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Madal öö. JOHN GRZINICH
(Engraved Glass 2012)

“The region of Põlva county in Southeast Estonia has a relatively low population density, which allows for an open terrain of landscapes mainly covered by forests, fields and peat bogs with a scattering of farms, towns and villages in between. I’m quite thankful to live here, particularly for being able to spend time listening to the variety of natural environments throughout the year.”
-John Grzinich, liner notes for “Madal öö”

One’s environment is strongly attached to our psyche and this subject was brought in by german Psychologist Willy Hellpach when he introduced the term “Environmental psychology” in his book Geopsyche published in the 1920’s. Here he made emphasis on how the formal aspects of our environment affects human activity. Sound clearly is a structural aspect of our environment and when we think about sound we immediately link it with our hearing system with the effects that sound vibrations have on us, this subject was interestingly adressed by M.J. griffin on his book “Handbook of human vibration” and under a phenomenological approach by french philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy in his book “A l’écoute” where he talks about resonances and the relation between our body and sound phenomena.

“Madal öö” is a work about the environment of the artist and in particular about this environment in the twilight when he captured the sounds. Although this is a work based on the sounds of nature, there are some sounds that evoke of human activity appearing on different depths. This is interesting as these sounds help establish a perceptual territory where we, humans, can’t completely escape from the sounds we produce.

“Madal öö” presents this beautiful captures of birds, insects, frogs and probably other animals where we can hear them in a very intimate way instrumented though changes in the perceptual depth. Sounds of animals become fascinating as our relation with non-human communication becomes contemplative so the mechanic aspects of communication become musical and poetic.

An element that seems to be structural through the entire release is water: we can hear it dropping, running and splashing in the foreground and in the background during the entire release. For me water works like some sort of narrative vector that structures the release and serves as a metaphor to the structural and vital role of water in all human and wild environments. I guess it’s hard to work with sound art without having some implications beyond the merely formal, and it’s even harder to listen to sound works like “Madal öö” without establishing an emotional and intellectual perspective.

John Grzinich recorded the sound on a time of the day when most people in the city are asleep and when a few are waking up in the rural areas. On this regard there is a quote by Richard Adams from his book Watership Down:

“People who record birdsong generally do it very early, before six o’clock, if they can. Soon after that, the invasion of distant noise in most woodland becomes too constant and too loud.”

There are many factors that the field recordist have to take in consideration as every decision he makes refers to a universal process of composition: what to record, when to record, how to record, what to do with what I record…etc

When recording in Põlva in the twilight John Grzinich is establishing himself as an observer that is part of his environment. It’s John Grzinich in the twilight at Põlva.

For a field recordist his environment becomes an obvious, unavoidable and probably unexplored and over-explored source of sounds. Even if we don’t record our environment it will have a strong impact on our consciousness, as there is more in the relation between the acoustics in our environment and our psyche than we can notice.

The experience of those who (like me) live in big cities with loads of traffic jams, people loudly talking on the streets and all the perceptible and imperceptible noise around, is often an unpleasant experience of anxiety and stress. Recently Chris Watson on an interview to the very interesting journal “On the Nature of Things” spoke about the noise in our everyday experience, blaming the lack of awareness expressed in a disregard in the different industries to take the sound pollution problem seriously. Almost 90 years later seems like the agenda of Environmental psychology towards noise became more theoretical and less practical and political; there hasn’t been enough real factual changes in the way our artificial environment is being designed and this is now a social health issue of strong importance.

“Madal öö” is one of the very relevant works published through 2012 not only because of the beauty of the sound images imprinted in the pieces, but also because such careful, sensible and serious capture of sounds on natural environments -like the one did by John Grzinich here- is now more necessarily and relevant than ever: the sound pollution effects are becoming more visible as they are forcing drastic changes in urban and rural environmental systems; the sounds of our environment today might not be the sounds that we will hear in a decade or so.

Phonographic artists can do many things in the quest for awareness on sound pollution but their more vital role is to point out their microphones to sounds that can raise question and reflections towards our relation with the world; towards the relation with our environment and ourselves as part of this environment we inhabit.

-John McEnroe

John Grzinich website
Engraved Glass website
Willy Hellpach’s Geopsique
Chris Watson interview on “On the Nature of Things”