Knowing more how than why
|Untreated recordings from on-site testimonials archives.
Assembled and mastered at Shiver Mobile 2013.
||Current sonic discharge
||Pasta in tomato sauce
||Manual vintage washing machine
||Reel-to-reel static improvisation
||Burning a reel tape loop
||A dog crying near a ventilation system
||Manual surround effect
||Ventilation system of a mall's toilet
||Citric acid on an open circuit
||Reel-to-reel static mess
||Waiting for my Okonomiyaki
||Complete package (Artwork + Mp3 Sound files)
||Complete package (Artwork + FLAC Sound files)
|It would feel strange to describe an album of field recordings without mentioning its context, so let’s start there. Francisco Meirino, who lives in Switzerland and has been experimenting with sound for two decades, compiled Knowing More How than Why from recordings in locations as far-flung as Ourense, Spain and Osaka, Japan. He released the album through Impulsive Habitat, a label that houses an international collective of field recording artists and makes all of its albums available for free. If you browse through the label’s archive, you’ll find a staggering range of soundscapes: lightning strikes in Norway, a political demonstration in Italy, a factory in Australia, a train station in Kansas. And throughout Impulsive Habitat’s catalogue appears an uneasy fascination with the tension between human society and the rest of nature.
That unease is all over Knowing. This isn’t just experimental music — this is experimental eco-acoustics. Most pieces don’t top the four minute mark, and the unnerving shifts in dynamics from track to track make me feel like I’ve stumbled on a collection of outtakes from a new Scott Walker project. “Mouth Candy,” which I’m guessing is a recording of Pop Rocks dropped in water, sounds surprisingly serene given that Pop Rocks are among the most bizarre and unsettling candies ever made. “Ventilation System of a Mall’s Toilet,” though, would probably scare me out of my wits if Meirino didn’t name the sound source in the track title (and if it were late enough in the night). Even though we’re hearing sounds that represent fixed places and moments, we’re hearing them radically out of context, and Meirino never lets us forget that.
At this point it’s probably healthy to ask a couple of questions: Why listen to compositions with titles like “Pasta in Tomato Sauce” or “Citric Acid on an Open Circuit”? Why write or talk about field recordings, especially ones like Meirino has given us? Here’s my answer: these compositions and Meirino’s arrangement of them force us to step back and consider not only music in isolation (assuming perfect speakers and headphones), but sound in general as it seeps into our daily lives from all sides.
Phil Benson, the singer for the excellent Bay Area punk group Terry Malts, recently told me about a time he heard Joy Division’s “She’s Lost Control” in a bar. He had listened to the song a million times before, but in that context (there’s that word again) the song sounded incredible in a completely new way. Knowing plays with the same logic and uses it to study modern machinery. The tracks either de-familiarize us from the sounds of technology in daily life or are recordings of technologies being altered in creative ways (“Burning a Reel Tape Loop,” “Defect Oscillator,” “Reel-to-Reel Static Mess”).
So it’s perfect that, on both of the album’s bookending tracks, you can hear pop songs in the background. On the closer, “Waiting for My Okonomiyaki,” anodyne restaurant music drowns under the weight of dinnertime conversation and the sounds of cooking. And near the end of “Cleaning Machine,” the opener and my favorite track on Knowing, a catchy R&B song bleeds through industrial noise. Even in such a clean place as the track title describes, the R&B is far from sterile. It has become part of its environment. We hear it as we hear easy listening radio in the supermarket, or as we hear dance music blasting from a nearby building on a Saturday night. It interacts with the world, and the world transforms it into something new. So who cares about buying immaculate speakers and headphones in a fight to hear our music as purely as possible? The sleepless electric world is humming all around us. If we listen closely, we might hear ourselves.
-Emmerich Anklam (from Decoder)
©2013 Francisco Meirino
©2013 David Vélez
©2013 Francisco Meirino
©2013 Impulsive Habitat
This work is licensed under a BY-NC-SA 3.0
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