sammie – “sound squirreling” [New Art City, 2020]

sammie – “sound squirreling”
[New Art City (virtual installation/navigable media), 2020]

Sound, visual, and new media artist sammie creates an immersive, navigable virtual installation. It’s absolutely captivating, with a balance of recognizable in-the-world objects and abstract geometries. A walk through an uncanny valley of rendered mesh, blinding silhouettes, and an eerie resemblance to the ‘netart brut’ of early 2000’s computer graphics experiments.

There are clear instructions on the page, but this virtual space allows you to explore the environment using the arrow keys, slipping ghost-like and disoriented through walls, planes, colors, and objects. Suffice it to say that there is a rich, infinitely complex experience at play in the combination of sound and visuals, whose juxtaposition, transversal, and interpretation is left to the viewer. The work as a whole is written in fairly ‘broad strokes’, and it certainly presents the material in the raw. The minimalism is effective. I am eager to hear, see, and experience the next virtual environments sammie brings to the world.

Access to the work is free, but there is a donation button on the page. This is a huge amount of work in an exciting direction–support the artist if you’re able.

One location within ‘sound squirreling’, by sammie

Stud – “Persimmon” [Gathering Wool, 2020]

Stud – “Persimmon”
[Gathering Wool, 2020]

There’s something alluring about a disciplined approach to sound and materials. At its best, this approach can uncover a hidden, microcosmic world through exploring an object’s resonant frequencies and physical topography. There’s a re-mystification of the everyday, a new way of ‘seeing’ an object and transforming our perspective about what that object ‘is’; what we know about it, and what it means to us. In the way that a sculptor’s chisel gives us a new understanding of marble, granite, and clay; or how a photographer’s lens lets us see our city in a different way. But the approach can also overindulge in academicism, leaning on an overwrought conceptual framework to overcome an otherwise uninteresting and lifeless sonic palette. Not this release. “Persimmon” takes its name from an American heartwood, and sounds are sourced from the timber itself. Sonically, the release wallows in the familiar and effective (if idiomatic) sonic territory of harsh noise wall, pulling out searing high frequencies from a thick and murky, distortion-heavy fog of sound in a relentless barrage. There is a constant dynamic motion in this churning, crumbling texture, with a long-form, barely-changing energy throughout each side that sustains interest while not overstaying its welcome. A notable break from the wall occurs at the beginning of side B, with field recordings of birdsong. Perfectly restrained at only a few seconds long, but this brief, recognizable sound greatly opens up the frame of reference for considering the work as a whole. While the sound world of “Persimmon” is heavily indebted to the distorted, contact-mic’d-metal tropes of the harsh noise idiom, the focus on nature, dead wood, and lumber is a welcome and overdue conceptual shift to ecological systems and our place within them. This monolithic wall of noise provides a clearing in the woods to sit and consider our world, the natural world, and the violence we do –to ourselves, to the earth– to subsist.

A part of Gathering Wool’s first group, released Fall 2020.

J-Card designed by A. Marts / Stud

Bordreuil / Rowden – “Hollow” [No Rent, 2017]

Bordreuil / Rowden “Hollow”
[No Rent, 2017]

It’s hard to describe the incredible amount of detail and control that is present in this release. The bowed string instrument can be incredibly responsive and expressive, but there’s a world of difference between even the subtlest variation in bow pressure, speed, or placement between the fingerboard and near the bridge. On a level deeper than that, coaxing harmonics and subtle timbral changes out of an acoustic instrument is even more difficult, where certain harmonics ‘speak’ differently –or at all– depending on very precise and controlled thresholds of these variables.

Leila Bordreuil (cello) and Zach Rowden (double bass) showcase the rich vocabulary that comes from this kind of discipline, and “Hollow” is a virtuosic exploration in the limits of timbre and control. As a string player, this work essentially defines and encapsulates a lexicon of sounds, and pushes the boundaries of imagining what instruments can be capable of. At once radical and canonical.

Absolutely recommended for snooty academic spectral music buffs and dodgy harsh heads alike.

VAVABOND – “Non Serviam” [play rec label, 2019]

VAVABOND – “Non Serviam”
[play rec label, July 2019]

Aural detritus from objects around us. 5 powerful tracks from VAVABOND (CN), using a deceptively simple and straightforward approach: induction microphones picking up the sounds of electronic currents from everyday devices (phone, computer, mixer, ceiling light). The artist has an informative description on the bandcamp page regarding their intention and some of the more conceptual questions that arise from using induction microphones, and it’s worth a read. If you’re not familiar, induction microphones pick up the electromagnetic waves emitted from electrical devices. The sound world is remarkably broad, from raw bass drones (usually from simpler mechanical objects like the ceiling fan or mixer transformer) to digital glitch-inflected noise from the complex computer and cellphone circuitry. The ‘musicianship’ here is in how and where the artist places the microphone (which the artist describes as being quite sensitive to small changes), and the pacing and sound qualities are exceptionally well done. Each track title describes the object and manipulation that generated the sound, and this type of raw sonic realism is a powerful commentary on existence in the virtual age. Highly recommended.