Automating - Somnambulist [Second Language Records - 2012]
This is a nicely, diy packaged release; combining a stumptown cardboard wallet with collages and transparent sheets of text. The cdr contains eighteen tracks, forming a large collage just over an hour long. One of the transparent sheets has a long introductory text, which concerns itself with sleep, memory and “psychoacoustic techniques as a form of data delivery”; and indeed, there is a dream-like atmosphere to the recordings.
At the risk of appearing to be casting a superficial eye over the album, I think its worth stating from the off that there is a huge amount of material on “Somnambulist”. Too much to be covered accurately in any depth, here. However, this material does fall within somewhat narrow parameters; in fact, it could be crudely divided, sonically, into a mere two categories: field recordings/found materials and drones - with the added proviso that some of the latter are constructed from the former. So, we have “mayday” radio pleas, rubbing shoulders with reverbed firework recordings; street conversations meeting with engine noise… Near the start of the album, there’s a section of bleating sheep after an islamic (?) call to prayer - which is then itself followed by pealing church bells; but there’s no clear indication of this being a “politicised” juxtaposition on Automating’s part. Thus it becomes a more generalised “surreal” technique, with a resulting surreal tone (in the truest sense). The field recordings and found materials are often manipulated, but it has to be said that they’re not stretched very far. Often they’re looped or delayed and, given the concerns with sleep and memory, reverb plays a predictably large role. The processing often works towards a murkiness - this is not an album of shining, detailed electroacoustic work (and thats not a criticism). Indeed, its often only the little snippets of raw field sound that provide any colour or clarity, since the majority of the drones are indeed murky and “lo-fi”; earthy, shadowy and obscuring. Though, saying that, the organ-like drone in “Acoustic Encoding” is most definitely celestial in destination.
This is a good, solid album; which sucks you in the more you listen. Its not by any means an earth-shattering release - and in that respect, the quasi-scientific album notes don’t help - but its sonically engaging for most of its duration. I say “engaging”, but as mentioned above, the overall tone of “Somnambulist” is obscuring; leaving the listener with a sense of unease and “distance”. Those interested in the murkier, “tape” side of drone, will find much here to chew over; aided and abetted by the further obscuration of its collaged aspect.Martin P