While listening to Transitions, it's almost impossible not to think of Marcel Duchamp's infamous Readymades. In placing a urinal or bicycle wheel within a gallery setting, the great Dadaist realized long before Warhol that an industrial object would assume an entirely different aesthetic character when viewed under unconventional circumstances. And so it is that we hear the sounds on David Evans' new album afresh when real-world noises are experienced as pure sound entities shorn of their usual associations and context.
The Australia-born Evans, who first came to attention as the co-founder and drummer of the instrumental band This is Your Captain Speaking, released two solo albums prior to Transitions: 2011's Internal Temporal Order was created primarily using a standard acoustic drum kit as the sound source; 2013's Domestic Cinema expanded on its predecessor by supplementing drums with household sounds, typewriters, and field recordings of archaic equipment at the Telstra Telecommunications Museum in Melbourne. Issued in a 100-copy run, Evans' latest represents the natural next step in his explorative path in focusing on sound works created from urban field recordings unaccompanied by other instrument-related sounds. Transitions' seven settings were developed from sounds sourced from the constructed environment and specifically raw materials emblematic of the recent industrialized past rather than the digital present.
In his track titles, Evans doesn't show his hand, so to speak, though he does provide some allusive hint as to what might have been sourced for a given piece. The words metal, meter, razor, carriage, and machine appear in the titles, all of them suggestive of non-digital industrial machinery of one kind or another. Beyond that, however, Evans supplies no other information, a choice that leaves it to the listener to determine what exactly is being heard at any moment while also granting him/her the option of looking beyond the originating material to experience the track as pure sound.
Evans' material is certainly not lacking in the vivid department. “Driftmetal” initiates the forty-three-minute collection with thrumming noises that plummet in slow-motion, an effect one could imagine surfacing in a horror film at a particular disturbing moment in the narrative. Not everything on Transitions is unsettling, however. The rapid rhythmic thrust in “Razor Grinder Chorus” suggests the modified charge of a locomotive or the unison playing of a large percussion section, and there are passages of glassy ambient-drone drift plus ghostly whirrings that suggest the movement of rotor blades or an engine sputtering into action. Though abstract in nature, the tracks have so much personality, the urge to anthropomorphize is strong, and one comes away from Transitions hearing the sounds emanating from Evans' pieces as less machines than microbiotic life-forms. The insectoid chatter fluttering through “Perpetual Light Machine” offers proof enough in that regard.