U06 | Juan José Calarco | aguatierra
aguatierra part1 : excerpt
format : CD ltd to 250 hand numbered copies
release year : 2011
length : 51’29
status : still available
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(Belgium) : 13 € (inc.postage)
(Europe) : 14 € (inc.postage)
(World) : 15 € (inc.postage)
[TEASER by Tobias Fischer]
Extending beyond the limitations imposed on them by working with single sheets of paper, the authors of the Beat-movement would tape together various pages to create far more expansive canvases for their streams of consciousness. Substituting words for sounds and a typewriter for a setup of portable recorder and laptop, the work of Juan José Calarco is characterized by a similar desire to keep the sonic flow going. Rather than following conventional concepts of composition, his albums constitute open-ended journeys in perpetual search and constant negotiation both of a path and goal, similar perhaps to how a DJ exclusively spinning field recordings would build his sets. The impression of a limitless sonic world is reinforced on aguatierra, on which improvisations blend with pure environmental noises, long stretches of unprocessed material are ruptured by sudden dynamic leaps and scenes are segueing into each other on the strength of intuition rather than deductive logic. The comparison with the oeuvre of Francisco López has been made on more than one occasion, but it is hardly the most apt point of reference here, since, to Calarco, the respectful representation of a concrete space is as important as the „absoluteness“ and „non-referentiality“ of the sound experience. In his hands, reality has always been a malleable material, as much defined by physical fact as by the observer’s personal perspective, as much by experience as by memory. To some, aguatierra’s highly focused topical angle, concentrating almost obsessively on bird song and subtle water movements, may seem to mark it as unobtrusive. For Calarco, however, this may have precisely been the point: It is not in the demonstrative deformation of his sources, but their surprising placement on a vastly expanded canvas that he is capable of extending beyond the limitations imposed on him by his tools.
: info :
Aguatierra is about creating an undefined territory, where traces of one place reconstruct the other. A flow from which the discontinuities of time and space try to create a continuous narrative through the wandering into two landscapes of artificial islands. Considering them both delineated by their irregularities, my main approach was about exploring through their variances, generating a reflection of each other : the ecological park of Xochimilco, located within México City, is somehow defined by the coexistence of a very traditional place (the large series of canals which are remains of the Chinampas agricultural practice) with the semi-urban morphology of fences, metal structures and large lumber. Called “garden of flowers” and nevertheless immersed in the urban and environmental degradation, these islands preserve a rich heritage of myths and rituals.
Whilst Reserve Otamendi, at the valley of Río Luján in Argentina, can be really described as a reversed interrelationship of the built environment and nature ; an abrupt myriad of small canals and marshes form themselves between the landslide of a railway bridge and the surrounding waters ; grown from the margins of their spatial context, they extend as a vast wetland threatened by abandon, predation and recurrent fires.
So, I worked from the similarities on the sound contents of both places, treating them as a whole but also focusing on their landmarks, to mirror each other, juxtapose and merge them. Wanting to draw indeed a blurred but tangible, non-territorial geography.(Juan José Calarco)
: reviews :
Another item from the bundle of Unfathomless CDs is Aguatierra (U06) by Juan José Calarco. It’s two long suites, mostly captured from the Xohimilco Ecological park in Mexico City, where the artist pursues his interest in canals; there are also sounds from a nature reserve in Argentina, and a collaborator Pablo Reche assisted with parts of the work. As the title suggests, the sound is an elegant and seamless blend of water sounds and earth sounds. The cover artworks also achieve this blending; they were assembled by Daniel Crokaert, using photos by Calarco. I like this one better than the previously noted item from this label; Calarco seems less “mystical” and more plain-spoken in his artistic deliberations, and the work has a clarity and simplicity that can’t fail to appeal to lovers of the “phonography” genre . Purchase this for a relaxing and slow journey through a very calm and serene landscape / waterscape , with the gentle songs of birds and chirring of insects to pass the hours.
The Sound Projector
–Juan José Calarco from Aguatierra notes
Trying to create and un-define a territory using a linear time media such as the sound piece is inevitably a narrative exercise. Considering the impossibility of being in two places at the same time such scenario would entail another impossible, not being in any place at all; the semantic considerations have repercussions on the conceptual considerations of the semantics and this makes sense when we consider that Aguatierra is actually about the lack of a territory and the need to create the image of one to deal with this unfulfilled need; this is instrumented by putting together memories from alien territories to build the memory of this non-geographical place.
