U03 | nicholas szczepanik & juan josé calarco | lack affix
1. Evacuating somewhere to nowhere : excerpt
format : CD ltd to 250 copies
release year : 2010
length : 40’41
status : still available
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Lack affix isn’t so much about one particular location as it is an homage to the memories of the places we can’t vividly remember. This is about the imagery conjured when certain senses are triggered. It’s about our mind’s recreations of memories past; at once familiar, but also different in some inexplicable way. (Nicholas Szczepanik)
Since a couple of years I’ve been living in different areas very far from the centre of the city and for Lack Affix I tried to capture this particular feeling I used to get during the nights by the time I lived at the most overcrowded districts; those extremely distant-blurred sounds of night activities as trucks delivering boxes, police helicopters, construction sites working on full hours, gas stations filled with taxis coming and going but mostly that undefinable, abyssal texture of a huge city at very late hours.
As Nicholas was sending me his re-works on my raw stuff and his own recordings for me to work on, we went more into this direction. So, I focused even more on recordings from the same streets and specially from terraces and inside subway entrances to reconstruct the sounds as I used to hear them those times ago; hopefully, even to recover some peaceful sensation I’ve never felt again so far, no idea if related with the dulling sound of those crowded districts or not. (Juan José Calarco)
Buenos Aires, Argentina
: reviews :
Argentine sound artist Juan José Calarco is intrigued by the details of landscapes, the reverberations of distant events in interiors and metal-wooden structures, esp. out of focus perspectives. Washington DC’s Nicholas Szczepanik’s forays into recombinant style and form have been many and various already for one so young; his material derives from sources such as old keyboards, small record players and old microphones, squished by various tools. The two traded field recordings in constructing this glowering but not inhospitable collage, processing and mixing audio spoils from their respective areas jointly into a work of substantial clarity and particulate involvement.
Inside photos convey the nature of the places of capture of their dark materials – locations, atmospheres, of desolation and desertion from which a panoply of nocturnal reverberations and vague recollections ensue. Like some dim lit epiphany, the sites and events recorded rematerialise in these sonifications as if a pathway into a domain where the previously lifeless spaces now reappear infested with the trails of indeterminate spirits circulating here. Sounding at times not unlike graduates from the Francisco López finishing school, Szczepanik & Calarco propose complex audio collages, with a deal of exploration of frequency and dynamic spectra. Lack Affix’s creaking doors, sub-aquatic gurgling and tidal rumblings adumbrate an industrial wasteland, albeit one whose truly caustic potential is disinfected with a light solution of echo aether. “Evacuating Somewhere to Nowhere” is filled with the metallic grind, piercing the air of a corroded cavernous space. “Through a Reminiscent Reagent” lurks in a similar, but stiller space – no movement, more like its shadow – aural tint more than musical sound. “Altered Perceptions of Past Experiences” starts with a collage of industrial moan, moving through chain rattling to well up and ebb out in a long, multitextured drone. Unsettling. In a good way.
A brilliant record, built upon the grouping of field recordings from Maryland, Washington D.C. and Argentina (Calarco suitably describes his actions as “recreations from memories”). The inside photos give an idea of the nature of the places where the artists attached their contact microphones to gather the fundamental materials, which naturally coincide with a large portion of settings, atmospheres and locations around the globe where similar activities are performed. We’re talking desolation, deserted buildings, metallic synchronization, night-time reverberations, vague recollection. Somehow, though, Szczepanik and Calarco managed to avoid the innate artistic poorness typical of the bulk of this kind of release, producing a set of mesmerizing landscapes and mind-opening aural revelations, sort of prologues to the transition to a superior sphere. The final track – aptly titled “Altered Perceptions Of Past Experiences” – symbolizes all of the above in a succession of known factors: flying airplanes and metropolitan reminiscences imbued of swelling hums and damp electricity justify the calm awareness of an impending end, the magnetism of the ensuing entirety helping the listener to accept that unsolicited feeling.
A highly rewarding failure: Remembering as a creative act.
Every All Sound Art deals with memory in one way or another. Grasping a piece of music is deeply connected to one’s capacity of remembering it, after all, and nowhere is this more apparent than in a genre which takes the faculties of the human mind to its limits: What is real and what merely a product of our imagination is becoming increasingly hard to distinguish as reality, under pressure in a sonic world determined by a far higher complexity and degree of abstraction than the one surrounding us in daily life, is broken apart into its submolecular components. On their first collaborative effort, Nicholas Szczepanik and Juan Jose Calarco have chosen to explore this theme far more explicitly than the majority of their peers. „Altered perceptions of past experiences“ is the the title of one of the three tracks between seven and twenty minutes’ length making up Lack Affix and serves as a sum and summary of its conceptual goals: To portrait the relationship between the mental representation of a particular place or period and the actual fact. To simulate the sudden tidal wave of associations triggered by a scent, a taste, a sound or an image. And to research how this inner space remains miraculously preserved and stable through time, while everything around us relentlessly changes. Remarkably, while most artists tend to regard this process with a sense of melancholia, nostalgia or even sorrow, the album celebrates it as an „homage“ – and an effort of recreating, at least within oneself, the „peaceful sensations“ once experienced in a blissful past.
