U09 | Joda Clément | The Narrows
format : CD ltd to 200 hand numbered copies
release year : 2011
length : 35’13
status : still available
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(Belgium) : 13 € (inc.postage)
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“When I was born, my family moved to a remote farm in north Ontario, known as ‘Setle’. Situated in the woods, ‘Setle’ was without electrical power during much of our stay, so much of my father’s work involved using power from a generator positioned 400 feet away, connected by a series of extension cords. By integrating sounds recorded from these and other remote locations, he created a form of ‘environmental music’ that expressed the beauty and solitude of the Canadian wildnerness. When we later moved the city, he would take me with him on recording missions, so as I got older field recording became like second nature. I record mostly in urban environments, but my appreciation for sound is deeply rooted in my formative years.
Following the release of The Cherry Beach Project (on Mystery Sea) I set out record a ‘site-specific’ piece as a follow-up, although I didn’t have a particular location in mind. Without specific theme or purpose, time gradually eroded my initial intention for site specificity, as I gathered a tremendous archive of sound materials. Merging various threads into one mass, the construction of the piece seemed to take on a life of its own. As hundreds of sources blurred together to the point where I forget where many originate, I slowly came to look at the piece as a continuation of my father’s idea of ‘environmental music’ – coloured by memories and impressions of those early years in north Ontario, yet re-imagined through the dense and shifting sound pallete of Toronto, where I live and work. (Joda Clément)
The Narrows : etymology
[“…It is not unusual for names to spread from place to place, and Toronto is no exception. The name reached its present location — and spelling — after journeys both linguistic and geographical in nature. Linguistically, it originated as the Mohawk phrase tkaronto, later modified by French explorers and map makers. Geographically, it moved 125 kilometres south from The Narrows, where today’s Lake Simcoe empties into Lake Couchiching at the city of Orillia. Tkaronto means “where there are trees standing in the water”. Mohawks used the phrase to describe The Narrows, where Hurons and other natives drove stakes into the water to create fish weirs.”]
Joda Clément : composition, all sounds
The practice of random repêchage among the countless boxes of older promos refreshes the spirit when you come across a subdued dark crystal such as 2011′s The Narrows. Its sonic continuance is mostly flawless ; yet, the disclosure of an inbuilt (and, in this case, barely graspable) narrative is never authentically completed, allowing the listener to fill up a few of those unreal black holes with their own psychic contributions. The “try-understanding-the-source” exercise would constitute a rather hapless attempt to draw limits to something that refuses them in virtue of some sort of natural law. Of course we’re still able to realize that a thunderstorm is a thunderstorm, that processing and altering ordinary phenomena can transfigure small drops of vague reality into immense caverns where getting benumbed by the lower frequencies becomes a private delight. The class of an album born inside the jam-packed casbah of drone-based environments is usually proportional to the humbleness of its creator in front of the result, without counting the (unfortunately rarefied) ability of not exaggerating with any component. Clément employs his sensible know-how to distill ominous gracefulness from far-off echoes and arresting subsonic propagations amidst more concrete elements. Not content with that, he applies a commonsensical sequentiality to make sure that every state of the matter sounds as it was meant to be, gradual emergences intermeshed in an aurally rewarding blur of anomalous achromatic radiance.
In which we encounter a low frequency drone with mid-range textural flecks to keep you dancing derived from field recordings of behind sheds, some fences etc. This is a little like lying above a wide, slowly moving, conveyor belt which has been scattered with lumps of rock and rubble (mostly, say, from the size of a small potato to a little larger than a fist), whilst a feather duvet is draped down on you from above, lying over you and the conveyor belt, its end dragging over the rocks as they trundle past you, meanwhile keeping you insulated from much else apart from the rumble of the conveyor mechanism and the soft clack of stone on stone. There’s a bit of twitching of limbs in the last seven minutes, an adjustment in recumbent position, and then everything fades out at 35 minutes before it can outstay its welcome. I must say I spent a refreshing half hour on the carpet with my eyes closed to this. If I was to be critical I could say that the background drone which provides the ground for most of the rubbley noises was a little too obtrusive bass-wise to effect complete relaxation. It is also overall a bit clean and tidy, as far as drones go, for my liking, although there are moves towards abrasion in the surrounding scrapes. Handy hint: this could be mitigated by listening on a portable system with crappy speakers and no bottom end.
Clements contribution to the Unfathomless discography is a single 35 minute piece sourced from a variety of places – 3 in Ontario, 1 in Quebec and 1, curiously, in Austria.
The textured dronework presented here is very much inline with the preferred oeuvre of the label but with the added level of its musicality. It’s a cluttered and gritty musicality but one that presents its repurposed field-recordings with a composers ear rather than a collagists. It is a stately piece of music both in its pace and in its demeanour.
There’s a real sense of scope as it lays both time and space bare unfolding and slowly refolding both in order to ensure the listener has been brought to a new place by the experience presented before them.
This is easily one of my favourite Unfathomless releases and that, my friends, is no mean feat.
