Scott Sherk: Alentejo

A sound sculptor and Professor of Art at Muhlenberg College, Scott Sherk uses his fine-tuned sensibilities on this 3LEAVES recording (available in 200 copies) to render the Alentejo of Portugal into compelling sound form. A number of years ago, he produced field recordings of walks taken through New York City, Los Angeles, and rural Pennsylvania; recent projects have reflected a growing interest in the ambiences of spaces, and to that end he's created portable spaces replete with their own audio environments. As beneficiaries of the Foundation OBRAS, an art residency program in Portugal, Sherk collaborated with painter Pat Badt on an installation titled Cor + Som (Color + Sound) based on their Alentejo experiences that was presented at the Castle of Evoramonte; as a document of the audio portion of the installation, Alentejo in effect exemplifies both the characteristics of a self-contained audio environment and walking tour, given how effectively the recording's seven pieces constitute a sound portrait of the locale.

The Alentejo itself is a windswept and sparsely populated place filled with ancient olive trees, pastures, dusty fields, prehistoric stone sites, orchards, and a stone castle, and as such impresses as a setting that has remained pretty much the same for centuries. Though Sherk generally refrains from imposing himself too conspicuously on the field recorded material, manipulations are sometimes evident, albeit subtly. Notes included with the release clarify that “Crickets,” for example, contains the insects' sounds only, yet also state that he “slowed them down and stretched them out”; similarly, “Silent Valley” incorporates recordings of rustling grass, wind, insects, and birds, but he also “used the moments of sound to generate corresponding sine tones.” As a result, whereas “Sheep” registers as a relatively untainted sound portrait of a dog protecting a herd, “Silent Valley” sounds closer in spirit and form to an electronica track equipped with echo-heavy synthesizer flourishes and minimal beat elements. There's little question that contributions by Sherk also figured into the content of “Drone,” an eight-minute soundscape that sees insect and bird sounds undergirded by industrial hum.

Elsewhere, with accents of light streaking across a cricket-laden backdrop, Sherk captures the nocturnal character of the region in “The Night of Falling Stars”; “Castle” feels hermetic by comparison when the Evoramonte structure's thick stone walls and high vaulted ceilings turn a standard conversation into a reverberating mass of pure sound. Needless to say, the seven pieces, as distinct as they are from one another, enable the listener unfamiliar with the locale to feel as if the Alentejo region has been explored, even if the ‘visit' is one refracted through Sherk's presentation design.

June 2017