Daphne X – “Água Viva” [tsss tapes, 2020]

Daphne X
Água Viva
[tsss tapes, 2020]

tsss tapes is a small cassette tape label based in Perugia, Italy. Founded just over a year ago, tsss curates a strain of music that is, in their own words, “Quiet and weird and free.” Last month saw the release of two works to their catalog, Daphne X’s Água Viva and Philip Sulidae’s Stien. Both are of the esoteric sound art milieu, with Daphne utilizing water-based field recordings sourced from the Montseny region in Spain, and Sulidae instead approaching his Hobart, Australia-based soundscapes from a place of found sound/junk percussion improvisation.

Água Viva, which this review will focus on, opens to a vast and barren region where an almost imperceivable drone gives spectral character to an otherwise initially featureless environment. Daphne’s cascade of near microsounds, water-drippings cited in the notes as reacting to surfaces of “polyester, metal, and skin,” lull the listener into a gentle but ever-shifting space of open air, perhaps stone, but most importantly, falling water. An expansive environment is thus created from minute elements of said environment; it makes for quintessential by-the-book lowercase listening. My bread and butter…

These drips, interrupted by almost recognizable material surfaces (I myself wonder if Daphne simply held their binaural microphones up to their coat), feel warm, round, and dulled, as if they were landing on the roof of a makeshift shelter the listener is huddled in. Comforting but dynamic listening – cautious, but safe, for now; a sleep approaches that you don’t want to fall entirely into, for fear of losing this momentary sense of calm. Luckily for Daphne, and the listener, this static comfort is not the tape’s one trick.

Soon, animal sounds begin to lend company to an initially isolated listen; birds, a faraway dog. A small pail is pushed out from the shelter. The sounds of the falling water now echo with a half-hearted metallic reverberation throughout track two, and this sort of improvised drum disguise/technique is expanded upon as the tape progresses throughout the rest of its short run time. The titles of the tracklist, “First the Thirst,” “First the Mouth,” and “First Both,” interestingly seem to mirror this expansion, as their individuality as separate tracks is each negated by their being the “First” of something, reliant on each other though clearly differential.

And thus, more musical percussive elements are added to the rain and sourced from the rain (the true sonic “first,” if you will), until the tape, by the end, begins to sound sort of like a malfunctioning downtempo release rather than environmental recordings. Daphne’s flowing source material, cold, bubbling, like water caught near the surface of a half-frozen lake, pairs beautifully with the space they finally arrive at within the last track, titled “Now Either,” a culmination of Daphne’s clever track titles as well as a reflection of the evolution of the source material. Naturalness, caricatured by the rain, is joined seamlessly with a more experimental electronic palette, finally followed by a rather alert field recording of possibly a supermarket or other large public space, the “now.” Ultimately, the listener is removed from their initially secluded vantage point, their natural, “first” state, and brought back to some sort of version of civilization as a sort of transplant, similar to the way the rain constantly evolves from source to a place of unnaturalness.

Perhaps Daphne is offering a commentary on the nature of manufacturing here. Even the source material is not entirely nature-based. Remember, these are not just rain sounds, they are the sounds of rain’s audible reactions to man-made objects and surfaces.  So, how do we experience naturally occurring phenomena? Do we even have a context for it that is entirely removed from our own manufactured viewpoint? Can I feel it without my clothes on at all? Where are my sunglasses…

What is more significant, the visceral, animalistic drive of thirst, or the fact that my mouth is that which is thirsty? Me, me, me. Is the existence of nature more important than our presence in it? Did earth really throw this great big party just for us? And does the rain fall just for me, or just for Daphne, or…does it just fall?

I don’t have answers for these yet, but I do know we look forward to more from tsss tapes, always. In the meantime, you can listen to Philip Sulidae’s equally fascinating work here.