Various Artists - Favourite, Places [Audiobulb - 2007]
Favorite Places is a compilation based on the idea of the artists choosing to represent in sound their favorite places. It's the type of concept which sounds intriguing, but in practice is somewhat confining. The locations chosen by the artists are often surprising in their banality, and lack of exoticism. But that may be the point; Claudia's Studio Apartment and Dot Tape Dot's My Bathroom present the realm of the artist's everyday existence, possibly in an attempt to bring the listener into their comfort zone.
The best pieces are by the more established artists; Taylor Deupree's Forest, Pound Ridge, New York (6 a.m.) presents a beautiful, serene representation of his chosen setting. Unlike most of the artists here, Deupree is confident enough to avoid simply using embellished field recordings, instead choosing to illustrate the atmosphere with plucked guitar chords and mellow electronic ambience. The combination of "real" instrumentation juxtaposed against digital music is of course nothing new, but Deupree proves, as he has time and again, that he's an intelligent and sensitive musician. His music is involving and evocative.
Biosphere (Geir Jenssen) is an old hand at creating ambient music based on field recordings, and his track which brings to life the Tranoy Lighthouse is perhaps the strongest track on this collection. Jenssen uses woodwinds and rolling drums in peaceful repetition, mirroring approaching and receding waves. Birdsong appears at the end, a normally somewhat hackneyed sound affect in ambient music. Here it is beautifully recorded, and wholly appropriate given the subject matter.
Unfortunately, most of the other works here fail to live up to the aforementioned tracks. There are some interesting moments on Aaron Ximm's Chai in the City of Light, in the form of loudspeaker announcements, the sound of a gathering of voices and the use of steam as a percussion instrument. And Leafcutter John's Guitar Composed is an interesting track, based seemingly on the actual making of a guitar, as much of the track is the sound of whittling. But this track also illustrates the lackadaisical attitude with which most of the artists approached the concept of the collection; Leafcutter John's favorite place is "the Studio". Perhaps true, but certainly a cop out in relation to presenting either a challenge to himself or the listener. Dot Tape Dot's choice of "My Bathroom" sounds interesting, but in reality, it's simply the sound of someone showering with some glockenspiel over top. Claudia's Studio Apartment is similarly banal. Neither artist brings anything otherworldly to everyday sounds, other than some overt electronic manipulation.
The best tracks here illustrate the fact that good musicians can create something wholly their own within a seemingly slim confines. Those choosing the safe, more literal route show less personality, thus making for less than compelling listening. At a greater than fifty per cent success rate this album is not a total bummer. Like many compilations it simply falls victim to lack of cohesion, related to inconsistency in quality and inspiration from track to track.Erwin Michelfelder