Australian field recording artist Jay-Dea Lopez‘s recent release on Galaverna, AC, is a study of the relationship between domestic and distant or exotic spaces in the practice of field recording. In addition to field recordings themselves, he uses sounds of the electricity (or alternating current) that symbolically and physically connects both those spaces to one another and each of them, in turn, to the recording device itself.
With such a title, it is unsurprising that electronics are present throughout the piece. While they are usually brought to the forefront, are occasionally mistaken for the fields themselves, and other times slip into the mix, for better or worse they are literally omnipresent. To be fair, I have an aesthetic penchant for some of the particular brands of lowercase glitchy electronics on display in AC. If one does not enjoy that style, then AC may make for a difficult listen.
The question, then, is do they add or subtract from the various field recordings that pass behind them? I say behind purposefully, as the overarching dynamic impression of the synthetic component is one of highly compressed, enhanced or otherwise amplified sound – tones and textures that the ear associates with low audibility brought to the forefront, occasionally over much diminished or under-modulated fields that would obviously be rather loud in situ.
Perhaps in an effort to avoid some of the quotidian elements of the audio palette that direct recordings of A/C flows offer, the electronic components of the piece are frequently loop-based, or otherwise rhythmically structured. This can sometimes offer great interplay with the fields (across the second half in particular), but they can also come across as too artificial or arbitrary in relation to the sections where the fields are less dynamic or drone-based. By way of example, towards the end of the first act, beeping and hissing sine waves are backed by quietly running water – a pedestrian contrast in tone and texture.
At nearly exactly the halfway mark the loops that have frequented the piece so far begin to build and complicate, and the recording takes on a studio feel. That the see-sawing ticks, hisses, and flares of shorting circuits are indiscernibly either computer generated, acoustic recordings of electronic devices, or fields of insects, of security systems, or of the recorder itself is the most engaging facet of AC. This section alone is worth repeated listens.
Its remainder, though not quite achieving the curious and cohesive sound of the second act, benefits from maintaining a more rhythmic structure. Bird calls, crickets and other arpeggiated or repeated fields feature more prominently and produce a variety of syncopated beats both amongst themselves and alongside the electronics. While the latter change little across their breadth, these interactions give the appearance of a dynamic work – rather symbolically placing the role of the field recorder (device, person) in AC itself.
My thoughts on the relatively stolid nature of the digital detritus that spans the work are mixed. It adds a thematic appeal to an otherwise very diverse set of field recordings, though it can also sound tiresomely repetitive. Diminishing its effectiveness is the frequent use of slow fades and pans across the work, producing a rather sanguine tone. On the other hand, there are some interesting meta-structures in AC. The piece rhythmically moves between noisier drone sections and more pointillistic ones, providing some metre. Lopez also arranges the track loosely as a palindrome, with a number of sound sources from the opening act reappearing in its dying minutes (including a delightful pseudo-purr that I could listen to over and over again). Hearing them reframed in a new field under different modulation is also a nice touch.
AC provides some incongruous listening experiences, where the acoustic and digital elements seem somewhat arbitrarily cut-and-paste. However, it also delivers some wonderfully cohesive soundscapes, where the dynamic and textural elements of the diverse sound sources complement each other beautifully. It makes for a lilting listen, as the ear periodically dis- and re-engages with the music. Whether the effect is latent or intended, it is at least pleasant.