U27 | Jay-Dea Lopez | The Australian Gothic
The Australian Gothic : excerpt1
The Australian Gothic : excerpt2
format : CD ltd to 200 hand numbered copies
all copies come with an additional art card on 300gr satin paper
release year : 2015
length : 38’48
status : still available
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: info :
Long before the fact of Australia was ever confirmed by explorers and cartographers it had already been imagined as a grotesque space, a land peopled by monsters. The idea of its existence was disputed, was even heretical for a time, and with the advent of the transportation of convicts its darkness seemed confirmed. The Antipodes was a world of reversals, the dark subconscious of Britain. It was, for all intents and purposes, Gothic par excellence, the dungeon of the world.
Gerry Turcotte (Australian Gothic. University of Wollongong.1998).
The Australian Gothic : a creative genre emphasising the terrors of isolation in this post-colonial land. The Australian Gothic exposes a tormented communal psyche weighted by dark secrets.
Australia, a country colonised in 1788 by unwilling convicts and prison guards. For these unfortunates Australia was a nightmarish location, its foreign terrain provoked feelings of fear and alienation. Gone was the British gothic landscape of moors and heaths. In its place were dangerous animals, deserts, bush-fires, floods and droughts. The comfortability of the known European landscape was replaced by this new unstable setting.
Integral to the colonisers’ sense of dislocation and dread was the Australian soundscape. Reading journals and novels from this era it is evident that the aural dimensions of the Australian landscape were strongly perceived in gothic terms of enclosure and entrapment. The vastness of the deserts unsettled the first colonisers who remarked upon its deathlike silence, while in the forests the mass of unfamiliar sounds induced intense feelings of fear and disorientation. This sparked feelings of loathing towards the newly colonised space, including the Aboriginal people. In the Australian Gothic tradition the landscape sounded alive, it surrounded and entrapped with suffocating force.
Growing up in a region where Aboriginal artifacts from the pre-colonial era could readily be found under shallow soil the bloody layers of history have always sat uncomfortably with me. We live on stolen land, a place where immoral and bloody actions happened in the recent past. We have a sense of un-belonging to this country. It is part of the Australian Gothic experience.
With this in mind I collected field recordings in my local valley of Main Arm, a place like much of Australia, partly suburban, partly open for farming. I wanted to create a composition that featured field recordings, both modified and unmodified, of sounds from local farms. Could we imagine ourselves in the past, a time when the steady expansion of farms into traditional Aboriginal land was a primary source of frontier conflict?
Listening to the composition I hope a sense of unease and dread is provoked through its combination of sounds. Yet somewhere underneath its layers there is the suggestion of beauty, of what could have been. Listen and be transported into the fabric of Australia’s Gothic experience.
(Jay-Dea Lopez, May 2015)
: reviews :
Je les croyais chassés une fois pour toutes par les bonnes résolutions que j’ai prises pour le nouvel an, et voilà qu’ils font leur grand retour. Je veux parler des field recordings. Mais quand je parle de grand retour, c’est que ceux-là valent la peine !
Non, Jay-Dea Lopez n’est pas le fils caché de Jay Z et de Jennifer Lopez (je fais ce que je peux) mais un artiste sonore australien qui sévit depuis le début des années 2010. Via The Australian Gothic, il rend hommage aux monstres de son île (des diables de Tasmanie aux bagnards anglais, il faut dire qu’il y avait du spécimen prêt à alimenter tous les fantasmes). C’est donc un portrait fantastique qu’il peint de son pays en provoquant ses oiseaux en claquant du bâton, en réveillant des batraciens à coups de cailloux ou en juxtaposant des bruits qui jusque-là ne s’étaient (sans doute) jamais croisés…
C’est donc en compositeur que Lopez se place et se déplace dans le champ de l’enregistrement de terrain. Il réinvente la Nouvelle-Galles du Sud et sa faune (de toutes tailles) en faisant profiter ses captations d’un souffle créateur qui n’appartient qu’à lui. Voilà pourquoi sa phonographie est impressionnante… ça m’apprendra à prendre des bonnes résolutions.
Le Son Du Grisli
On his Sounds Like Noise website, Jay-Dea Lopez expresses concern that the natural sounds found in the northern part of New South Wales, Australia are disappearing. Suburbia, as he puts it, is ever-encroaching and with it has come the suffocating noise of commercialization and technology. That the one will snuff the other out, or damage it irreparably, appears inevitable. Motivated by that threat, Lopez recorded sections of the Main Arm valley in New South Wales, near Mullumbimby at the Queensland border, and used them to compose The Australian Gothic, an album that reproduces some of the unique sounds made by the fauna in that region and, curiously, combines them with man-made noises and rhythms. Without the distortion and the apparently manipulated segments, Gothic would be an audio index of birds, insects, and domesticated animals—a recording of the soon-to-be departed. With them, it’s a more complicated composition, a piece of music that attempts to imitate and preserve nature, but that ultimately integrates it with a touch of its so-called opposite.
