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Ten Questions with Nicolay

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+FE Music: The Reworks
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Simon Whetham

Broken Chip: The Wonga Pigeon
Flaming Pines

Simon Whetham: The Phoenix
Flaming Pines

Australian label Flaming Pines continues its Birds of a Feather series of three-inch EPs with the fifth and sixth installments, this time by Broken Chip and Simon Whetham. The two tackle birds of contrasting character in their respective projects, the humble Wonga Pigeon for Broken Chip and the mighty Phoenix for Whetham.

Broken Chip, who resides in Australia's Blue Mountains, first saw the Wonga Pigeon, a large white and grey bird, in his backyard four years ago. Unable to identify it, the artist studied bird books in the hope of doing so, and, with the bird not re-appearing until a year had passed, the Wonga Pigeon began to assume a near-mythical status in his mind. Though Broken Chip's ode lasts but ten minutes, it packs a generous amount of detail into its arrangementóbird calls and chirps, obviously, but also placid tones and textures. The delicate strains of processed acoustic piano add to the languorous character of the material, a move that imbues its gentle undulations with an Eno-like quality. Close your eyes and you might end up visualizing yourself on the shores of an Australian beach on a peaceful summer's day, with the sound of gentle surf mingling with the faint cries of birds and piano notes drifting from an open window. The Wonga Pigeon is probably about as peaceful as this series gets.

Simon Whetham is, of course, a perfect candidate for a project such as Birds of a Feather, given that his work is derived solely from field recordings. His seventeen-minute contribution to the series focuses on the Phoenix, that familiar symbol of rebirth and renewal, and derives from recordings Whetham made during a June, 2012 trip to Phoenix Island in Cambodia. In that regard, the Phoenix is a natural choice for Whetham, whose approach is predicated upon resurrection, specifically the manner by which sound recordings of the past are reconfigured into new form. He extends the metaphor in this case to Cambodia, too, which, like Vietnam, is still struggling to recover from war-torn pasts. It thus makes sense that his piece would include not only bird sounds but also people talking, tinkling chimes, and what appear to be boat-related sounds, with mournful musical melodies, the thrum of rainfall, and bell tones helping to stitch it all together. Anyone familiar with Whetham's work knows how well-crafted it is and how effectively he threads elements into smoothly sequenced wholes. Needless to say, The Phoenix is characterized by the same qualities.

It bears worth mentioning that one dollar from each Birds of a Feather purchase is being donated by Flaming Pines to Birds in Backyards, an Australia-based education and conservation group.

April 2013