One could argue, of course, that already their solo oeuvres have always revolved around these themes, albeit from slightly different perspectives. Szczepanik‘s Dear Dad, as just one example among many, seemed to work as an emotional valve and his generally enthusiastically received first major full-length The Chiasmus was marked by the ability of conjuring up long-forgotten impressions from the depths of the psyche. On albums like Dársena Interna, Calarco, meanwhile, recreated entire harbours from memory, vast spaces filled not just with a cornucopia of minutely captured acoustic events, but of the emotional resonance they were capable of preserving as well. For Lack Affix, Szczepanik collected field recordings of „both rural and urban areas in Maryland and Washington DC“, while Calarco picked up the distant noises of nocturnal Buenos Aires – one part of which were a plethora of clearly defined singular noises and the other the more general distant din of the city itself, a colossus of roughly three million people twisting and turning in its sleep. By combining their materials, the result constituted a mental map of their collected memories, a stretched-out territory of metaphors and desires, an interpreted past manifesting itself through aural processings and months of sharing and reworking their „raw stuff“into epic chains of associations.
As popular as it may be, the theme of memory has its pitfalls and these are becoming openly apparent in the programmatic aspects of Lack Affix, which Szczepanik has described as being about „our mind’s recreations of memories past“ and Calarco as dealing with the „recovery of some peaceful sensation I’ve never felt again so far“. As deeply fascinating as they may be, these are ambitions the album simply can not fulfill, even if one takes into consideration the meticulous planning and effort which went into the preparatory stages: Not just did both artists set out to revisit places of personal relevance to them, they also gave their all to record them at the exact same spot and under identical circumstances as when they originally heard them in a bid of attaining some kind of objectivity. And yet, the work is only about their own minds’ recreations of memories past, not those of the audience – and there’s a huge difference between the two. Simply put, these recordings may be of great importance to their creators, but they are of none beyond purely aesthetic sensations to the average listener, who can neither share in the mental image conjured up by these spaces, nor establish a comparison between the internalized memory and the actual location. As a listener, what you’re hearing is the only reality these recordings will ever have and the sole recreation is the one taking place between the music on the album and – possibly – similar sounds you may have heard at some point or the other. And so, they retreat into the realms of pure sound, where they are once again free to be interpreted, re-imagined and forgotten.
Fortunately, Lack Affix can easily do without the liner notes, as Szczepanik and Calarco have arranged their sources into a spaced-out psychedelic roller coaster ride, in which the membranes between micronoise, soundscapes, radio play and field recordings are becoming permeable. „Evacuating somewhere to nowhere“, especially, is a delirious trip at the borders of dreaming, a succession of intense scenes silently segueing in and out of each other at the speed of a mind on hallucinogens, as fine, grating sounds turn into touching melodies, while gentle, consoling harmonies rise from the depths of the ether. Twenty-minute „Altered perceptions of past experiences“, on the other hand, leans on a two-part structure, the first half building from an extensive pastoral panorama, with merely the distant hum of airplanes providing clues about its proximity to civilization, and the second on a sustained, powerful drone, not unlike those created with didgeridoos, gradually growing in richness and density, until it slowly fizzles out and gives way to a short coda ending on thirty seconds of utterly heavenly harmonics.
It is in this epic and mesmerizing composition, too, that the album attains a new meaning. One of the striking similarities between the artists, which has rarely, if ever, been touched upon, is their shared sense for arranging – reinforced here by through a process of sending these pieces hence and forth in a bid of truly perfecting their every detail. Calarco‘s transitions on aforementioned Dársena Interna were always closer to the morphing techniques used for special effects videos than your average piece of experimental electronics. Szczepanik, meanwhile, has always held an interest in film and with a little imagination, the changeover from the first section of „Altered perceptions of past experiences“ and the second sounds almost like a film reel unwinding and the screen going blank in an otherwise perfectly dark cinema. It is here, too, that one notices how outright contradictory at times all of these sonic events are and how seemingly casually they are juxtaposed as though they were trousers, t-shirts and shorts hung side by side to dry on a clothesline. Contrary to a lot of similar works, Lack Affix seems to consciously eschew immersion in the Ambient sense of the word as a compositional goal, choosing to sweep the listener along on the strength of its creative flow instead. In doing so, it emulates the methods of the surrealists to bring the spectator in direct contact with his subconscious: Collage, exaggeration and the abolition of rational logic. And just as with the visual masters of the trade, it is the decided strength of the music that, even as one is confronted with the bizarre and bewildering, one accepts them with absolute calm and without once questioning their validity.
Which offers an intriguing interpretation of the programmatic side of the work: Lack Affix is about the way our mind constructs reality and how the process of remembering is never purely passive, but always a creative act, as part of which we arrive at new conclusions about the past as well as about ourselves. Which may actually be an even more exciting proposition than the one they originally set out to pursue: If this is indeed a conceptual failure, then it has turned into an extremely rewarding one.