Wonderful Wooden Reasons
Soundscaper Joda Clément was inspired at an early age by his father’s farming in the Northern Ontario wilderness with nothing but a generator to supply the necessary electricity. It seems its hum has remained with him ever since. Perhaps he heard the entire planet humming, and set out to document it.
For much of the time leading up to the Industrial Revolution, scientific scholarship reconceived the earth as a great, big, unfeeling machine mankind could make work for him by mining it, dominating it, and exploiting its riches in order to grease the wheels of human economy, dethroning the concept of the planet as living nurturer. The Narrows sounds like that clockwork earth; although Clément records the urban environment, he hears it as a logical extension of wilderness — just with more people and contraptions around.
On his earlier release on Unfathomless’ mother label Mystery Sea as The Cherry Beach Project, he explored the malevolent resonances of an abandoned industrial storage silo on Toronto’s waterfront. Although most of the sounds on The Narrows have been collected in Toronto and its hinterland, this is site specific only in the sense that it merges what grew to be an enormous archive into a single, thirty-five minute mass that ”seemed to take on a life of its own.” It is like an abstract oil painting in which texture, not colour and shape, is the central, narrative element. Clément crafts a sonorous dome of bronze arching over a close reading of rusting iron and crumbling concrete, an obsolete infrastructure heaving a final, fatigued sigh. Music that sounds the same in the dark as with the lights on..
…I have spent considerable time with a clutch of releases from the past several months that, to varying degrees, can be considered as fine examples of works that touch such nerves in this listener. Two issue from the conceptual maps provided by Wandelweiser composers Antoine Beuger [un lieu pour etre deux, realized by Barry Chabala and Ben Owen] and Manfred Werder [ deux trois choses ou presques, realized by Bruno Duplant]; three seem to be concerned with that most potent site-specific subject, home [Joda Clement‘s The Narrows, Yannick Dauby’s Taî-pak thiaⁿsaⁿpiàn, and Lee Noyes and Sally Ann McIntyre’s to orient themselves with coastlines]; and one [Patrick Farmer’s Like falling out of trees into collector’s albums] shares with kindred field recordist Jeph Jerman anartistic praxis that might be characterized as whatever is happening within 100 feet of your porch is probably as worthy of your attention and microphone as what lies beyond.
I’ll begin by telling you I have spent far and away the most time with Joda Clement‘s The Narrows, not as I was privileging it over the others, but because I have had the unusual opportunity of hearing it from germination to its fully-embodied form heard now on the lovely Unfathomless imprint. Clement sent me the incipient version in 2008, a mere 13 minutes at that stage, and four further iterations between then and now. I can say, then, with certainty that The Narrows has been painstakingly assembled, disassembled and at times almost completely re-imagined, as I have heard every stage of Clement‘s obsessive process unfold. That Clement‘s father was an environmental musician himself who was frequently accompanied by his son on field trips, and that the fields of Ontario were the germinal basis for this highly narrative work, means, of course, that The Narrows is deeply personal and felt. I can assure you, however, that its folds and plies allow plenty of space and ambiguity in which the listener can stand and soak it all in. The Narrows is tinged in melancholy, vibrant with the sense of recollections held close and long, and is smeared with fine ash. Like Asher Thal-Nir’s work, The Narrows owns a spatial quality difficult to describe other than to say many of its fine events seem to occur at a distance; I haven’t a clue how Clement conveys this aural equivalent of a far horizon, or a distanced memory, but it grips me with every listen, and is absolutely enthralling…
[full version of this review article entitled “The Sounding World“, here]
Crow With No Mouth
I’m in love with field recordings. The sounds of the forest, chirping birds, the incoming storm. The audio postcard of a particular setting brings the listener directly into the scene. It does not begin with an abstract representation of the artist’s mind – it begins in the forest, with chirping birds, and the incoming storm. Now something descends upon the plain, swallowing textures and sounds in its ginormous glow and hum. The rain brought more than just the water. It carried within this invisible something, that dissolves the air like liquid night. The atmosphere changes, rising in velocity, voltage and volume. Drone sets in, crawling through the fog, like an incoming migraine. Two realities, perceived and yet to be imagined, merge into one. This is the place of The Narrows as I envision it to be.
The musician behind this journey is Joda Clément, a Toronto based sound artist working with experimental music for over 10 years. Clément is an avid collector of found objects and sounds from natural and urban environments, “investigating hidden properties of sound, space and recording techniques that transcend a distinction between audio and source.” His previous releases include Movement + Rest released by Alluvial Recordings in 2005, and a collaboration with Alexandre St-Onge, Freida Abtan and Erin Sexton on Ostinato 20 (Oral, 2008). On The Narrows, Clément explores his father’s idea of ‘environmental music’:
“Merging various threads into one mass, the construction of the piece seemed to take on a life of its own. As hundreds of sources blurred together to the point where I forget where many originate, I slowly came to look at the piece as a continuation of my father’s idea of ‘environmental music’ – coloured by memories and impressions of those early years in north Ontario, yet re-imagined through the dense and shifting sound pallete of Toronto, where I live and work.” – Joda Clément
The 35-minute long single piece gradually evolves as if it was its own form of weather, changing the landscape and soundscape from within. The Narrows is released on Unfathomless – a sister label to Belgium based Mystery Sea run by Daniel Crokaert (who, incidentally, is responsible for the album cover design on both labels). Unfathomless releases limited edition CDs (about 200 hand numbered copies), focusing on “phonographies reflecting the spirit of a specific place crowded with memories, its aura & resonances and our intimate interaction with it…“.
