Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Wind - Hazard (Ash International)

I’ve got a BBC sound effects album stashed away somewhere, Horror being the theme, as I recall. Or simply violence. It contains tracks such as ‘3 Gun Shots’ and ‘Man Having His Head Sawn Off’...and ‘Mad Man Screaming’. These snippets of sound, lasting just a few seconds, have given me more pleasure than a lot of music.
   So now there’s ex-Cabaret Voltaire member Chris Watson making a career out of being a ‘sound recordist’, or making field recordings as they’re more commonly known. The difference between a BBC sound effects (‘Nature’) record featuring rooks and Watson’s ‘Embleton Rookery’ from his ‘Stepping Into The Dark’ album of ’96 being...the length of the recording. And its presentation, place in certain music stores and invitation to respond with a conceptual theory.
   Naturally, there’s something appealing about pure field recordings like this. It’s not music. Neither is it noise. It’s pure sound. When Watson appears on the cover of The Wire as he did last month, you know he’s being taken far more seriously than the anoraked Beeb employee who’s been told to get out there and record some birds.
   For an album that gets my Best Thing I’ve Heard Recently award he teamed up with BJ Nilsen to make Wind, back in 2001. It’s been reissued. Nilsen added the electronics, so you might say he was like a pylon in a field...a pylon covered in grass therefore camouflaged to melt into the natural environment...yet still serving as a carrier
   I’m omitting the a-word here because I don’t want to give the impression that this is just more muzak for New Age techno nerds. Although it may be. Something about pure sound bereft of melody or beat pleases me right now. That something is the omission of melody and beat.
   Change being as good as a rest is one thing, but this is no cosy representation of rural life, despite a track called ‘Village’. This village is more like something from the mind of John Wyndham. Which is not to say that Nilsen opts for lazy industrial Gothic horror drones, more that he underpins Watson’s wind recording with unsettling noises.
   ‘Barrier’ is also good, because it is more like the archetypal atmosphere favoured by the School of Disconcerting Drones.
   The cover may depict the kind of patchwork of greenery we love to see when returning from hot countries that don’t make decent tea, but this is far from a utopian vision of our land. You can imagine your preferred choice of horrors whilst listening...the sight of another Tescos being built...a motorway...wind turbines, poly tunnels...rain clouds when you have no waterproofs...whatever. To the sound of ‘Sough’ I can see a nuclear power plant featuring Ronald’s beloved golden ‘M’ next to a new mega estate of Barratt Homes from which zombie-eyed children are emerging with a view to stealing my soul. That kind of thing.
   It’s not music. Sometimes, after listening to so much mediocrity made by singers, players and programmers, that is a real relief.

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