Review of 1897 [12k1053]

Textura (.ORG)

A strong sense of place permeates 1897, the sophomore 12k album from Australia-based Seaworthy (Cameron Webb, Greg Bird, Sam Shinazzi). Recorded in a 100-year-old ammunitions bunker in Newington, Australia, which originally was constructed in 1897 to store gunpowder (hence the title), and abetted by field recordings gathered from the extensive wetland and forest environments (which provide safe havens for endangered and internationally-protected wildlife) surrounding the bunker, the album enhances Webb’s ruminative guitar playing with sounds of birds, insects, and wind blowing through the trees. Because installations of field recordings played back within the bunkers were also recorded, reverb contributes significantly to the album’s overall sound too. Seaworthy spent much of 2008 shaping the six hours of 4-track cassette, minidisk, and computer recordings that resulted from the sessions into 1897‘s final form.

The album’s tracks range primarily between two groupings, “Ammunitions” and “Installations,” the former largely stark guitar settings and the latter soundscapes of varying design. “Ammunition 1” weaves gossamer-like threads of electrical tones, soft electronic shadings, and field recording elements into a placid whole. By presenting Webb’s subdued electric guitar playing in untreated and natural manner, “Ammunition 2” gives the material warmth and lends the album an inviting appeal, while the ten-minute guitar meditation “Ammunition 3” is so halting and pensive, it feels time-suspending. Because looping was used during the recording process, a track such as “Ammunition 5” sounds as if two guitarists are playing together with each simultaneously soloing and supporting the explorations of the “other” musician. The closing pieces, “Ammunition 6” and “Outside,” send the listener outdoors, where the sounds of footsteps, bird calls, wind, and water dominate. While the guitar spotlights are, generally speaking, intimate in nature, “Installation 1” is a colder and rather industrial-sounding smeary drone whose ambiance suggests the large, echoing space that it was recorded within. By contrast, “Installation 2,” an almost somnambulant drone, is much softer and warmer in tone, and hence more inviting, while “Installation 3” merges the guitar playing with a shape-shifting mass of fluttering sounds.

Being understated and self-effacing by design, Seaworthy’s sound can be easy to under-appreciate, and in that regard it reminds me a little bit of Solo Andata’s Fyris Swan release (issued on Hefty in 2006). Like it, 1897 often drifts by unassumingly, content to not attract too much attention to itself. Headphones listening enhances one’s appreciation for the recording’s merits.

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