Angus Carlyle and Rupert Cox - Air Pressure [Gruenrekorder - 2013]
This is a ridiculously lavish affair from Gruenrekorder, with the cd accompanied by a small book containing words and pictures concerning the project. The focus of this project, are two farming families who work the land in Sanrizuka, Japan; though their farms are anything but ordinary - the soil they tend actually falls within the territory of Narita international airport. The airport was built in the early 1970s, and was the scene of intense confrontations between police and a coalition of local farmers and activists - objecting to the forced evictions of the farming community. By the time that Angus Carlyle and Rupert Cox undertook this project, there were only two farming families left - working land at the end of runway B, completely enclosed within the airport.
The first track, “In The Forest Clearing (Totoro)”, encapsulates the whole purpose of the album. In a nutshell, it portrays a quiet, rural landscape; with distant sirens and vehicle noise - but one thats shattered sporadically by the truly deafening thunder of planes taking off overhead. The rest of the project explores this situation and environment. So, we get nine field recordings in total, and one final track thats constructed from this source material. The field recordings are disarmingly honest - to my ears, anyway: at points, the recordings are marked by brief conversation between Carlyle/Cox and their subjects - something that I would normally consider an “intrusion” in field recording terms. So, the pieces are very documentarian; apparently depicting slices of time and place, untouched and unmanipulated. Though this does remain open to question, since in one of the “diary” entries in the booklet, Carlyle describes recording a skylark in England and apparently inserting it into some of the project material. Regardless, the pieces do feel very “documentary” in style - or to put it another way, there’s no sense of the tracks having been chosen for their sound or “musical” content: there’s no pretty passages of insect chirruping here. This is one of the downfalls for me, since a lot of the tracks fall flat on my ears - they make good “evidence” of the horrendous effects of the airport on the local farmers; but they’re not something I’m compelled to listen to much.
However, as with life, you have to take pleasure in the details; and they are plenty of beautiful sounds to be found across Air Pressure - exquisite raindrops on “Under Wraps”, a cacophony of chickens and grotesquely visceral pig squeals on “Past The Coop, Just By the Sky” and planes transformed into the hulking, metallic monsters that they are, shadowing every track. Given the wealth of this source material, you would imagine that the last, collaged track, “A Soundfilm”, would be something of a tour de force; but its actually less listenable than the “raw” tracks which precede it. A track like this would normally construct an artificial soundscape, that transmits a “truth” via fakery: an atmosphere, a sense of place; but unfortunately, it just feels like a little bit of an afterthought - as if someone decided the album needed an overtly “musical” component. Compared to this, the dry narrative of the straight field recordings feels more satisfying.
This is an interesting project, absolutely no doubt about that. It explores notions of our sonic environment, and its effects on our health and lives; it explores the relationship between state, business and the individual - and, drawing these these all together, it asks how we should govern the very sounds around us. The political charge that it carries, and the fingers it points, are all very worthy and commendable. However, as a sound venture, its less convincing. To be fair, though, I am viewing it through my eyes, and I naturally gravitate towards the audio elements - whereas it could be seen as a book of writings and photography, with the cd as a complimenting featureMartin P