Sound the All-Clear
Sound the All-Clear is the first album by Christopher Campbell, who studied composition and film at Sarah Lawrence College under teachers such as David Del Tredici and George Tsontakis and who currently works at a St. Paul record store. Though the album title signals the return of safety and peace following threat or danger, there's no modicum of turbulence about the album's content. In other words, Sound the All-Clear is not an exercise in ambient tranquility. Instead, it catalogues the composer's teeming and restless imagination, and documents an unpredictable and mercurial sound world that's hard to pin down and affix names to. Sound the All-Clear clearly exemplifies an openness on Campbell's part to all sonic possibilities.
There are twelve tracks in all, with four of them vignettes, three of them long-form, and the rest in the four-minute range. A given piece sidesteps easy definition, as episodes of varying character appear within a single track. Sounds flutter into position and then just as quickly scamper away, whether they be bowed fiddles, kotos, music boxes, or otherwise, and pieces rarely settle for single, sustained moods. Take the eleven-minute “Imago” as an example. A true travelogue, it begins placidly with a slow electric piano intro, shifts to noise smatterings, violin sawing, returns to the electric piano for extreme tempo shifts, followed by metronomic plucks, bowed strings, and electric guitar ostinatos—and that's the first half only (Campbell himself likens parts of the track's music to “what a cicada the size of a Ford truck would make,” and a subsequent setting of multi-layered complexity, “Shining Furrows,” is, he says, “from a bean sprout or insect perspective”).
Following the plunge of a needle onto dusty vinyl, “Sleepless Nights” gets us on our wistful way with a vocal group's spirited lament (“Foreign pipes play so lowly and sad, home is miles away. All through the night rain falls down; the sound of silver waves.”) and wheezing chords, after which flutes, piano, percussion, and string glissandi of one kind or another work up an occasional cacophanous moment or two during “Sunface Streams Moonface.” In “Ritual Waking, Ritual Sleepwalking,” the echoing tinkles of music box, glockenspiel, and vibes generate a star-like dreamscape until aggressive string flourishes flood the track with darker undertones, and in “North Wind,” icy exhales evoke the barren fields of a wintry St. Paul, Minnesota site. Two interludes suggest a sparrow colony chirping gleefully, while “Diamond Marimba” presents a brief wonderland of percussion swirls. Campbell convened a large cast of musicians to help realize the album's fever dream, including Michelle Kinney, Todd Hammes, Susie Ibarra, Philip Blackburn, and many others. The audiophile production quality Campbell and Blackburn bring to the recording enables every sound, no matter how small, to resound vivdly (a quality that's even more evident on the vinyl version of the release, which spreads its twelve tracks acros three sides).