Janek Schaefer: Migration

If ever a recording cried out for a DVD presentation, it's Janek Schaefer's Migration. In the absence of visuals, one struggles to mentally conjure the 2005 performance Noémie Lafrance created for the Liz Gerring Dance company presented at a space opposite NY's Grand Central Station. Attached by bungee cords that allowed them to hover over the audience, dancers positioned themselves on window ledges inside the Whitney Gallery sculpture court and performed to the accompaniment of Schaefer's heavily-edited field recordings.

The subtly evocative, twenty-eight minute opener “To Nairobi to Manaus to Walton” begins with ripples of gouged vinyl noise suggesting a boat adrift at sea. This seeming journey down the Amazon unfolds unhurriedly, the listener serenaded by bird sounds before entering more unsettling territory where radio waves buzz and thrum. Schaefer pays especial attention to the mix throughout, as sounds pan back and forth, the movement of noises mirroring the imagined positioning of the voyager. Still, as much as the piece demonstrates Schaefer's mastery as a sound artist, the piece is finally more a work of sound sculpture than music per se.

The second half exerts greater impact. The extroverted “To Oval to Cologne” focuses less on the manipulation of pure field recording elements and more on arranging organ filigrees and drones into bold splashes of carnival noise that cycle magnificently. If anything, “To Lourdes to Madrid” is even more impressive. Here, steely Lourdes organ drones stream alongside fiery embers that loudly crackle and pop. Choir fragments and organ tones drown within dense industrial haze and clatter during “To New York to Eugenie to Perth,” the hallucinatory, even nightmarish piece that ends the album.

Migration takes the listener on a provocative trip, though Schaefer interestingly displaces the emphasis from the first half's more literal evocation of a geographical locale to an inner psychological journey in the second that flirts with derangement and psychosis more often than not (naturally, one is reminded of Marlowe's journey—mental and physical—in Heart of Darkness). Having noted the difference in character between the work's two halves, one wonders whether the dance piece revealed a similar change in character—a question best answered by those lucky enough to have witnessed the original performance.

May 2006