U18 | Tarab | strata
format : CD ltd to 200 hand numbered copies
all copies come with an additional art card on 300gr satin paper
release year : 2013
length : 34’09
status : still available
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(Belgium) : 13 € (inc.postage)
(Europe) : 14 € (inc.postage)
(World) : 15 € (inc.postage)
: info :
Strata has been constructed from recording made in a series of vacant lots and their immediate surrounds in the north-west of Melbourne. These vacant lots are backed onto by various factories and warehouses on one side and a train line and Moonee Ponds creek (perhaps more aptly described as a concrete storm water drain) on the other. Running some 20 meters above all this is a large multi-lane highway overpass. This area has interested me for some time, the creeks and their walking paths act as a thoroughfare of sorts somewhat removed from the rest of the city. Somewhere to move through but not to stop and spend any real time. This collection of empty lots in particular has become an overlooked pocket, acting as a trap and dumping ground for rubbish or as a safe out of the way location for homeless people to live. It is a place where the industrial meets nature to create a zone which is strangely neither. It has a odd feeling of emptiness while being both sonically and physically dense with traffic noise, over grown weeds, hidden dwellings and rubbish.
As discussed in the introduction to Francesco Careri’s book Walkscapes: Walking as an Aesthetic Practice (Editorial Gustavo Gili, 2002) there is a common held view of the urban landscape as full with small pockets of emptiness (be it parks or demolition sites), as opposed to the rural landscape which is seen as empty with small areas of density. A view which holds within it much of the associated baggage regarding centres, peripheries and social marginalisation. What is thought of as empty is often simply that which is not seen or heard, the majority of people wilfully choosing to ignore. As for many others, these areas of cities hold great fascination for me, acting as a sort of hidden zone, full of the traces and debris of various past and present human activity, whether commercial, domestic or nefarious. All the while being slowly eroded by weather and reclaimed by the now unrestrained plant and animal life.
Rather than attempting to document this location I set out to construct a sound piece from the place itself through my direct interaction with it. Somehow collecting together all the existent traces I could unearth to form the work. Not only through walking, observing and recording the various areas and sounds but also by crawling and scratching around in the dirt; sifting through the piles of discarded objects; listening to the solid vibrations of the concrete pylons and traffic noise from inside the creek; by burying microphones and dragging them through the dirt and rubble. Strata attempts to respond to ideas of urban density and emptiness, and to show how these states blur and overlap each other. I have tried to highlight the small hidden details and with them create a condensed hyper-real version of my many wanderings through this area. But perhaps more simply put, Strata is the result of a process of attempting to, if only fleetingly, inhabit somewhere. To see, hear, smell and touch it.
(Eamon Sprod, September 2013)
: reviews :
Eamon Sprod records music in the field, but don’t mistake the product of his labor for a field recording. In some hands microphones and tapes are used to capture the buzz of insects or the sound of rain pelting the land—whatever the subject might be—with the intent of faithfully reproducing those sounds later in a living room or in a pair of headphones. Replication is the documentarian’s craft. Sprod‘s is magnification. He singles out particular noises, brushes them off and, like a geologist or an archaeologist, excavates them from the sediment of ordinary commotion. His efforts yield an enlarged world of microscopic rhythms and porous surfaces, small remnants that point to the unbroken environments from which they were culled. But Sprod re-purposes those extractions as musical vehicles too, for both re-hearing and re-imagining the world.
Strata is a telling title. Maybe the perfect title for this album, because, in order to get what he wants, Sprod has to dig into the dirt. He trains his microphones on the gritty crunch of busted concrete and loose gravel, buries them in the ground to pick up the vibrations of subway trains, and lets them loose over a wide surface where dogs bark and the hum of cars, planes, and other machines mingle chaotically. Most public spaces are filled with sounds like these, but they pass by unnoticed for a variety of reasons: visual distractions pull our attention away from them or other sounds roar rudely into our ears masking the quieter noises that smolder in the dark. Some sounds require special equipment to hear and other times there is simply too much happening to catch it all at once. Whatever the case, our senses fail to report the entire scene. Sprod‘s method of recording and composing brings those silenced sounds back to consciousness, with a twist.
