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 Review archive:  # a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z

Christopher McFall - The City of Almost [Sourdine - 2008]

Deep listening sound sculpture artist Christopher McFall has been extremely prolific since his debut in 2005, his output steadily increasing in the last couple of years. "The City of Almost", released in 2008, was his third album. The music found here is a pleasant and cohesive patchwork of field recordings and tape loops processed to various degrees, with a decidedly 'submerged' feeling. The track titles frequently reference 'containment', and oftentimes the soundspace is palpably tight around the listener, the timbres muffled as if heard through liquid.

Much of what is fascinating about this recording takes place on the edges of human hearing... Unstoppable flows of thunderous sub bass faintly sketch a murky wide open space, while compactly sputtering and scratching contact sounds take the fore, marvellous in their organic peculiarities. McFall's palette is airy and monochromatic, with only hints of colorful harmonic tonalities to be found in the textures. His lengthy 10+ minute pieces rise and ebb like the winds and currents he is clearly fascinated with.

 
From the title of the album, one could derive a vague yearning. The wavering, distorted voices in samples found on this recording seem to suggest a sort of alienation and disorientation as well. However, I believe there are many sections of this recording that create so authentic a facsimile of a natural environment that one could no easier create an emotional intepretation of the sound than one could of the sound of the howling wind or lapping waves themselves.

 
The first sounds we hear in opener "Slow Containment" are digital in character, a lingering high frequency whine like a TV left on a few rooms down the hall and uneven bit-crunched noise. Muffled spectres of animal and machine activity gently up bubble through a hazy mist of rustling, whooshing, crackling and fizzing of objects under the intense scrutiny of high quality microphones. As with every track on the album, there are extended 3 or 4 minute periods of serene stillness, during which only a faint rumble is audible.

"One of Several Possible Endings" is the dreamiest moment of the record, with some almost impossibly slow, yet stubbornly rhythmic music in the background which has been muffled into completely unrecognizable form... only the downbeats remain intact, and attributes such as 'genre' and 'instumentation' have become impossible to discern. Out of the soupyness emerges a clattering rhythm of wood contact sounds in tandem with a thick sparking / scraping sound. Elsewhere in the track, there are some very deep bass pulsations as well.

"Requiem for Troost (Home)" brings sweeping cascades of aquatic ambience in hypnotically unnatural tape loop repetitions. For the unsettling ending, McFall combines the claustrophobic crunch of ice compacting underfoot with an eerie moaning note from a slowed choir, made to sound as if heard from deep underwater. It's a moment that reminds me a lot of Nurse With Wound's minimal ambient "Shipwreck Radio" series.

 In the final minutes of "All Parts Contained", minced fragments of voice unhurriedly rise to prominence, drawing us back to a realm where human life is possible. The early portions of the track are a deep, mechanized hum like the distant, irregular breathing of an idling motor. Over this accompaniment, vocoded gibberish traces blurry metallic patterns; other such automated dystopian droning completes the picture. The bleakest track to be found here.

Ultimately, each and every sound to be found on this album is a marvel in its clarity, depth and endless interest. The boundary between digital and natural sound blurs and ceases to matter as the listener is engulfed in a strange and unfamiliar yet utterly complete sonic environment. Christopher McFall's "The City of Almost" is one of my favorite albums of the sound sculpture / field recording niche, and ranks in subtle perfection with the work of any masters I could name.

Rating: 5 out of 5Rating: 5 out of 5Rating: 5 out of 5Rating: 5 out of 5Rating: 5 out of 5

Josh Landry
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