DinahBird - A Box Of 78s [Gruenrekorder - 2015]
This vinyl album is lavishly presented on Gruenrekorder, with nice artwork and photographs; it recounts the story of a box of records. This box, full of old 78s, was inherited by the artist’s grandmother and then passed down across many years and miles; with DinahBird then deciding to retrace its steps, and return to Salt Spring Island with them. She then toured the island, playing the records and recording herself doing this; as well as talking to islanders and her late Great Uncle: ’This piece is about rekindling lost, and perhaps forgotten, sounds. Are they so very different to those my grandmother heard? It is a personal response to the people and places of Salt Spring Island.’ Its also tedious as hell.
Essentially, we have a twenty-minute-plus piece, divided into seven ‘tracks’, which collages field recordings, conversations, interviews, diary readings, and the 78s themselves. The overwhelming aesthetic at play here, is that of a radio broadcast. So the piece often zips along at a fair speed, climbing over itself, so to speak. Recordings are layered and mish-mashed together, but not to any great sonic effect or resonance; if anything they often conflict - but again, nothing meaningful results from this. DinahBird’s work seems to aim at that ‘dream-like’ construction, often used in radio documentaries; where elements are pressed up against each other, piled up in the hope that somehow this will create ‘impressions’ and thus meaning in the listener’s mind. But, for the majority of its duration, ‘A Box Of 78s’ simply passes by, flitting thru wildlife sounds, voices in conversation, the drone of distant aeroplanes… - none of it particularly grabs, on any level. There are a few sections when it rests a while on mechanical or environmental sounds, and these are more engaging; but its not enough. The flipside of the record is infinitely more pleasing: thirteen lockgrooves with sounds taken from DinahBird’s recordings. These obviously have quite the opposite effect to the first side, with the loops trapping the listener in a static sound environment; encouraging a deeper and more concentrated listening: frankly, a lot more enjoyable than the radio-piece.
I haven’t really got much positive to say about this record. The locked grooves are genuinely very pleasant to listen to, and the whispered tones of the artist’s Great Uncle carry a wonderful weight; but I think thats it. There’s never even the remotest sense of the project ’rekindling lost, and perhaps forgotten, sounds’. I’ve seen a few releases now, recorded with the aid of grants or sponsorship (and proudly displaying the badges of these arts organisations/commercial companies on the inlay) and I’ve come to the conclusion that these things must be the kiss of death.Martin P