When reviewing Aguatierra‘s method of work, we face intuitive considerations on the artist side that leads us to look for the poetic content in a deeper level, on the formality of his work. The artist addresses the spatial element by making abstract use of concrete material which creates a narrative absent of linear considerations on space and time and instead presented as a series of spacial cues gesturally thrown into the timeline in a way that they create this disorientating experience similar to waking up in an unfamiliar space over and over. This is where strong poetics emerge: The ecological park of Xochimilco and the Reserve Otamendi are connected with each other only in a perceptual level and to make this perceptive experience habitable Calarco builds this non-geographical territory.
The feeling of disorientation depicted by overlapping specialties helps building up a sense of uprooting and abandonment and this is when a territory is needed, this is where the subject becomes matter, this is when Aguatierra is the most effective at, making a territory out of a blur perception of space instrumented through this very effective sort of non-linear gestural narrative.
The Field Reporter
Even in the world of field recordings, the exhausted adage “less is more” can be successfully applied. Aguatierra – recorded by Calarco in ecological parks and reserves of Argentina and Mexico – easily stands among those albums that fully justify the use of the adjective “unassuming”. The only human-generated sounds emerging from the natural ambiance are in fact a few metallic hues, something like moderate rolls and thuds, the fruit of what’s defined as “improvisations” with Pablo Reche during one of the recording sessions. The rest is made by what we’ve been given many times in the past, though it must be told that I would never get tired from listening to singing birds. So what is the element that saves this CD from the boiling cauldron? The answer is to be found in the above mentioned unpretentiousness. There’s no secret message to be delivered, no “this-is-my-stuff” ego hidden behind the echoes of mother nature. The environment talks – quietly – and we just listen, attentively or not. The wind, the water. The sound of distance. The solitude. There might be records in this area whose immediately striking features are effective at the outset, but the modest certitude with which the elements make their voice heard in this occasion is both an invitation to silence and a stimulus for the increasing of our concentration level, a conditio sine qua non for keeping doing the right things through this difficult era.
Keeping on top of new work based on field recordings is becoming harder by the month. For two reasons, one good, the other bad. First, we have the wonderful fact that new labels and netlabels are popping up all over the place. I’m discovering a wealth of excellent new work, like the album in question here, to such an extent that I’m suffering from mild angst at the thought of missing out. Secondly, one-liner artzine types and the like seem to be telling us the same things – that there are a limited number of top (hip/cool/leading/eminent) artists (masters/gurus) in this field to whom all must be subordinated, which is, of course, total b*llocks, but, I fear, still encourages those outside the field to stop looking any further than their nose.
Moving on, I do like it when a sound artist has a clear idea of what (s)he wants to achieve in a new work. This can help to give the listener a variety of clues as to how the work might be weighed up, given the difficulty in distinguishing one artist’s work from another in a practice where field recording is the most significant common factor. Put simply, I find it most helpful to have some background and guidance from the artist.
aguatierra, which, by my rough translation, means ‘waterland’ or, more poetically, ‘the place where land and water meet and merge’, is a delicious album – I use that word with consideration because I found, for the most part, that it captured, and conveyed, a restrained mood of sensuality which encouraged a particular kind of emotional response in me – that of longing for more.
The work seems to be constructed around long form sections – the very careful framing, the generally low volume levels, the attention to dynamics and the wealth of surface detail are evidence of what I would call a highly musical treatment. The ebb and flow of the stream of sound is beautifully controlled as are the highly effective diminuendi, most of which eventually find their way a niente.
There are two pieces on the album, or two tracks if that’s the same thing. Both appear to unfold according to the underlying intention explained in the artist’s statement above: in the juxtaposition and merging of two quite different sound worlds the traces of one place reconstruct the other. Whether the two different worlds that I’ve come up with are the two different geographical worlds is not something I can be sure about.
Track 1 begins with a sound world which reminded me of early musique concrete, all those hissy and rattly trains coming at you and past you. Then indeterminate rushing sounds, abstracted. No sudden gestures thrown into the mix from outside the soundworld, but a genuine feeling of organic growth in the emergence of the sounds from background to foreground, with layers clearly separated, and consistently so. This world of activity and materials in motion then gives way gradually to a ‘natural’ outdoors sound world populated by birds, insects and gentle geophonies, which I could have listened to for days. I’m not normally drawn in by these kinds of soundscapes as I can listen to them quite easily by taking a long walk out the back roads where I live. The trick here was that the first sound world had receded but not entirely disappeared. Hints of human activity intruded, the dull passage of trains or planes, perhaps distant traffic, banished to the periphery. Then a return to the materials, the ‘semi-urban morphology’ spoken of above, moving around in the first space with its signature reverberation.
