Various Artists
Star Switch On: Recordings of Organised Sound
Touch Tone
2001
A

rare indeed is the compilation that exceeds its remix possibility and exercises the limits of its potential. Yet even more rare is the gem in the rough, diamond in Africa, an assembly of acutely talented sound.artists, sculptors of the sonic, that are gathered here to give reverence and homage to the field recordings of Chris Watson. This album is composed of treatments by AER, Biosphere, Fennesz, Hazard, Philip Jeck, Mike Vainio, and Watson himself. Drawn from wildlife recordings whose 'originals' can be found on Stepping into the Dark (Touch 27) and Outside the Circle of Fire (Touch 37), Star Switch On is a spherical molding of the sonic, a cupping of the hands in the gesture to hold water. I wish to say that it is "careful" in the sense we receive from Heidegger: that our nature is to care. For this is an album of wildlife recordings. Nature recordings. Not city drones and traffic interruptions, although the treatments—treatments not in the sense of the medical establishment's abuse of the word, but treatments in the way that a painter treats a canvas—open themselves up to their fractured technologies and the realities of the digital remix, the particle-ular of sound.


Each in his own way, each sound sculpture holds up the 'sounds themselves' for contemplation in the way that John Cage spoke of. Sounds be themselves and become themselves. That the sounds often become other from what one expected them to be, or become, is testament to the sound sculptor's witnessing of something-other than their technological mastery. Deleuze thought of this as en-devenir.


Here, I can enter my ears, where the rest of my body follows, into something-other that molds me as I mold it. Each sound sculptor softly shapes their particular instinctual imprint into aural actuality... Watson echoes voices across a desert beach, I imagine from L'Etranger; Fennesz opens crickets and hums and trilling night-bugs in what is one of his quietist and most understated works to date; AER submerses the night to a chamber of tonalities and sonorality that twinkles and sparkles just beyond the range of vision; Biosphere beckons us in so slowly that we speak Russian words of Nostalghia, like it was Patashnik filmed by Tarkosvky; and we should not forget that to begin with, Mike Vainio drops us gently with a bee-bomb into a silent hint of living underground, of becoming-bug through the sonar-pings of the wolfseeker; that Philip Jeck destroys this myth with blasts from the shotgun while licking bloody wounds of beauty; and that Hazard lets loose the lonely cry of the indeterminate animal that has remained, la bête.


I dislike encouraging any reader to buy anything; I dislike even more acting as traditional reviewer and passing judgement on sound. I can only witness great moments of affect, of body-kissing, of muscle massaging. Your own personal La Monte Young, sometimes here, mixed with a restraint particular to Cage. Dig, deeper, soil, and hands: live these sonic becomings.


Reviewed by: tobias c. van Veen
Reviewed on: 2003-09-01
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