R. Schwarz - The Scale of Things [Gruenrekorder - 2015]Gruenrekorder has been one of my favourite labels of the last few years. Their output traces a line from socio-political academic works like Hein Schoer's remarkable The Sounding Museum to documentary style field recordings and in this case, complex, composed works of sound-art. The blurb for R.Schwarz's The Scale of Things notes its distant relationship with classic musique concrete but emphasises the transformational approach taken by Schwarz and his combining audio processing with modular synthesis. The result is a rather dark and engaging suite of pieces that attempt to capture something of the chaos and indeterminacy of the natural environment, amplifying it through studio techniques and electronic sound. The cover art gives some indication to the compositional approach, eschewing the type of formal style associated with music concrete; instead, presenting a confusing collage of monochrome environments and magnified elements that could be insect, plant or otherwise.
Side A opens with mechanical sounding clicks and hums on Drift Following the Seam which are quickly enveloped in a thick miasma of different tones and textures. A thump of bass drum rises periodically from the throng as mechanical and organic sounds bleed into one another heightening the displaced, uncanny quality of the sound world. This opaque atmosphere continues on In the Flat Field with bird song making up the bulk of the organic element amid a rush of bass and metallic drones. There's little light here, with the listener drawn to the central cover image of a frost covered forest floor. This is no bucolic country walk, but a nightmarish vision of blurred boundaries and magnified terror. The bird song is slowly transformed into the clamour of machine noise. Last track on side A Self-Propelled-Sound-Particles is another uncanny exercise that seemingly puts the listener inside the carcass of an animal being predated on. Insects swirl around the stereo field (this is great with headphones) while the sound of chewing and drones derived from field recordings lift the whole thing up into anomalous space.
Side B is a less claustrophobic affair. Schwarz here allows the listener something of a macroscopic or birds-eye view of his sonic landscapes; a different way to view the scale of things. The prevailing darkness is still present though as on With the Witch opening with muffled bass throbs, stuttering, croaking sounds and flickering electronics. For the first time fragments of human voice (speaking Chinese I believe) appear adding another aspect to the near ritualistic feel of this track. This is extended into one of the records real highlights; Mabalel constructs a haunted rainforest soundscape of frightening proportions. Full of unfamiliar insect and animal calls, strange throbbing atmospheres and dread by the bucket load. Fans of Dominick Fernow's Rainforest Spiritual Enslavement project will lap this up. Finally From Surface Downwards adds a flash of live instrumentation to the humid forest atmosphere; accentuating the ritual mood while further dislocating the listener by incorporating several jump-cuts which alternatively throw synth noise and percussion into Schwarz's haunted world.
This is super stuff, comparable to the recent superlative tape/concrete work of Valerio Tricoli and representing something like an anti-Luc Ferrari. Anti, insofar as unlike the sadly passed French/Italian composer, Schwarz's approach to composition is radically non-anthropomorphic. It's a non-human perspective he's trying to conjure up with these studio tricks of scale and intensification. The effect is at once vertiginous and thoroughly engaging. A rare feat for what is still a predominantly stuffy and academic form.