While each of your producers at Soundscape / Cut And Run is engaged with field recording in our own particular way, you need look no further than here to find some degree of cynicism towards the practice. Much of that antipathy is due to a genre-wide tendency of romanticism: both structurally, in much of the form’s eschewal (or editing out) of noise deemed incidental or interrupting; and ethically in its processes of framing, by which attention is often focused with a platonic remove on auditory fields untouched by humans. Of course, efforts to the opposite appeared early with varying degrees of success. Notably, the World Soundscape Project focused as much on unabashedly urban environments as it did ‘natural’ ones as early as the late 1960s. Many of those responses were (and continue to be) just that – responsive. Often such approaches engender precisely the kind of facile acceptance of noise that has allowed its omnipresence in modern society.
There are many examples of such artificial fields being used more constructively; Bill Fontana and Aki Onda both invoked rhythmic and melodic aspects of urban field recordings without reverting to a politic of antagonism as many of their precursors did (dating as far back as Luigi Russolo and Fluxus). After a rather long (and ongoing) rekindling of field recording’s romantic period, due largely to ever-lower sticker prices on the required equipment, we find ourselves now in a more fertile age. Almost manically avoiding purity of form, Yparxei Provlima Amalia‘s most recent work seizes fragments of technique and meaning from each of the genre’s ages and re-purposes them to great effect.
While Kona Kai has some of the in situ recordings of music playback common to Graham Lambkin’s works, segments of conversations and travelogue à la Luc Ferrari, expressions of noise, moments of beauty and the more traditional elements of conscious listening, it is fair to say that this album is more than just the sum of its parts. Fitting 10 tracks into just 16 minutes makes for an incredibly succinct listening experience, and the abrupt transitions from piece to piece are often disorienting – appropriate for a collection of recordings made while travelling. It is difficult to pinpoint exactly why this mini-album is such an engaging listen. While some may find its attention span drastically short (read: modern), its crystalline miniatures are dense and intriguing. The texture of the work is both personal and topical, skimming over social and cultural conflict while also engaging in it. The rationale behind its compilation is more a result of an almost naive fascination with the curious, the inexplicable and the odd than with the sublime or philosophical; despite that, Kona Kai as a whole is both aesthetically and structurally pleasing.
The segments of recording are very event-focused with little-to-no context provided, either narrative or auditory. Yparxei Provlima Amalia shows a sort of irreverence for traditional field recording form, shorn of a conventional narrative and presented in such tightly delineated forms as it is here, but also clearly possesses a deep respect for the epiphanic power of these moments. This characteristic lends the album a sense of both immediacy and vicariousness which continues to fascinate after repeated listens. On most tracks, these small transformative sound-events are akin to architectural follies; designed in representation of some ethos, culture or ideal, but by the distance, scale and purpose of their reproduction rendered essentially unusable. Thus, almost by design, they can function purely as ear candy to a curious audience as easily as they can be dissected to the nth degree in search of social commentary; purposeful or inadvertent, naive or insightful, existent or not.
The bewilderment at the pace and breadth of experience on display in the first listen does not quickly fade, and Kona Kai will no doubt reward repeated listens. The art of field recording has some life in it still.
Still available on cassette from Organized Music From Thessaloniki.