Katharina Klement: peripheries

Marc Namblard: F. Guyana

It's fitting that these Gruenrekorder releases by Katharina Klement and Marc Namblard respectively appear as part of the label's Sound Art Series and Field Recording Series: peripheries is very much a highly personalized sound portrait the artist fashioned of Belgrade, whereas F. Guyana is a relatively undoctored set of field recordings collected at French Guiana. Both releases benefit from Gruenrekorder's customary dedication to high-quality presentation, with each fold-out package supplementing its CD with a full-colour booklet of photographs and text that thoroughly enhances the project. Each also rewards a headphones-styled listen when its sound field is so rich in detail and panoramic in spatial definition.

In 2014, Klement, an Austrian-born and Vienna-based sound artist, spent nine weeks in Belgrade where she collected sound materials from various parts of the city to help answer the questions, “What does this city sound like?” and “Is it possible to portray it using sounds?”; to help flesh out those answers, she also interviewed people of different ages and backgrounds about the city. In conceptualizing the proposed work, she designed a score using her city map with her apartment as the center around which eight concentric circles were drawn; recordings gathered from those demarcated zones were then shaped into eight musical layers to produce a presentation piece featuring eight channels and eight speakers (the fifty-two-minute CD presents a stereo version). The field recordings and interviews give the work a site-specific character, but the artist is very much present in the way the material has been shaped into a nine-part portrait that captures the vitality of the city.

Loosely organized as a travelogue of sorts, peripheries begins with a generalized impression of the setting when Klement, having taken the elevator to her building's sixth floor, records the city from the balcony of her apartment. Traffic noise, sirens, and barking dogs immediately establish the ambiance of an active industrial center, after which “induction” blends a recording of the rotating ‘egg' component in Nikola Tesla's induction motor with sounds of water taken from fountains in front of Belgrade's Tesla and Tito Museums. Following that, “nijemo kolo (mute dance)” pushes the project to a greater level of abstraction in wedding sounds of church candle flames being snuffed out in water to a recording of a “nijemo kolo,” a silent dance where only steps and jumps are audible, to produce a sound portrait designed to honour the city's dead. At this early stage, we're presented with clear evidence of the composer's sound-sculpting presence and reminded that peripheries is anything but a pure collection of field recordings, even if some parts are dominated by them (e.g., “zeleni venac (green wreath),” a sound portrait of a busy urban neighborhood filled with people selling goods, playing music, and playing soccer). Yet even in those cases, the field recordings are shaped and processed in a way that reflects Klement's sensibility. Elsewhere, Turkish musical elements emerge during a portrait of one of Belgrade's most densely populated neighborhoods, “Karaburma (black ring),” speech recordings by Tito serve as raw material for “Tito's Rondo,” and a voice collage of sorts forms from interviews (in English) Klement conducted with Belgrade residents. Bringing things full circle, “turn” takes the listener on a final acoustic tour through the city, with elements from the previous pieces reappearing in a shape-shifting piece that incontrovertibly reminds us of the abundant life-forces in play.

To create F. Guyana, Paris-born Namblard, since 2000 a nature guide, wildlife sound recordist, and sound artist in Lorraine, collected field recordings from the forests and the coastal regions of French Guiana between 2014 and 2016. As mentioned, the seventy-two-minute recording is largely free of artistic intervention apart from the imposition of track durations and the sequencing of its eleven tracks. It's no less effective, however, for being more straightforward in its presentation than Klement's, especially when the details of the various French Guiana locations are so vividly captured.

Some sounds, such as water burble and insect thrum, are generic as far as field recordings-based material is concerned, but many others give the project a distinctive character. “Crique Popote, Rhinella marina,” for example, is distinguished by the rather woodpecker-like trilling of Cane toads, whereas “Crique Popote, Cacicus cela” similarly tickles the ear, in this case with the bright cawing of Yellow-rumped Caciques and the unsettling cries of Guianan Red Howler Monkeys. Generated by Black Spider Monkeys, Red Howler Monkeys, bees, cicadas, and crickets, the cumulative throb roaring through “Forest drones” is also undeniably arresting (at one point, the strangulated wail startlingly begins to resemble the hollow death rattle of a dying person).

F. Guyana is also, strikingly, a great deal more ‘musical' than one might expect, given its concentration on undoctored nature phenomena. Animal and insect sounds punctuate droning backdrops of bird chatter and cicada thrum in a manner that suggests the organization of a formal composition. During “Petit Saut, Ara chlroropterus,” to cite one instance, it's easy to regard the raw vocal declamations of the Red-and-green Macaw as a lead ‘instrument' of sorts, with the other sounds taking their place as ground to its figure. Like any effective field recordings-based project, Namblard's enables the listener to arrive without traveling, so to speak: even if one never ventures to the coastal regions of French Guiana, F. Guyana certainly allows one to get some vicarious sense of what it would be like to do so, through both auditory and, because of the booklet photographs, visual means.

August 2017