They arrive incrementally and without context, fragments of the vacant lots Sprod recorded near Macaulay Station and Moonee Ponds Creek in North Melbourne, Australia. From the piston-pumping whoosh of car engines on a raised highway to the sibilant hiss of old pipes; from birds chirping to creaking boards, to tape distortion and the harmonic ring of metal on metal, each scene appears out of the blue, placed shoulder to shoulder with its neighbors by means of sudden cuts, quick fades, and clever mixing. Rhythm and pace take precedent over the sounds themselves as Sprod turns his attention from subject to subject. A barrage of noise is followed by an expectant stillness. Dogs bark. Someone kicks a pile of rubble over with their boots and subtle effects creep surreptitiously into their midst. In places the recordings are slowed down or sped up, or are manipulated in some way to add variety.
Strategies like these might have come about as Strata took shape, or they could have been planned out in advance. The blueprint suggested by the title shows through in the way Sprod organizes his sources, but nothing like a composition can be gleaned from that organization. In absence of an outline, it’s very likely that each sequence and edit was decided by the material itself and by Sprod’s ear. There is a peak here and valley there not because of any guiding principle or master plan, but because that sequence seemed appropriate at the time and made for good music. Thoroughness might also have contributed to the album’s build, as Strata uses much of its time to focus our attention on overlooked (or under-heard) phenomena. Events move through the frame only after they’ve been treated meticulously and no sooner. What counts as meticulous depends entirely on interest, and since this is Sprod‘s record, it’s his interests that matters.
By intuition or by whim, Strata takes shape. And from that shape both music a deepened field materialize. All the nooks and crannies usually obscured by the bigger picture come to the fore, as if blown up under a microscope, and they bring two of North Melbourne’s deserted locales back to life with them. Not just by virtue of their sounds; the music reaches further than that. It travels through the audible frequencies and into the brain where it teases the imagination to work. An awareness of how these places must have felt emerges. It’s a subjective report, filtered through Eamon Sprod‘s subjective lense, but it captures the lay of the land in a way that few documentary recordings could.
Strata: documenting sound worlds within nooks and crannies of urban landscapes
For years the Australian artist Eamon Sprod, working under the project title of Tarab, has been collecting field recordings and turning them into albums that explore and document the secret audio histories of vacant spaces in and among urban landscapes where ecosystems of plants and animals arise and thrive unseen and unnoticed by the dominant human inhabitants. His most recent album “Strata” focuses on the sounds of vacant and deserted lots and their surroundings in an area in northern Melbourne. Factories and warehouses back onto these forgotten areas on one side and on the other there is a small creek. A highway overpass runs overhead. Photographs, admittedly treated, of these places in the album sleeve design show a forlorn, almost post-apocalyptic desolate landscape in which feral grasses threaten to cover over evidence of a past human civilisation. The detritus of culture, discolouring and rotting and reverting slowly into scraps and dust, lie strewn over the ground, lacking any function and meaning for whichever life-forms still survive in this barrenness.
The album has a very dark and foreboding air and the sounds therein intimate that the natural world is biding its time until such time as when it can reclaim the city-scape for itself again. There is a sculptural and dynamic quality to the noises that appear: among other things, we hear wind, the crackle of dry leaves, rusting industrial machinery ambience, distant thunder, aeroplanes buzzing in the distance, the vibrations of pylons and of what cables may be found beneath the concrete epidermis. The border between man-made and natural dissolves, everything inanimate takes on an animated quality and aspects of the natural world seem as machine-like and forbidding as does the traffic on the roads and in the sky. The microphones used to record the sounds are themselves featured on the album as they were often dragged around the ground and over the garbage and rubble or buried within pylons.
It feels quite intimate and the entire tone of the recording for the most part is very soothing with few abrupt or jarring moments (one major exception occurring about the 22nd minute when a hail-storm suddenly erupts). The production is clear which allows the sounds, even quite distant ones such as a choir of barking dogs, to be heard with great and precise clarity. The album has an amazingly polished feel without seeming to be precious. Even though individual field recordings are carefully spaced apart so you tend to hear one or maybe a couple of things happening, the album seems very rich in terms of texture, mood and volume dynamics.