The Argentine sound artist Calarco swapped field recordings with Washington DC’s Szczepanik in constructing this dark but not uncomfortable nocturnal collage. Lack Affix arrives by way of the Mystery Sea sublabel Unfathomless, through the creaking doors, sub-aquatic gurgling and tidal rumblings could just as easily find a home on their night ocean drones series. Calarco and Szczepanik never hurry the pace of their sound design, with only a few jittery crescendos that break the meditative spell.
Though Lack Affix describes an industrial vastness, many of the abrasions seem to have been scrubbed clean or smoothed in ethereal echo.
The Wire | 320 | October 2010
As a new series Unfathomless has yet to generate the sense of charm and general air of reliability that exudes so readily from it’s older brother, Mystery Sea. It’s a different beast to that other label though as here it is source specific sonorities that are the prime concern. Participants are requested / required to produce music based around their sense or memories of a particular place that is in some way dear to them.
The particular target of these two participants in the series is Maryland and Washington DC in the case of Nicholas and Buenos Aires for Juan. Now, the music is top draw. Both of these participants have graced these pages before and hopefully will both do so many more times as they both produce really quite wonderful music and to hear them together is a real treat. If your particular bag is for pitch black somnambience (I think I just invented that word and I’m really quite pleased with it) consisting of processed field recordings melded with disembodied dronal work then you really need to get this album before it’s gone the way of the dodo. The problem I’m having with this seedee lies back there with the underlying concept and the separate locations that have inspired the music. I’m having real trouble reconciling the validity of a collaborative piece within the Unfathomless thematic framework. If both participants were working with regard to a single specific place then it would, while still being problematic (can two people truly share a perspective), offer a consistent vision. Instead this melding of location, sound and perception, whilst making for compulsive listening, is surely a stumbling block in terms of deepening the Unfathomless manifesto.
Wonderful Wooden Reasons
Recently the admirable Belgian CDR label Mystery Sea launched a sister imprint called “Unfathomless”. While Mystery Sea in the main concentrates on illusive and metaphorical evocations of all things aquatic, the new enterprise is intended to focus on the “spirit of a specific place”.
Odd then that its third release combines reworked field recordings collected by Nicholas Szczepanik in and around Washington, DC and Juan José Calarco in Buenos Aires, resulting in three extended tracks which while heavy with atmosphere, cannot by definition be said to concentrate on one particular place. Rather, like the most accomplished ambient music, this album elicits a new, fairly unvisitable space.
The very title, “Lack Affix“, leads the mind to the term “lack of fixed address”, to transience and homelessness, possibly even vagrancy and flight. The environment conjured by the pair seems highly unsuited to human habitation – it sounds subterranean, built by humans but not for humans, but rather for the passage of their subway trains and utility pipes and sewage drains. The title of the first track, “Evacuating Somewhere to Nowhere”, would seem to bear this impression out, as we hear the grind of metal on metal – the wheels of a train on its track, the flywheel of an elevator? – piercing the air of a rusted, damp, and certainly perilous, cavernous space.
“Through a Reminiscent Reagent” dawdles in the same place, but is far more still. There is little actual movement, just its echo, hanging in the air more like a smell than a sound.
At twenty minutes, the final piece is as long as its predecessors combined and contains far more “drama”. “Altered Perceptions of Past Experiences” could be categorized as conventional dark ambient and is set up as a triptych, beginning with a collage of industrial moan and murmur, culminating with the rattling of chains, then welling up and ebbing out in a long, multitextured drone.
The entire experience is unsettling and quite possibly unhealthy. Although Szczepanik claims to have collected some of his sounds in the Maryland countryside, this is a strictly urban experience, one which leaves your hands dirty and chafed.
Field recordings captured by Szczepanik (in Maryland and Washington, DC) and Calarco (in Buenos Aires), processed by each. Always difficult to write about aside from general impressions of place, mood texture. I suppose “pacing” is another important attribute and this set of three pieces is paced quite well, which is to say that it has the feel of an authentic environment, not one gussied up or fussed over for the purpose of a recording. Things unspool unhurriedly, the sound-colors vary but seem as though they could indeed have proceeded from one another, no sense of having been artificially affixed. It’s dark, moody, pensive, a bit damp. Enjoyable without knocking one out which, really, is a good thing.
The third release in the Unfathomless series is a duo release of two artists bringing sounds to the table from their own places. Nicholas Szczepanik from Washington and one Juan José Calarco from Buenos Aires. They traded these sounds and then started to work on processing these. This resulted in the three pieces on this CD. Its hard to recognize the busy urban life in these pieces. Just as much as you would guess, this could also be the sounds from a small village. Unless of course they stuck out their microphones in the middle of the night, picking up the remains of the day and the birds of the night. Occasionally they work towards a crescendo, but even then its not easy to spot the city. Not that I care about this, I must say. They come up with music that has a lot to imagine about. Great field recordings, and great processing of the sounds.They do an excellent job, mixing all of this together, with great clarity and lots of detail. The sound bounces all over the dynamic spectrum.
If you like say Francisco Lopez, then you’re bound to like this too. Highly refined soundscapes.
Frans de Waard