feeding the Transmitter“, released on UK-based outfit amp bit if go. Shrouding itself in a crackling cloud of mystery, it propels the label into physical territory after a string of three download-only EPs, jumpstarting its quest as a professional yet refreshingly unadapted force. The concept behind this fourteen-track endeavour is fully consistent with this concept: Established forces like Morten Riis (who teams up with Jonas Olesen for the occasion), sound poet Michael Santos and Autistici (the alias of David Newman, who is a labelhead for Audiobulb himself) were personally invited to contribute, while the remaining slots were chosen by means of an open submission-call. Intuitive planning and organised surprise are shaking hands, stylistic integrity and delicate diversity converging in enticing ways.

As a logical result, the first impression is one of radical colourfulness. Santos' „New Start“ transcends into a harmonious cluster of drones from a subtle field of chirpings and stutters, Poborsk's „Bells“ unites distant metal and gamelan influences under the slowmotioned four-to-the floor of a dry bass drum. Maps and Diagrams are illustrating the unspent efficacy of sustained flute tones and backwards lines on „Without Illustration“, while „anigma“ by Sinuso Dial feels like a majestic wave of expectation, softly ebbing away on the shores of loneliness and lamentation. Nothing is revolutionary on its own account, but the entirly unforced way in which rhythmic tracks and atmospheric breaths are gently and convincingly linked suggests a new scene (rather than a completely new style) may be budding here. „Feeding the Transmitter“ is suggesting new ways of listening to material which, partially at least, seemed past its prime – and by doing so keeps one hooked for its entire 55-minute duration.

A similar mechanism runs through the ten pieces compiled by Sapporo-based Ryo Nakata. Here, however, as simple and open as they may seem, a clear curational angle is at work. Nakata, in accordance with his label's thematic name, asked his contributors to submit material marked by a „slow flow“. Other than that, there were, as it seems, no restrictions in terms of expression or length, even though the line-up by default leans towards the lands of Ambient, Drones, Soundscaping and dreamy Laptop Electronica: Salt's „Cloudburst“ is a quarter-of-an hour long exercise in minimalism and overtones based on endless sheets of harmonics and punctuated organ-rhythms. The story of „Herfstkleuren“ by Glenn Ryszko, on the other hand, a pastoral scene filled with romantic Guitar echoes and melancholic field recordings, is told in a mere three minutes. And even though it is by no means the most expansive track here, Celer's „Stilettos At Sunrise“ freezes the moment in a heart-wrenching succession of glassy chords.

Whether or not a project like this one succeeds or turns into a uniform mass of anonymous sound effects depends just as much on the capacity of its motto to inspire beyond the realms of the obvious as on the prestige of its line-up. In this case, the label's simple directions opened up a deep space of contemplation replete with a plethora of forms and timbres. Compositions unfold at their own pace and along the lines of personal decisions. Stil, they all share the same space of emotional resonance. Artists like Ian D. Hawgood, whose „Arctic“ closes out „Slow Flow Records Vol. 1“ with a warm glance at infinity, have all taken distinct routes, creating an album in silent unison, which could well have been the work of a single person. In terms of coherency, ambiance and craftsmanship, it will be hard to beat this year and friends of the aforementioned niches are recommended to hunt down the few remaining copies of this publication, already sold out with the label, on the web.

Even more obviously conceptual is „Au clair de la lune“. A double CD  collection additionally enriched by a free download companion, it sets out to draw a historical line between the earliest surviving recordings of the human voice ever made and a team of well-known and up-and-coming sound artists. In 1860, Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville, a Paris-based Scotsman, came up with a machine which would document sound by engraving lines into a sooted metal cylinder. His invention worked – but unfortunately, Scott de Martinville could not conjur up a playback device to match this leap of genius as well. He died unrecognised as the pioneer that he was. It would take until 2008 before scientists at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory could prove that the recording he added to his patent application did indeed contain reproducible acoustic information. They must have felt like time-traveling treasure hunters as they pressed play on their computer, listening to the sound of a girl singing „Au clair de la lune“ through the mist of ages.

On its own, this short fragment, performed with a shaky and unsteady voice, is anything but impressive. It is the thought that counts here, the notion of communicating with the past in a mysterious and creative way. Yann Novak's spacious drone piece „Time Forgot“, for example, stretches the recording into long, spinly threads, most likely a metaphor for the 148 years of numbness it has had to endure. Other artists are using the sample in a more recognisable way. Bare and naked, it haunts the crackling moor of Lionel Marchetti and Yoko Higashi's „A short story“ like a visitation and enters into a poetic dialogue with the childhood memories of a female character on Lance Olsen's „The creature that drank sound“. The most radically different and dumbfoundingly convincing piece here is by Steve Roden, however, who, as it were, composes a delicate accompaniment to the vocals, embedding it into warm, dreamy sequencer pulsations – draping a  blanket of sound around the fragile ten-second fragment.

As if two choke-full discs weren't enough, an almost one-hour-long netlabel extension offers nine additional interpretations. Leaning less towards analytical sound surgery and more towards Ambient/Drone sensibilities, it has, if anything, turned out even more coherent. Jimmy Behan, who impressed with his tender self-discovery album „The Echo Garden“ this year, leads listeners into a sensual space of open colours and silky flavours, while Richard Lainhart's „La lune dans la lumiere du jour“ resembles a calm, meditative and yet discreetly disturbing tunnel of cymbal-like textures and resonant vocal tones. Cimarron Corpe, meanwhile, transforms the melody into a spacious field recording, a landscape of microscopic elevations and dents.

Samplers may not be selling well these days, but everyone refusing to lend this collection an ear risks loosing out on its strongest selling point: Presenting an idea from various angles and thereby leading one towards new insights and trains of thought.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: amp bit if go Records
Homepage: Slow Flow Records
Homepage: Infrequency Records

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