Flavien Gillié - Disparitions [Gruenrekorder - 2013]
This is a download release, on the ever interesting Gruenrekorder label. Its a short collection of field recordings made by Flavien Gillié on a trip to Krakow and Auschwitz-Birkenau - a place most of you will know better as simply “Auschwitz”. Frankly, this set off all kinds of alarm bells in my head; namely, that making field recordings at an extermination camp was somewhat “cheap” - with the “exoticness” or historical resonance of the site over-riding the content of the recordings themselves.
However, as it turns out, only one track would appear to be from the camp itself and rather aptly it eavesdrops on a speech from a tourist guide. I say aptly, because Auschwitz is no longer an extermination camp: it is now a site preserved to maintain the memory of it as an extermination camp. Its an important difference to consider, for someone who might go there with the notion of capturing in audio a sense of its horrific past. Whilst there is no doubt that certain places have an “atmosphere” - I found Dachau to have a very eerie, sombre air - its unclear how much of this is created by our very presence: the point being, that unless the person recording believes in EVP (Electronic Voice Phenomena) or ghosts, they are essentially recording a museum (of sorts) - equal parts sombre reflection and just another stop on a tourist trail. Gillie is quite aware of all this - the album title “Disparitions” is another term for disappearance - and again explicitly explores this area with “Ul Slusarska 7, (Cracovie)”, which is recorded “on a road behind Oskar Schindler’s factory”. The recording itself is really just a quiet urban landscape: any special resonance it has, is given to it by the knowledge of its location. This encourages the listener to reflect on the history of that location, and its changes through time; although it does leave the “sonic” value of the recording itself somewhat in question.
In terms of pure “sonic” interest, “Disparitions” has two wonderful tracks: “Ul. Miodowa 55, Nowy Cmentarz Zidowski (Cracovie) I” and “Ul. Szpitalna 4 (Cracovie)”. The first of these, a recording made at the new Jewish cemetery, in Krakow, has a genuine musicality to it; obviously the presence of birdsong encourages this reaction, but theres a moment where a train passes loudly by, accompanied by the voice of a spectator - it almost seems to follow a musical logic. The second piece is an unashamedly beautiful recording of rain, from under an umbrella in a courtyard: its an incredibly deep recording, with the close crackle of rain and the more distant gurgle of running water. Its an exemplary example of “field recording as HNW”.
This is an odd little release. To some extent, its akin to a series of holiday snaps: small moments captured, documenting a trip. There’s short recordings of a tram journey, a kettle boiling and the train station as Gillie leaves Krakow. These feel like the field recordist’s equivalent of snapshots - not necessarily a bad thing, but thats how they feel. They sit amongst tracks more overtly concerned with Gillié’s interests of “places, voices and memory” (although trains and mechanised transport are clearly bound up with the Holocaust); as well as tracks more clearly chosen for sonic beauty. So its a strange collage of an album, which is perhaps best seen as a pertinent, stimulating travelogue.Martin P