Review of Two Lakes [12k1062]

Tokafi (.COM)

Capturing the immediate impulse: A super-real space playing itself.

Music and ecology are not all that far apart: In both, establishing deep emotional ties with your subject gets easier if you realize that you, too, are part of the system. To Australian artists Cameron Webb (aka Seaworthy) and Matt Rösner, process and programmatics have therefore always been seminally important, their music representing ideas, aesthetics and philosophies just as much as pure, sensual enjoyment. There can be no such thing as passively consuming their work: To them, sounds are inherently connected to concepts, the acts of listening and sensing closely related to those of observation, reflection and understanding. While sharing similar points of departure, meanwhile, their oeuvres have hitherto dealt with these aspects from discretely different poles. While Rösner frequently sought for parallels between architectural principles and auditive expression, Webb’s output has revolved around the notion of mnemonic acoustic resonance – for his last full-length 1897, the artist spent three months in an out-of-use ammunition bunker, listening intently into its innards to capture wordless stories and spatial traces of former activity.

If their 2008 split 3-inch on local label HelloSquare emphasized the delicately contrasting character of their approaches, their first true collaboration now takes a bold stab at an integral fusion. In April of this year, the duo travelled to a wildly beautiful expanse of forests, lakes and beaches in New South Wales – the “two lakes” mentioned in the album’s title are Meroo and Termeil, which form the heart of the Meroo National Park. Even though the aim of the undertaking was both to collect a wealth of sounds as part of a detailed acoustic field study as well as using their impressions as a creative spark for their interaction, there was never any clear-cut division between the two: Taping the environment and taking it in were one, just like Webb and Rösner did not wait until returning to their studios to commence composing. Instead, in between field recording sessions, they sat down with their array of folk- and sound-art-related instruments, including guitars, various percussion objects, bass ukulele, playfully tinkling bells and laptops, to translate their emotional landscapes into music. On the very last day of their stay, they even laid out these improvisations into first, tentative arrangements, in a bid of maintaining the spontaneity, stillness and subtlety of the sedgelands, streams and meadows in front of them.

This effort of capturing the immediate impulse has paid off. With just under six months between the recording stages of the project and the release of the finalized CD, Two Lakes is a prime example of how technology can actually serve to streamline rather than stymie the creative process if used by artists with a clear vision in mind. There are, literally, no borders between the inner sentiments of the duo and the outside world here: While the environment initially served as an inspiration for compositional sketches, its various emanations have, as part of an intricate feedback loop, turned into compositional elements. Pure field recordings and musical events, both those performed in situ and those processed and added afterwards, are not just closely and inseparably intertwined. Effectively, they have become a single layer of sound. From this point of view, whether or not the result is “objective”, “natural” or “organic” is completely irrelevant in artistic terms: The way some of the acoustic noises have been plastically spread out across the stereo image – as for example on cinematic “Meroo Sedgeland Pt. 2”, which juxtaposes gurgling water sounds on the left, the sound of delicate movements in the leaves and branches on the right as well as gusts of wind and distant bird song on the centre channel – matches Webb and Rösner’s wide harmonic drone-mappings, spreading out a plethora of either sustained or ephemeral tones across the sonic spectrum.

In unison, these elements create a space that feels entirely real, or even, on many instances, super-real – it is easy to see why someone like Rösner loves presenting his work in galleries and installational settings, where the music can unfold its immersive and psychedelic effect to the full. The outer movement of the music is reduced to the bare minimum in order to emphasise the emotional landscape opening up in front of the audience: The two extended drone pieces bracketing the record are essentially exercises in pure sonic coloration. On “Meroo Sedgeland Pt. 1”, Rösner and Webb work with just three pitch classes for the entire piece, a deep ground bass signaling the root tonality, while harmonically related material, either pitched up by various octaves or within close intervallic range, add luminescent overtones. By repeating, sustaining and retracting these intervals at different heights, they create a sense of development, without actually adding any new musical content. On the five shorter cuts sandwiched in between, meanwhile, the duo combine close-miced and open-space-oriented field recordings to form a mesmerizingly detailed image, which rewards attentive listening with a Mandelbrot-like uncovering of ever-new layers of sound. And the more one zooms in to dive into the deep, the more a real sense of silence and quietude begins to establish itself.

Increasingly, this self-created environment appears to be playing itself. When, on “Meroo Forest”, a mysterious cloud of drones and cavernous humming appears on the horizon, it is accompanied by complementary sounds of wind. And in the final minute of closer “Meroo Lake Pt. 2”, gentle guitar pickings give way to a peacefully babbling brook, which answers the guitar themes as though it were an instrument. In moments like these, the distinction between an objective physical reality, the subjective sentiments of the observer and later reflections on these events is exposed as superficial, covering up rather than revealing the true nature of the world around us. Recording and performing, too, are merely different sides of the same coin: In the act of composition, Cameron Webb and Matt Rösner have effectively disappeared behind their music, becoming part of the system rather than aloofly guiding it from a safe distance.

By Tobias Fischer

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