I don’t want to linger too much on description because you can do this for yourselves – if you like this kind of work then you should really buy the album as it’s one of the finest examples of its kind that I’ve heard to date. But I will say that because the mood of this section of the piece is so engaging I was particularly struck by the inner juxtapositions between ‘natural’ and man-made sounds (or sounds that might have been from those sources). My feeling was that Calarco had undertaken an almost rhetorical exposition of his subject matter.
I think that the skill here lies not in any manifestation of techne, or production standards. It lies instead in noticing and identifying, through skilful listening, that a particular space has a particular sonic identity and richness, or at least holds potential for the purposes of the artist.
At times I was unsure whether the sounds were coming out of my loudspeakers or from outside the half open window, which tends to suggest that this soundworld would make for an excellent installation in the right space and place, perhaps with windows open on to nature.
The pattern of to-ing and fro-ing between contrasting sound worlds, with areas of merging, was bound to become predictable. Not a bad thing in itself as there was enough unpredictability in the dynamic passages to hold the listener’s attention. I felt that the mood of the work shifted quite rapidly at times, especially with material sounds gradually coming to the fore in a reverberating space. Intrusions like this, or large gestures in a textural field, create at once a temporal structure (first this/then that). Having settled so comfortably into the natural ‘timeless’ soundworld I had a notion of losing touch with Eden.
To elaborate, the gestural sounds are beautiful in their own right but at times I found the conflict too jarring; the ‘continuous narrative’ and ‘blurred but tangible, non-territorial geography’ might have worked perfectly with even smoother transitions – the interruptions seemed perhaps too literal an interpretation of the intentions mentioned in the online sleeve notes. I also tend to associate this kind of harsh cut with film sound. In finding difficulty making the connection I was left wondering whether two separate pieces with their unique soundworlds might not have succeeded better? Here I was enjoying a natural soundscape pure and simple (with possible interventions), reading myself into its subtleties, conceptualising the space and the topography when suddenly it morphs into something out of revenant : zeltini.
But some listeners will like this approach as it abstracts the picture and refers to a particular view of sound art or even art in general. (I should shut up now as I’m beginning to sound like somebody’s schoolteacher).
Despite that minor niggle the creaky, resonant, clanking goings-on, whether human or wind/water activated, are beautifully treated and presented. I was impressed by the gentleness, the warmth, the care taken with equalization throughout.
Track two begins with what sounds like thunder, gentle distant thunder, then machines, possibly wind activated, certainly geophonically so, certainly all the signals point to the outdoors. The surface detail again draws in the listener – what delights me here in a childlike way is the fact that some sounds are unrecognizable but I have a fair idea of what they might be.
Then at around 5:30, the same again – a new space with its own soundworld gatecrashes the party. If you’ve seen Inception you’ll have an idea of what I mean. But to be positive, we do have consistency and this time round the experience is different because we’ve heard this juxtaposition before and it the familiarity works quite well the second time around, like in a sonata. Here we have a more restrained treatment of the material, yet the deep reverberation of the space is evident within it. Further listening and the mystery becomes an attractive feature, despite my wondering if he manages to get the whole thing sorted out in the first track.
Overall, all this uncertainty is a good thing as I’m finding more questions than answers; it teaches me to listen, listen again and yet again more attentively, like a good phonographer should… in all honesty it is so easy not to listen to anything these days and to reach out for some useless distraction instead.
The listener’s patience and attention are in the end amply rewarded and it becomes clear that Calarco’s vision meets with a good measure of success – the spaces seem to merge more meaningfully as this second piece unfolds. Furthermore I could easily be persuaded that there are elements of live improvisation or interventions in the soundscape – hints of what I would call fouter and swick (interference and deception), the stuff of great phonography or sound art which privileges a certain kind of fabricated representation and abstracts distinctively from the raw material.
At 12:30 we are treated to the largest gesture on the album – a rushing water sound, like a gigantic toilet flush. The size of this gesture is important because, to paraphrase Walter Murch (Apocalypse Now), you need to have the big stuff going on to be able to come down to silence, or near silence, in this case as in the movie. As things unfold from this point, revisiting Eden, I am treated to a state of expectancy without tension, till everything reduces itself even further a niente.
On further auditions I will look forward to delving into how the album deals with the label’s concept, described as a thematic ltd series focusing primarily on phonographies reflecting the spirit of a specific place crowded with memories, its aura & resonances and our intimate interaction with it…
I’ll also be able to enjoy comparing and contrasting this work with Unfathomless’ previous release, revenant : zeltini (having the privilege of being able to listen to these two albums within a short period has been an education), and also figuring out how the artist’s and the label’s intentions dovetail or conflict with each other.
All in all, I’ll be looking out for Calarco‘s next album because if it displays some of the distinctive attributes of aguatierra we could be on to a very distinctive voice in new phonographic work.