The distinction between artifice and nature—often reduced to the human and non-human—is tougher to make than it appears. The first question that comes to mind is are humans natural or are they somehow separate from nature? If the answer is that they are a part of nature, a second question follows, which is whether or not the products of human labor aren’t also natural. This is not the same thing as asking if humans have harmed the environment, but such questions are often conflated because there’s a strong inclination to link what is unnatural to what is harmful, never mind that the concept of unnatural things might not make any sense. Had Jay-Dea Lopez wanted to preserve what is natural around the Main Arm valley in a simple sense, he might have done everything possible to erase the signs of human activity in the region. The album could have been any number of things: one continuous recording in an established area, a series of recordings from different parts of the valley, or a semi-exhaustive documentary of photos and sounds with track names identifying the variety of noises captured by Lopez’s microphones.
Instead, The Australian Gothic is a single self-titled piece with minimal geographic information attached, accompanied by only a few clear photographs, which depict as many humans as animals. In fact, except for a picture of what might be a cow, the only trace of animal existence in the artwork is an image of white feathers clumped together in the grass, a symbol of humanity’s ever-growing impact on the ecosystem.
Intentional or otherwise, the absence of insects, birds, reptiles, or any other non-human species lends Gothic its ghostly constitution and amplifies the already intense noises Lopez caught during his sessions. Singing crickets and warbling birds figure heavily into the opening, less obvious calls and a more subdued atmosphere follow: frogs, perhaps, and cicadas, as well as bats, monkey-like kookaburras, and other noises that walk on the edge of the animal/mechanical divide. Certain textures could be the product of closely mic’d cattle or of a contact microphone attached to an electric generator. More obviously synthetic sounds snake their way through the mix too, usually in the form of pulsing bass figures or repeating percussive patterns.
The inability to distinguish the one from the other sort of proves Lopez’s point, that the human world is slowly taking over the non-human one, but it also highlights how the two exist together, and how humans imitate their surroundings in surprising ways. If his aim was to emphasize the negative impact of human life on non-human life, then he fails. The link between his subject and his music only begins to solidify once the music ends and a little bit of research begins. With the context in mind, The Australian Gothic still doesn’t portray mechanical noise as the beastly representative of destruction that it may in fact be, at least in certain places. It does, however, catch the place where two worlds cross. Not, as one might expect, natural and unnatural worlds, but visible and invisible worlds, worlds that we take for granted or ignore, or slowly forget as we reproduce our own images and project them more forcefully into places where, surprisingly, we are still aliens.
Now here we have a name from the crowded world of field recorders that doesn’t release a lot of things, since 2012 only a handful. Jay-Dea (although I also see it spelled as Jay-dea, but not on this cover) has a release on Kaon before (see Vital Weekly 927) which was my only introduction to his work so far. He’s from Australia and its there, in the valley Main Arm, New South Wales, were he did his recordings for this CD, spanning January to November 2014. In the press-text Lopez tells us about the colonization of Australia by convicts and prison guards and that this land was so different from the English motherland. The dungeon of the world, with strange animals and heath and floods – that is the Australian gothic. A landscape that makes sound and sometimes these sounds are terrifying. It is all close to home for Lopez as he lives in this area. In his close to thirty-eight-minute piece he goes from section to section, and it’s hard to say what he exactly taped and also to what extent he processed his sounds. Sometimes, it seems, quite a lot, and maybe not at all. Lots of these sounds sound processed: cut-up into small blocks that make repeating sounds – like a rhythm indeed. I might be very well wrong and the whole thing is cut from nature events; I am no biologist or ornithologist to spot the right animal in these sounds. But it’s something I noted from the previous Lopez release too: he sure likes his field recordings to be repetitive; high pitched like Ikeda or Noto. Whatever else there is, soundwise, serves as ‘drones’. Yet, do not think all too easily that this is some Noto-goes-field recording; the rhythmic blocks are nothing to dance too. Quite abstract it all remains, even in it’s more rhythm form. Partly due to this being one piece I guess in which everything flows into each other, rather than this being short pieces with heads and tails. I think this is a great work, because it’s quite different from the usual plate of (reworked or otherwise) field recordings. If one day Lopez would try his hands at some more dance floor oriented tracks based on such recordings I would not be surprised. I would be interested in hearing what that would bring. It seems he has the imagination to pull it off.
Frans de Waard