Arnold Dreyblatt - Turntable History [Important Records - 2011]Don't be fooled by the album title, there's no funk break beats or old crackling jazz tunes on here. The "turntable," in this case, was a device used to display various images while sounds emerged from five separate sources within a confined space, and this album is a recording of what that room sounded like.
Of course, without a 5.1home stereo system (and mastering geared towards this) a great deal of the impact may be lost coming out of only a single pair of speakers, and this was the challenge created in making this installation piece something enjoyable "outside the installation. The source sounds came from recordings of an MRI scanner, and I can tell you from being inside these machines several times, they make a LOT of sound. Each speaker is dedicated to an extended texture, many of which sound like electronic foghorns, and, one at a time, cuts off, lets the other speakers take over for a bit, and then rejoins the chorus. There is a lot of what feels like negative space on this single-track album, caused by one powerful sound cutting out from one side and leaving a much less dominant sound to play through the other side, and the result is the perception of silence which isn't actually there.
The album takes many twists and turns, but focuses primarily on three sound types: pulsating sound, steady, horn-like sound, and ringing sound. These three are mixed up dynamically, trading off loud and softness as well as left and right panning, in addition to minor alterations in timbre. This album can best be compared to bagpipe playing, both in color and introduction of pitch change. Be prepared for the "three sound type focus" to be occasionally thrown out the window; there are definitely plenty of surprises lurking around the corners to keep you interested. Sudden high-pitched ringing transforms into a swatch of dissonant ugliness, a fax-machine like buzzing takes center stage and cuts through the other sounds, and sometimes so many sounds will join at once that it becomes a pool of mud.
Very unique sounds on this record, some of which you may recognize if you've had an MRI scan done recently, and they all come off as not too heavy on the effects, or, if the effects were heavily used, it still comes off as fairly clean and pure tones and textures. The main question here is whether or not listening to this album through a two-speaker stereo captures the intent of the original, five-speaker performance. At times the sounds tend to blend a bit the way you would expect five separate sources would, clashing together around an enclosed space, but at times it also feels just a bit too difficult to properly distinguish the sounds from one another as they easily would have been distinguished in the original setting. Overall, the album takes the impossible task of making two speakers sound like five and does a pretty decent job of making it work, and doesn't detract from the colors of the sounds.Jake Vreeland