Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Terminal Pharmacy/Whelm/L-Fields


Three albums that could form a trilogy:



Jim O’Rourke: Terminal Pharmacy (Tzadik, 1995) - A gem that fails to age, from his prodigous and intriguing output from the early 90s, which involved a lot of composition for chamber ensembles, electronics and field recordings. He was still in his early 20s when these remarkable albums were made. His time in Dan Burke’s noise outfit Illusion Of Safety seeps through in this album, with its extended periods of quiet, sudden edits and understated sections that hover on the threshold of audibility. This music mostly seems to float at the edges of perception, appearing and disappearing, glowing gently, diminishing, creating a space for itself that draws you in and manages to knit in the sounds of your surroundings as part of the landscape. It feels quietly cinematic, from some forgotten place, an impression reinforced by the fleeting presence at one point, of some noirish 40s style brass music lifted from vinyl with surface crackle like a fireside ambience. My own listening preference for this album is a late night one, for some reason, just feels part of night time, with moments emerging and sinking back into the dark. Still remarkably fresh 20 years on.




indicate: Whelm (Touch, 1995) - produced the same year as Terminal Pharmacy, working as a duo with Robert Hampson, this feels like a kind of sister album of sorts, with intriguing prepared/processed guitar treatments and field recording elements which evince long sections that flatline until landscapes of delicate construction emerge low in the mix and hang beguilingly, like a weather front, before evaporating, the field recording elements lending it a widescreen depth. Another one that’s aged remarkably well. I had the strange experience, when scanning the artwork, of discovering two cards that I had never seen before, as they were stuck so snugly to the jewel case - sitting there for 20 years !




Michael Prime: L-Fields (Sonoris, 1999) - coming on the heels of the previous two, Mike’s compositions date from 97 - 99, using bioacoustic feedback from plants connected to oscillators, combined with field recordings (explained clearly in his notes). These pieces mine a similar territory and create a unique and intriguing listening space that feels as unstable and capricious as the weather. One track features the sounds coming from a local football match coming from some distant field, a signature sound of suburban life throughout my growing up, and still in my neighbourhood now. Not really sure why this sound intrigues me so much, but the wind-thrown fleeting snatches of shouted commands, the thin, strained, reedy blast of ref’s whistle, the feeling of distance the sounds carry, somehow fascinate me. Though it’s not strictly necessary to know why, the experience is enough. Mystery is a good thing in certain circumstances.