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Sebastiane Hegarty - Southerlies [Gruenrekorde/Gruen Digital - 0000]

Southerlies collects together a series of field recordings each focussing on a single specific area in the South of England. Commissioned and originally broadcast by BBC Radio Solent, the artist, writer and lecturer Sebastiane Hegarty was sent to the eight locations on the suggestion of the station's listeners to "uncover a certain disposition, a particular relationship with time and place," as he puts it.

'Winchester Cathedral' opens, literally, with keys unlocking a gate, its metallic percussion accompanied by footsteps to arrive upon an organist rehearsing. Rather than capture the music, though, Hegarty nimbly gathers the confluence of its notes with all the other audible events populating the cathedral. This affords a clear impression that our brains would normally filter out of how purposeful, unrelated sounds (such as an orchestra tuning up and individual conversations) combine with incidental and accidental noises (like whirring machines or the rustle and hum of an expectant audience).

The rich and tempting draw of the coast is lavishly illustrated on 'Hengistbury Head', where lush, leisurely water sounds preside majestically over twittering starlings, throbbing diesel engines and children at play. But placed stealthily throughout are the less recognisable sonic events such as a tonal hum (possibly the result of micing up a wire fence and letting the wind compose the drone) or the tribal rattle of the piece's finale (apparently a loose wing nut on a flagpole portending a change in weather).

There's more sloshing about on 'Hamble', but this time it seems more about what's on the water than the water itself. Masts provide a kind of loose, free jazz percussion as they are conducted by a wind abundant in birdlife before man-made movements threaten and eventually succeed in dominating the sound field, concluding with the aggressive churn of a ferry's engine.

A contrasting dryness is emphasised on the following track, despite it being a record of a sea vessel. The first half of 'HMS Victory' deals with the deep creaks and metallic resonances of the ship as they affect the pre-recorded narrations of this dry-docked tourist attraction. But the second half gives way to ominous rushes of air that sinisterly weave through the rigging, perhaps as a psychogeographical reminder of the warship's original purpose.

'Watercress Line' also celebrates yesterday's modes of transport. Here we get to sit on a steam train as the mechanical clicks and clatters of the signal box give way to the coughing of water vapours. Like the previous track, the visitor-friendly atmosphere is replaced by the more serious vibe, with the cyclical march of powerful engines and an awesome rattle before squealing to a halt.

'Abbotsbury Swannery' puts us back on the water near to where noisy families watch largely silent swans while ignoring the equally cheerful bleats of a herd of sheep. But the stereotypical serenity gives way to frustration as Hegarty somehow manages to capture the swans snorting, flapping, crying and snarling seeming provoked and defensive.

Closer to industrial or noise music, Hegarty's recording of 'Lymington Ferry' feels like a Futurist celebration of engineering. Set against an otherwise bucolic buoyancy, the ferry's complaining engine roars and twists like a mechanical Leviathan emerging from the depths. It's accompanied by a devilish rattle with occasional snatches of distorted radio talk to create a dystopian atmosphere belied by its benign source.

The collection concludes with a sound survey conducted over a year at a conservation reserve near Hegarty's home of Winchester. 'Winnall Moors' starts by highlighting an abundance of bird life, including particularly disturbed ones apparently caught in a net, before voyeuristically settling near work men erecting a fence whose toiling tools and wiry resonances parade over their banter.

As the brief descriptions above hopefully indicate, these eight soundscapes are far more than the academic, ontological documentaries the original concept suggests. In Hegarty's hands the gathered sounds from each location become deftly structured to form what feels like fully-fledged musical compositions. Each has a clear beginning, middle and end - something that much music played on conventional instrumentation often lacks. So, even when the sounds available deny him any tonal or percussive matter, the way they're blended provides all the necessary peaks and troughs you'd expect from compositions filled with melody and rhythm. Each of the eight pieces exhibited here, while presenting such a balanced record of man and nature's contributions to contemporary environments, draw the listener in by highlighting the musical qualities of found sound, building to crescendoes and forming contrapuntal exchanges filled with intrigue.

Rating: 4 out of 5Rating: 4 out of 5Rating: 4 out of 5Rating: 4 out of 5Rating: 4 out of 5

Russell Cuzner
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