This isn’t simply a collection of sounds from a particular small set of forgotten or spurned locations in Melbourne; “Strata” is as much an artistic composition as it is a document.
‘Strata’ is described as having been created from recordings made in a series of vacant lots and their immediate surrounds in the north-west of Melbourne.
The first thing that strikes the listener is the range of well-chosen sounds, all easy on the ear, nothing too harsh or unpleasant, no frequencies that strip the enamel off your teeth, no subs which threaten the cones on your precious speakers. In contrast with the locations used to gather the sounds, the overall impression is of a very ‘clean’ album, highly polished. The balance of dynamics, attention to pace and flow, all the orthodoxies of good composition, make the album almost classical in a compositional sense. Add to this various crossfading techniques with some well-crafted staggered dropouts and you have an effective tension between what I’d call thoroughly contemporary environmental sound gathering and a measured and conventional approach to putting the sounds together.
The sounds are easy enough to describe to the inner ear: a variety of recognisable or almost recognisable continuous sounds, some with lots of human agency, others resembling trains and the like, and occasionally sudden intrusions in the form of metallic timbres for example – one would imagine that these timbres are derived from objects found on site, activated for their rich sonic properties.
As with many other examples of this kind of work, the soundscape is visually evocative. Such work lends itself very well to the entertainment of audiences who like to relax, listen deeply and let the mind wander to the music. So the real question for me is how else can we hear this kind of music other than on cd? It’s fine to be able to relax in one’s domestic environment and to listen on one’s chosen equipment, but I’ve always thought that the potential strength of this kind of work, apart from pleasing the ears if it’s good work, is to be found in the possibilities for uplifting and even edifying in a social listening context, situations where people can discuss and share impressions after the listening event. Certainly not the concert hall or the grungy club (so I’m already going against the grain by asking for something which isn’t so fashionable but is eminently human and probably timeless), something approaching an appropriate and rewarding listening environment. I think we need to be asking where and under which conditions we should be looking to improve the opportunities for composers of this kind of work, composers who offer well-crafted good new non-instrumental, non-genre or trend-driven music of this era.
Tarab (Eamon Sprod) describes his work as “careful arrangements of sonic rubbish”, but on his new single-track work, strata, the description is literal. These sounds were all collected in abandoned industrial lots in Melbourne. Factories, storm drains and physical debris color the landscape in shades of drab grey and brown. Homeless people search for scraps in the shadows of highways and rails. The broken paths are strewn with litter and concrete. This desolate place was once teeming with healthy activity; now it’s an “empty space”, a sector as forgotten as the earth of Elysium.
When tarab regards the space, he sees a forlorn beauty, a jilted lover who has given up on being noticed. His reaction is to interact: to love the dirt, the gravel, the broken rails. He first buries his microphones, then unearths them and drags them around. He points his tape recorder at heartless sources above and below. Others may regard the Moone Pond Creek and Macauly Station area as “somewhere to move through but not to stop and spend any real time”, but not tarab, to whom nobility lies in the forgotten and lost.
The sounds that tarab creates are as rich as the loam beneath the earth. The crackles sounds like crumbling architecture, the flaps like flags in the wind. The contrast is heightened with the arrival of a train; announcements can be heard over the loudspeaker, but just as quickly, the train is gone; no one wants to stop here. And yet the sound artist remains, attentive, loving the debris, discovering treasure in decay. The richest moments sound like sleet on tin foil. The deepest rumble like sonic booms. The warmest involve the footsteps of the artist: on dirt, in puddles, over plastic and rock.
Strata also contains a late-piece harshness, akin to that found on David Vélez’ Unseen Terror. A sudden, overpowering rainstorm overtakes the piece in its 22nd minute, setting all the local dogs to barking. In the aftermath, tarab finds objects to swing and smash, expressing anger at the debris by making more debris. Is it nothing to you, all who pass by?
