Scott Sherk - Alentejo [3Leaves - 2017]Scott Sherk is a sculptor who also works with sound, sometimes deploying both disciplines at the same time in his productions. Alentejo is the offspring of a series of recordings and a resultant installation at the castle of Evoramonte in the Alentejo region of Portugal. The recordings held within focus on the quiet, sparse surroundings of the castle and the sonic possibilities produced by the architecture within its walls.
Track titles vary from the prosaic opener The Night of Falling Stars to straight forward descriptions of the sounds recorded, such as Sheep and Crickets. This places the record somewhere midway between a phenomenological approach to the experience of the Alentejo and a more documentary like gathering of environmental data. The opening piece exemplifies Sherk's approach; minimal interventions into the original recordings with an emphasis on bringing out the peaceful, pastoral quality of the environment. We hear that wonderfully lilting hum of cicadas that anyone who has visited southern Europe will be familiar with. There are distant animals, faint rustles from the undergrowth and the lightest of composerly manipulations, sending up tones, almost like the sound of Tibetan ringing bowls.
Bells tied to the necks of livestock are something of a staple for the rural field recordist. Wherever they can be found you can bet they'll be on the list of sounds to collect. In truth there is something almost primordially attractive to the dull clanking of these ancient herding aids. Sherk lets them drift into the sound-field before applying light swaths of granular and other sound processing techniques. Tones coalesce, tumble over each other before resolving back into their natural habitat.
As Sherk reports in the notes, the Alentejo possesses little sound except wind - hardly an attractive place for most field recordists. But the lack of ostensible material seems to have been an inspiration for the artist. Silent Valley cleverly uses the minimal sound picked up in a secluded part of Alentejo to trigger corresponding sine wave tones. The result is a strange melange of natural and alien sounds. It's a sparse composition, but the varied ways that the different sounds effect the electronics is fascinating and encourages close listening.
Perhaps least interesting is Castle which again plays off the natural acoustic environment - this time of the interior of castle Evoramonte. Distant voices are rendered inaudible by the echo and bass distortions created by the castle's thick stone walls in something of a companion to the other man-made distortions applied by Sherk to his recordings of crickets, birds and wind.
And indeed it is the wind - which Sherk describes as ever present on the Alentejo - that makes up the subject for the record's final piece, suitable titled Wind. Like so many of the interventions here Sherk treats his recording lightly, applying a shimmer of audio gloss to the gusts which pan from side to side, rising and falling almost like waves. It has a calming effect and is miles away from the frustration most sound artists feel at getting wind into their microphones.
Alentejo is a deceptively simple and quiet set of recordings. Scott Sherk has a rare light touch both with his recording equipment and his post-production. It's an approach that genuinely feels like an attempt to capture the quiet solemnity of a place despite the seemingly paradoxical nature of the task.