Kate Carr: The Story Surrounds Us
The Helen Scarsdale Agency

It's not every day a field recordist gets profiled in The New York Times, but then Kate Carr isn't your average field recordist (to be fair, Alex Marshall's 2016 article “London, as You've Never Heard It Before” also featured Chris Watson and Ian Rawes). Known for her admired Flaming Pines label and solo releases, of which The Story Surrounds Us is her eleventh overall and second for Jim Haynes's Helen Scarsdale Agency imprint, Carr brings a highly developed musical sensibility to her liminal productions, with a major portion of their content originating from environmental recordings.

As serious as she is about her work, she isn't overly precious about it, as intimated by album titles such as I Had Myself a Nuclear Spring (Flaming Pines, 2015) and It Was a Time of Laboured Metaphors (Helen Scarsdale, 2016). And neither is she a purist adamant about preserving the integrity of the field recording by refusing to present it in any way but in its raw form; Carr's work more often achieves a fascinating rapprochement between environmental sounds and musical treatments derived from vocals, guitar, piano, and electronics.

The balance shifts between those dimensions from track to track, and sometimes within the same one. Exemplifying the two extremes, the album opens with thirty undoctored seconds of a door's vocal-like groan (“The Creaking Door of the Abandoned Concrete Factory, Olafsfjordur, Iceland”), whereas the piece that follows, “Things That Stubbornly and Resiliently Subsist Without Leave,” begins with the chime of electric guitar playing before electronics come flooding in. But often the lines separating the poles blur and the focus shifts to the sound design: however many field recorded elements figure into the makeup of “There Was a Lot of Whispering Involved,” the result plays like the recorded transmissions of a ghostly dream-state where soft exhalations and faintly plunked pianos collide.

Though the Australian Carr is now London-based, The Story Surrounds Us amounts to a globe-spanning travel diary of sorts, with materials having been collected during visits to Iceland, Mexico, Sweden, and Spain. In a typical setting, originating environmental sounds are integrated into formally developed compositional structures where their musical potential is maximized without losing necessarily their identifying character in the process. The vibrational twang of a plucked wire, for example, becomes a textural flourish accenting an ethereal drone during “We Were the Pulse of a Wire Pulled Tightly,” whereas “For All This Long and Hopeless Year” sees Carr plunging into dark ambient territory with a richly evocative soundscape teeming with micro-noise. Particularly phantasmagoric is “I Didn't Get a Lot of Sleep in Mexico,” which uses electric guitar strums to stabilize disparate arrays of voices and industrial sounds. Carr's that rare someone who can take the raw sounds of communication wires recorded during a tropical storm in Mexico and make them sound like the controlled cacophony of a busy video game arcade.

June 2017