VA: The Hidden City: Sound Portraits from Göteborg
Sub Rosa

How does one sonically render a city? What form should a sound portrait of a given place assume? Fifteen artists grappled with such questions in producing this aural depiction of Göteborg, a harbour town in Sweden. Many of its contributors are city residents—composers, poets, visual artists—whose presumably strong connection to the locale helped them to conjure sympathetic sound portraits. Like most cities, Göteborg is in flux as it wrestles with the challenges of rapid change, but it's also one with an unusual history. The East Indian Company established its base there in the 1700s and throughout the 18th and 19th centuries the city acted as a center for the trade industry. While The Hidden City project overlaps with the basic premise of fällt's Invisible Cities series, one key difference is that Göteborg is the singular geographical focus, yet it's obviously one capable of inspiring a wealth of contrasting evocations. In fact, the disc is an aural complement to the book Den nakna staden – Människor och plaster I Göteborg (The Naked City – People and Places in Göteborg, 2004) by writer Magnus Hagland and photographer Stefan Schneider.

Electronic artist participants include Schneider (To Rococo Rot) whose Mapstation track “Hammarkullen” is song-based electronica, its insistent, bass-driven loop peppered throughout by hi-hat accents and noodling synths. Also effective though derivative is Johannes Heldén's “Bäckegatan 36” whose arrangement of looping rhythms, moody chords, and faint Swedish voices recalls Scanner. The recording's major highlights are Alva Noto's “Party Plasibenpius (For Rune Lindblad)” and “Perianth vs. Subject Matter” by Daniel Skoglund and Fredrik Nyberg. The Noto (Carsten Nicolai) track is especially interesting for the unusual wrinkle it adds to his style. Voice cut-ups are added to his customary tones, surges, and pulses, and are then woven into hypnotic syncopated patterns. At an epic-length thirteen minutes, the Skoglund/Nyberg piece moves through multiple episodes. The first half merges crowd noises with subtle rhythms generated by typewriter sounds (the best musical deployment of the device since Eno's Taking Tiger Mountain By Strategy) but is dominated in the second half by chopped fragments of a woman's voice.

Other notable pieces include Paul Bothén's “Oh Lord,” a powerful, pounding call-and-response lament, and composer Peter Hansen's lovely “Winter Air,” a pensive orchestral piece. Naturally, the field recordings provide the most explicit sense of place, as sounds of stone pavers working in the streets (Lars Carlsson's “Pavers”) and piercing flutes (Dan Fröberg's “Flute School”) suggest Göteborg directly.

There are, however, some pieces that impress less. Anders Liar's exercise in minimal electronics “Shorthand” and Sheriff's bare-bones guitar-and-drum outing “I Say Hi” aren't terribly compelling, and the blaring horns in Henrik Rylander's “Important Message and No Danger” end the recording too jarringly. But these moments constitute a relatively small portion of the whole. In truth, given the range of stylistic diversity, the recording shouldn't hold together so well but it does, largely due to the connecting thread of recurring Swedish voices which ties the pieces together. In spite of some weaker contributions, The Hidden City: Sound Portraits from Göteborg generally impresses as an effectively sequenced and stylistically rich travelogue of the city.

August 2004