Mark Fell
Ten Types of Elsewhere


ark Fell's Ten Types of Elsewhere sounds like a barrage of raindrops hitting a steel drum—that, or a particularly silly fart joke. That was my first impression, at least. When I listened more carefully, I realized that the music was far subtler (and far more beautiful) than I ever imagined. On some tracks, I noticed a distinct connection between Japanese plucked string music (I'm thinking of the soundtrack to the wonderful film Kwaidan). On others, I heard some Christopher Willits-like guitar fragmentations. Still others centered on intriguing hip-hop beats. It's amazing that a work that seems (on the surface) to consist entirely of tiny, echoing pluck sounds would create such a rich vocabulary of effects, but it does, and the results are simply fascinating.

The title refers to ten processes that Fell used to explore specific topographical issues related to his sound installations. I'm not exactly sure which of the work's 45 tracks connects to which of the ten processes, but I don't really think it matters, as the tracks all seem closely connected in both sound and tone. The sounds you hear do, initially, resemble plucking noises, but those plucks are modified in many different ways. There are a lot of echoes, for instance, and these either stretch the small metallic sounds out into drones or create sharp, stuttering rhythms. These drones and rhythms then merge and squish together to create a variety of different musical shapes—including (as I said) hip-hop, Japanese minimalism, and 12k guitar fragmentation, but also Oval-like digital processing (especially on the later tracks), early Fennesz field recording experiments, Conet Project-like surreal coded signals, and even the occasional Steve Reich-like ambient rhythm experiment.

I'm throwing these names out to give you a sense of the variety of sounds Fell is able to create using his topographical processes, not to suggest that he is on a mission to copy other artists. The real strength to Fell's work, in fact, is that it resists categorization. This is due largely to the nature of his music. The range of sounds he chose to create for this work is incredibly narrow, but he is able to produce from these sounds an amazing array of shapes and styles. To me, the music reminds me of nothing more than the Tao Te Chi: a work whose central tenet is that all things emerge from and return to a single, complete whole. To me, Fell's chaotic sampling of musical styles demonstrates how a single sound can become all things, all sounds. Of course, I could be completely wrong on that (as I am about a lot of things). Perhaps Fell's use of such a narrow range of sounds stems from the musical equivalent to a Scottish dare (like eating haggis or tossing a caber)!

Fell's work was largely constructed for sound installations, and his topographical experiments are largely a response to dealing with the relationship between his music and the different landscapes where it resided for small periods of time. All the postmodern theorizing he provides to explain the concepts behind the music, however, pale in comparison to the emotional response I, as a listener, receive when listening to the music in my home—far away from those sound installations.

Reviewed by: Michael Heumann

Reviewed on: 2005-02-01

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