Labels tend to acquire a certain character after a while. When something arrives from Unfathomless I, fairly or otherwise, tend to expect something in the line of treated field recordings with a drony ambiance. That particular field sometimes works quite well for me, other times seems lacking, a mere collection of effects, made palatable by leavening with some tonal agent. This makes it all the more difficult to pin down what attributes make one work, for me, better than another. Surely some connection to the world, the hard world not the ideal, pastoral one, helps in my case. That may come in the form of “grit”, as Simon recently observed, however introduced or it may be more abstract, a feeling that the real world is somehow “out there”, if not directly referred to.
I was thinking of these things while listening to “The Narrows“, a piece that straddles those lines. Clément includes field recordings that encompass both natural and man-made sounds, almost always gentle yet possessing a burbling sense of activity, through which are woven subtle, changing electronic tones that fill the drone role in a tonal manner that sometimes gives me pause, sometimes fits quite well. There’s just enough sinew, enough depth in the twinings, to propel things along with sufficient force yet to have enough drag to satisfy the need for grain. Sometimes the throb itself oozes to the fore and carries the weight for a few moments, effectively so. Even if ultimately, I’d prefer something abstracted out another level or two, the music works pretty well here and will doubtless more than satisfy fans of this area and label.
Daniel Crokaert’s Unfathomless label, an offshoot of Mystery Sea, has gone from strength to strength since making its debut in 2009. Joda Clément‘s The Narrows has taken twice that long to record. During that time, Clément traveled around Canada and Austria, carrying on in the tradition of his father, who led him on field recording expeditions when he was a child. It’s a wonderful thing to think of a father’s love for his art being passed on like this. The result is less a sound map than a sound mulch: reality, memory, and distorted remembrance all pressed into one 35-minute track. The piece is toned down, almost dronelike yet still above the frequency levels of a “pure” field recording. While listening, one struggles to make identifications, but Clément does as well, admitting that he can no longer identify all of his sources. Electronic fields vibrate, distant voices echo, objects are dragged. For those who regard memory as a mystery, The Narrows will be a source of intrigue; for those who view the onset of confusion as an intruding cloud, the piece will serve as a dark disturbance.
A Closer Listen
“The Narrows” by Joda Clément is a 35minutes soundscape based on field recordings captured by the author in various locations (Ontario, Quebec, Austria).
The raw recordings are no longer easily recognizable, they have been blurred and stretched and their massive superposition forms a flowing and impenetrable mass of frequencies. There are no foreground sounds, there is no clear distinction between “figure” and “ground”, every detail has been melted into a resonant cloud of sonic particles that grows minute after minute assuming different shapes and colors.
Despite this work cannot be defined “phonographic”, it nevertheless preserves a solid link to the environment and its characteristics. While listening to this album the environment is perceived as a space that carves the sound, and the sound itself becomes the essence in which all the information and emotions are retained.
Dense, dark and metallic would be the words If I had to choose three adjectives to describe this album. But the overall sonic result is far from being cataloged as oppressive or claustrophobic. In contrary it preserves a high emotional potential and there is an evident nostalgic theme that often rises from the smithereens of the original recordings.
The rumble of a distant thunderstorm opens this audio work and from there the complex soundscape grows becoming more and more articulated, alternating quiet passages with louder ones until towards the end a quick and isolated childish laugh illuminates the horizon for a brief moment putting back the listeners into a weightless state of mind while the solitude of the Canadian wilderness resounds in the ears.
The Field Reporter
“Next to Keith Berry another promising new name in the world of drone music”, I wrote back in Vital Weekly 498 on the first release by Joda Clement, but then he went quiet, not releasing anymore until now, ‘The Narrows‘ (aside from his Cherry Beach duo – see Vital Weekly 560). Some people release a lot, and very few don’t. This new album is inspired by sounds from his childhood on a remote farm in Canada, where the electricity came from a generator 400 feet away, and later on his father took him on field recording trips (why never work on music together?), resulting in a whole library of sound sources which he no longer remembered where they came from, sounding like that old sound generator. So what did six years of silence deliver? His first CD reminded me of Monos, Ora and Mirror, which are of course mighty fine references, but this new work doesn’t make me think otherwise. Its still very much a work of drone music. Clement does a great job, and you can hear the work shifting through lots of smaller, detailed sounds, with quick moves from sound to another. That perhaps is the aspect that makes this album a bit different than those other three bands do. If you play this with headphones you will be noticing the details much better, but in general I’d like to use speakers. I am not entirely sure about this album but by and large this seems to me ‘another’ work of field recordings melting into drone music. Good, fine and a crowded area of composers.
Frans de Waard