Bahías.
JUAN JOSÉ CALARCO, DAVID VÉLEZ
(Semperflorens 2011)

The background to this substantial work is simple enough. In December 2009 the artists captured their sounds from various bays near the cities of Buenos Aires and New York with the intention of exploring contrasts in the weather conditions and similarities in the recording locations. Then they exchanged files until mid- 2011, when the piece was finalized.

Calarco and Velez have been working together for some years now. Both have emerged over the years as mature sound artists, committed to producing their own style of work based on field recordings and to representing the work of others on their label Impulsive Habitat. This album is a fine example of what they do and of the fact that they’re getting ever better at it.

With a single composition of over forty minutes, the success of the album will depend to an extent on how well the work holds the listener’s attention. There is certainly plenty of variety: the grain and gristle of the outdoors, machine sounds, seascapes, architectural structures rattling as they are energised activated by geophonies. Then we have these odd metallic chimelike sounds, almost instrumental at times.

In the unfolding of the various sounds there are well considered passages of polyphony, different combinations of previously heard material offering an impression of revisits under different environmental conditions, seasons and  times of day, taken from varying spatial perspectives (close-in/wide field). Add to all this a delicious subdued passage at around the half way mark, a pause for reflection.

Finally we have the use of crescendi and diminuendi, very effective at two points in particular, holding the listener tightly into the flow of the work. Along with some carefully edited abrupt shifts, the work offers plenty in the way of change of pace and sonic interest.

But above and beyond mere compositional technique, I was impressed by the way in which the artists succeeded in constantly shifting interest from the prototype to the index (to use Alfred Gell’s terminology), leaving me less interested in the actual sound sources, in their identity and location, though the traces were evident, and more concerned with the immediacy and integrity of the unfolding sound world, pointing yet again to dexterity in handling the transformations, editing and framing. In the end I bypass an area of (often unwanted) tension often found in work of this nature.

I’d like to be able to appreciate this kind of large expansive work in a large space, a reverberant disused or historical building for example, perhaps at a curated event involving work by artists with similar concerns. The scale of these works would then be matched by the scale of presentational resources. Hopefully one day soon we’ll get to the point of being able to host such events on a regular basis.

-Caity Kerr

Juan José Calarco website
David Vélez website
Semperflorens website