Robert Schwarz: Double Negative

Robert Schwarz's Double Negative is as enigmatic a recording as his previous Gruenrekorder outing The Scale of Things, but something tells me the Vienna-based sound artist wouldn't have it any other way. Field recordings once again played an integral part in the sound design, with in this case Wonder Valley, Yangshuo, Fiskars, Palawan, Sandouping, and Overton providing reference points of audiophonic plunder, and modular synthesizers and electronic treatments of one kind or another also helped shape the album's seven compositions into final form. But beyond that the material remains open to interpretation, with track titles such as “YSY” and “FSK” doing little to lessen the material's abstract character.

Not that the recording's opacity is a bad thing; if anything, it makes the pieces on the thirty-eight-minute vinyl release (300 copies) all the more fascinating as well as endearing. To be clear, the material isn't wholly abstract, as familiar sounds of twittering birds, wind, and water do emerge within the sound design. Yet Schwarz to a large degree counters that normalizing dimension by coupling it with electronic interventions that destabilize the recognizable elements by setting them adrift within the larger constructions. Each piece reveals itself moment by moment, its definition morphing repeatedly as elements are mangled, mutated, and elastically stretched. In one setting, real-world sounds and synthetic flutter collide, with the burble of water heard alongside brooding synthetic tones, metallic clatter, and writhing noises of some alien kind. Zones heretofore undiscovered are evoked allusively, the listener often feeling as if some jarring new natural territory teeming with never-before-encountered flora and fauna has been entered into. That strategy is never more evocatively pursued than during “PLP,” even if a brief episode arises midway through where the densely layered sound design collapses to leave high-pitched synthetic whirrs as the single element still standing.

In the final analysis, your guess is as good as mine as to what it means. But expecting intelligible meaning will ultimately declare itself is approaching the project from the wrong direction, I suspect, as this is one of those recordings where abstract indeterminacy is part of the plan, Schwarz less concerned about whatever meanings the listener might glean from Double Negative and more focused on its content as pure sound sculpture. Perhaps it's best to think of its seven pieces as equivalent to abstract imagery distilled into time-extended sonic form.

March 2018