“Primary Reception” and “Alone Together” reviewed by Fluid Radio

The ‘Corollaries’ series by Portuguese label Crónica collects works resulting from Active Crossover: Mooste, a cross-cultural collaborative residency curated by sound artist Simon Whetham in Estonia in 2015. All of the pieces released as part of the series were created using sound materials compiled in a collective archive during the residency. Different artists participated at different points in the project, often visiting and recording in different locations. However, many were particularly struck by hearing material recorded by other participants at the same time and place as they were working, as sound artist Dawn Scarfe recounts:

“The effect of reviewing these fragments is hallucinogenic: they evoke places that are similar but strangely different from how I think they should be, based on my own experience and mis-rememberings. I hear the same sequence of events rendered through the air that I recorded through a wire. Or a field transformed by variations in the weather and voices of migrant birds passing overhead when I wasn’t there to hear them.”

Scarfe’s own contribution to the series, entitled “Alone Together”, does a good job of evoking this uncanny, haunting sense of fragmentation, using resonating tones, pushed sometimes to the edge of distortion, to transform a series of sonic events that would otherwise be quite generic. Clamouring flocks of squawking water birds are contrasted with the quiet chirp of an individual songbird or cuckoo in the hedgerows. Pitched sounds reverberate, ring, and thrum. The overall mood is nicely blank and impassive, shorn of any unnecessary sentimentality, and yet I get an impression both of the beauty of the recording locations and of the sense of aloneness Scarfe alludes to in the liner notes. A shared experience inevitably becomes a unique and personal secret in the private space of memory.

Whereas Scarfe’s path through the collective archive downplays the intentions of the composer in favour of a more direct form of listening to the environment, Tuulikki Bartosik’s “Primary Reception” presents a more active intervention into these recorded landscapes. Her big, open accordion chords are soon filling the dense air of a pine forest. A rambling melody sits beneath a blanket of roaring air, followed by the wooden knock-knocking of a percussive exercise recorded by other participants (including Scarfe) at another point in the residency. Towards the end Bartosik adds her own voice by singing softly, evoking an impression of timeless mystery in the depths of the ancient forest.

Although the Active Crossover residencies themselves are a fascinating concept and no doubt deeply rewarding for participants, these two releases suggest that the ‘Corollaries’ series, currently at ten editions, is more than simply a way of documenting the event. As well as compiling the reflections and (mis-)rememberings of those who took part in the Mooste residency, the series provides a fascinating opportunity to compare and contrast different approaches to the same material and situations, mapping the same terrain from different angles and perspectives. These differences in individual recollection and response in no way diminish the power of a shared experience, but rather deepen and enrich it through their diversity. Nathan Thomas