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Viv Corringham - On the Hour in the Woods [Farpoint Recordings - 2018]

Ludwig Wittgenstein once contended that if a lion were to speak we would not be able to understand him. This is for the reason that we have no access to the world of the lion out of which its utterances come. On The Hour in the Woods is New York based British artist Viv Corringham's attempt to circumvent this seeming aporia and spend 24hours communing with the denizens of an American forest.

In matter of fact the twenty-four short pieces on this CD were recorded at a different hour over a period of twenty-four days. Corringham's approach is to combine the deep listening methodologies of Pauline Oliveros with a concern for people's relationships with familiar places and how that links to personal history and memory. A rich seam of influences then, which in the act, are reducible to the artist's encounter and response to her sylvan environment. With nothing but her voice the artist responds to whatever she finds at the hour in question, whether that be a thunderstorm, distant hikers, or the insistent buzzing of a single bee.

Her auditory book of hours begins at 7am and opens with the lively forest calling out with insect and bird song, and for at least this first instalment, minimal intervention from the artist. Overhead an aircraft rumbles by. A reminder that the human world of technology is hard to escape. After a superbly recorded thunderstorm makes an appearance for the 8am slot, the following hour showcases a standout duo of the artist and a woodpecker. To the bird's resonant woodblock gabber Corringham responds with variation on throat singing which combines surprisingly well with its ornithological counterpart. It's these moments where the prospect of a human free improvising with an environment makes sense, though not every track here is as coherent. Several are light on the field recordings and heavy on the sort of unbounded free vocal gymnastics that you'll either love or hate. Thankfully there's a great deal of variety in Corringham's improvisations, ranging from quiet chirps and squeaks 11am through chanting 12pm and more garbled interventions.

There's an unnerving quality to some of Corringham's responses to her environment; a sense of anthropogenesis in reverse; a becoming animal of the artist gone native amid a world that is dying. Her 2pm contribution has her literally gasping for breath as if the air were toxic. On occasion the placement of microphones has the effect of blending her improvisations into the surroundings, so that when a noise rises out of the general background of wind and rustling leaves, you're initially unsure whether it is human or animal. The suite has its less successful moments, as on 3pm which is mostly closely recorded heavy breathing and cuckoo noises, and the subsequent 4pm in which the artist's response to a dog barking resembles a mild panic attack.

The atmosphere closes in after dark, and some of the most affecting pieces are achieved with the lulling haze of nocturnal insects blanketing the scene. One can imagine the isolation had a positive effect on the execution of these pieces recorded in the dead of night, when human senses are limited and the forest teems with unfamiliar sounds. At 11pm Corringham's responses are muted as if she were staying low to the forest floor. She improvises little gurgles and pops, perhaps the amplified sounds of ants at work devouring their prey. By the early hours of the morning the artist's voice has reduced to wispy breaths, and distended rasps, scarcely rising above the hum of the insects. The final call at 6am amusingly includes some intelligible phrases: "what are you doing?", "where is the bear?", as if the impending sunrise, suddenly bringing back the human quality, elicits a primordial fear of the woods. As solo vocal improvisations go, this one is certainly on the wild side.

Rating: 3 out of 5Rating: 3 out of 5Rating: 3 out of 5Rating: 3 out of 5Rating: 3 out of 5

Duncan Simpson
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