The overiding impression of Akos Garai’s Danube recordings is detail and space. Although we are close to the water’s surface, so that every splash and swirl becomes a well defined foreground event, cars crossing bridges, other vessels on the river and barely heard voices suggest a rich, expansive riverscape.
Savouring events occuring in close proximity to the ear. Listening out into the distance. Picking up threads of sound to the left and right. Homing in on activity that previously went unnoticed on a first listen. There are many strategies required to fully appreciate a release like this. We are hearing fragments of stories.
Where are the ships bound for? Whose voices are they? What equipment is being used? A winch? A pump? We are invited to build narratives.
Never having seen the Danube, the imagination creates a picture of imposingly grand Eastern European buildings on sloping banks, huge barges moored against fragile looking jettys, bridges conveying people and goods over the water, and the river itself, vast and implacable. A glistening arterial route that passes through no less than four capital cities before emptying into the Black Sea.
Never delving below the level of the water, Garai points his microphone towards it to produce an intimate portrait of the surface. Whether slooshing through pipes or gently lapping against the hulls of barges, the dynamic nature of this living river is what Barges and Flows centres around. It is a constant motif.
Far from being documentary recordings, the six tracks could be considered as songs. Each has a different rhythm and character. Despite being divided like this, Garai has opted not to give descriptive titles to the pieces. Again imagination must help us navigate.
Contrasted against the sparkling fluidity of the water is the very physical presence of heavy machinery, every movement of which creates a sound. Track two for example is a study in metallic ostinato. Notes like bowed iron ring out over the landscape, possibly the endless lament of a road bridge.
At other times there is seemingly no movement save these barges gently rolling at their moorings. The water as always responding and reflecting every shift in the crafts’ hulls with its subtle poetry. Against this quiet lyricism, on the final track, which seems concerned with rhythm and distance, three huge tympanic booms signal an ending. A closing volley. A coda.
One of the most difficult actions an artist can perform is to take no action at all. To exercise restraint. To leave things as they are rather than to alter and manipulate the song of the world. Akos Garai is a deep listener who wants us to hear what he hears, and to find within these songs the soul of his river.