Angus Carlyle - In the Shadow of the Silent Mountain [Gruenrekorder - 2016]In keeping with Gruenrekorder's pedigree in curating immersive multi-media experiences centred on field recordings, Angus Carlyle's In the Shadow of the Mountain does not disappoint. The work consists of fifty 100 word texts and 33 split page photographs (presented in two accompanying booklets) and a composed series of field recordings captured over a three year period in the Picentini mountain area of Southern Italy.
Immediately on perusing the booklets one senses aspects of the mystical and spiritual in Carlyle's project. A quote from RenÚ Daumal's Mount Analogue on the necessary invisibility of the mountain summit draws our attention to Carlyle's 'silent' mountain; a silence which for the sound recordist is comparable to Daumal's invisibility. What we have then is perhaps a series of initiations taking place at different levels within the mountain region, attempting to capture something of the natural pastoral environment, in full knowledge that the ultimate experience of the mountain is occluded. The summit will remain invisible, the shadows cast by the mountain remain silent.
The eight compositions that make up the digital part range widely from more or less untreated field recordings to more surreal experiments with close-up recordings of water, static interference and some light use of digital effects. Overall the presence of the studio is lightly felt, heightening the real/surreal quality of the work. Characteristic of this approach is the first piece Acqua Bianca, which as the title suggests features recordings of water; beginning with what could be droplets falling directly onto the microphone before sliding into more recognisable environments involving waterfalls and streams. The composition title derives from a local name for the stream that runs through the valley in which the recordings were made. The second piece Bells of Church, like the first around the ten minute mark is a highlight for me. Initially it does exactly what the title suggests, offering up a range of different recordings of church bells, perhaps from some of the wonderfully evocative little towers, rising from the red tiled roofs of mountain villages pictured in the photo booklet. Soon however there's a twist with the church bells overtaken by the massed tinkling of cow bells swinging from the necks of a herd encountered in a mountain gully. You never hear the animals themselves and it's only the sudden rasping bark of a dog that breaks the vaguely meditative chiming of the bells.
The more experimentally inclined side to the project comes out on subsequent tracks, each drawing strange and often dissonant sounds from the mountain environment through creative use of the recording equipment and studio effects. Il Virtice(The Summit) sounds as if Carlyle is dragging the microphone along the ground behind him as ascends the mountain. Waves of static, thumps, clicks and wind distortion form a hail of sounds that are usually avoided by field recording artists. Here they serve to highlight the at times rough terrain and physical exertion involved in negotiating the mountain paths. Fifty Breaths in the Valley takes the opposite approach to the previous track's earthy materialism by sequencing numerous human voices (the fifty breaths one assumes) and with subtle reverb and echo effects builds up a picture of the communal life of the people living around the Picentini area. Five Mountain Walks returns to the physical space of the mountain and Carlyle's struggles with his knees (mentioned often in the accompanying texts). We hear him slip on loose rock, a short cry of concern before finding his footing again. Deep gulps of liquid, and crunching on rough paths. The wind rises up (or is it that unseen source of water encountered in a dark cave mentioned in the text) in a processed, throbbing squall, driving back the listener and the recordist himself by the sounds of it.
The final few compositions return to the more straightforward documentary style. Ferro Legno(Iron Wood) is the least pastoral of the records offerings. Seemingly an amalgam of wood chipping yard and metal workshop the clanks and grinding sounds from the machinery are punctuated by occasional calls from the workers; a reminder that even in this remote, bucolic place, the invading forces of industry are never far away. Vignale collapses a series of meteorological events into ten minutes of rain, swirling winds, angry clouds building on the horizon. Finally Acqua Verde leaves us where we began, with the water. Here perhaps the subjects are the lakes pictured in the photo booklet. Nestled motionlessly in a valley, surrounded by reeds and further back the steep slopes of the Picentini mountain range. Glooping sounds of water - as if using a hydrophone to record beneath the surface - are set against relaxing passages next to the lakeside; Carlyle gently swishing his fingers through the clear waters after another long hike along the trails.
Like virtually everything put out by this record label In the Shadow of the Silent Mountain is a work of uncanny depth which goes far beyond the experience of listening to the recordings alone. The pages of text, each dated to a particular time during the three year recording process are part documentary record, part psychogeographical literary experiment and part surrealist ramble in search of the marvellous. Set alongside the photographs, which like the text and audio range from landscape view to extreme close-up of seemingly incidental artefacts, the project as a whole is a delight, rewarding repeated plays while you read the text and try and marry up sound, word and image; ultimately to no avail. The mountain remains ineffable. As Carlyle writes at the end of his notes: "I heard the shadows, saw them, but couldn't write them, couldn't record them: that was their silence".
A website featuring the recorded material, text and photographs for the project can be found at http://www.montesilenzio.comDuncan Simpson
Angus Carlyle teaches at the University of the Arts London where he is the Co-Director of CRiSAP (Creative Research into Sound Arts Practice).