A 34-minute excursion investigating the sound properties of vacant lots and nearby areas in North Melbourne, Australia and a typically worthwhile one from Tarab, whose work I’ve enjoyed since fist hearing his “surface drift” almost ten years ago. Suitably bleak, ranging from a dry, sandy beginning, rising in periodic crests of harsh mixtures of treated footsteps, oceans of insects and birds, dopplering vehicles and, it seems, an enormous supply of other sounds, whipped into vortices of noise. Dryness seems like the operative word for the first half of the work, abetted by deep, booming resonance. I’m intrigued by how hard a time I often have distinguishing between fire and water sounds on field recordings (if not informed one way or the other). I was confused once again for a few minutes here until the liquid nature became apparent (and after confirming that Tarab mentions a creek in his description). These somewhat placid sounds are soon overturned by a roar, possibly the same water cascading through a sheet metal lined, container, I’ve no idea. Dogs bark in the distance while up close it sounds like people pawing through garbage. It ends with dry steps.
Another strong effort from Tarab, good stuff.
Vacant store fronts, abandoned buildings, and empty lots are increasingly harder to find in San Francisco these days. Even the former wastelands well to the east of our Mission location are filling in with all manner of development, from modern office spaces to sleek steel & glass apartments. Complaints of gentrification can hardly be made when such buildings are constructed on purportedly mitigated toxic sludge or the settled landfill of crumbled highways from the ’89 earthquake. These dead zones in the urban landscape nevertheless are thriving ecosystems of feral plants and animals that can exist sprouting through broken asphalt and plumping themselves on the scraps of whatever can be pulled from nearby garbage cans. Few would pine over the loss of such spaces, and the Australian sound artist Eamon Sprod (aka Tarab) is one who would actively explore vacant lots instead of ignoring them. Over the years, Sprod has released a small catalog of brilliant, if understated albums that reflect these dead spaces in the urban landscape, often with apocalyptic foreshadowings through his compositions. He patiently builds this work through layers of sparsely processed field recordings and found object manipulation often recorded directly in such environments – empty warehouses, military bunkers, dry sewer ducts and the like. For Strata, Sprod has documented something of a concrete island on the outskirts of Melbourne, bordered by train tracks, highways, and drainage ditches. In collecting his recordings, he would dig and claw through the broken concrete, construction refuse, bum trash, and aggregated debris, amassing a whole array of crumbled textures and noises that would also echo with the distant din of cars and trains roaring by, many miles away. What is always impressive about Sprod‘s albums is the incredible clarity of detail which pops into focus, as the bright frequencies of found metal debris take the shape of obsidian shards with possible diabolically mystical qualities. The compositions coalesce into churning swarms of texture that snap into expansive rumbles paralleling the desolation of Thomas Köner’s polar treks, giving way to doppler-effected field recordings of trains with the grinding of brakes and the pulsing thunder of the engines. It’s that rich attention to detail that warrants comparisons to Chris Watson’s impeccable phonography, but the compositional approach strikes a balance between the psychological implications of Luc Ferrari and those damn-near perfect collages by Small Cruel Party. As with all of Tarab‘s work, this is very highly recommended! Limited to just 200 copies!
Not the most active when it comes to releases, Eamon Sprod always gets around with his music, and has been releasing music on 23Five Incorporated, Naturestrip and most recently on Semperflorens (see Vital Weekly 866). Here he has a thirty-four minute piece based on a recording in a ‘series of vacant lots and their surrounds which back on the Macaulay Station and Moonee Ponds Creek, North Melbourne, Australia’, so train sounds are part and parcel of this. Although it’s not entirely clear what he does, I’d say Tarab uses an excellent balance between pure, untreated sounds – here’s where the trains drive right through your living room – and the treated versions there of, but it’s never really that clear what is what indeed. Maybe Tarab stuck some contact microphones on the tracks as to pick up some far away signals, or rummages through the dirt along the tracks, which makes a very dynamic piece of music. Sometimes very loud and present but then as abruptly switching off and staying is this low audible audio rumble of amplified gravel. Sometimes, as say around eight minutes, there is a deep end bass sound which must be something the computer coughed up, but then, I might be entirely wrong here. This is a great release of music that comes to us as a soundscape and not as a pure documentation of sounds ; exactly the kind of thing I like. Much enjoyable release from down under.
Frans de Waard