(Invisible Valley 2011)

Thanks to Edu Comelles for helping me discover Miguel Isaza’s superb Invisible Valley recordings. Edu included the site in his Best Netaudio and Soudscapes of 2011.

Listening to pure, untreated field recordings creates interesting juxtapositions. I’m sitting in a house on the north east coast of England with a howling gale outside. The television in the next room is showing a Scandinavian police drama. It is 9.30pm. Yet my ears are experiencing the commotion of a Colombian marketplace in the heat of the day.

Children chat as they pass. Traders call out, radios play, produce is exchanged for cash. These transactions are free of the air conditioned, undercover consumersphere of the mall, yet they are commercially orientated just the same. If nobody bought from the market, it would close. This recording could perhaps be considered the antithesis of Simon Whetham’s excellent, claustrophobic portrait of our shut in retail lifestyle, Mall Muzak.

Only field recordings can be as site and time specific as this. If the recordist’s microphone was a few feet to the left, or pointing in the opposite direction, or if the audio had been captured five minutes later, a different set of sounds would have been taken, and those that went unrecorded would have vanished forever.

In a photograph we see an image, a captured fraction of a second. In a film we see the same thing extended in time, a captured moving image of an event. But both these methods of reproduction are only generally viewed in two dimensions. They are flat. We can look at them, but they don’t surround us. They are on paper or a screen.

Stereo sound seems to more closely resemble truly hearing an event than photography resembles seeing the world.

Miguel Isaza’s eight tracks cover different aspects of Minorista, one of the main marketplaces of Medellin, the second largest city in Colombia. The sale of vegetables, clothes, birds and fish are all portrayed. Around the periphery there are bars and gambling establishments, and one imagines all manner of customers, shopkeepers and passers by.

As a visual metaphor for the fecundity and vitality of the place, the image Isaza has chosen to represent Minorista is an impossibly well stocked fruit and vegetable stall. Huge bunches of bananas, pineapples and red and green apples in wire baskets are crammed in everywhere and, let’s be honest, can’t help but set your mouth watering.

Against this picture of natural bounty is the pitiful sound of caged animals and birds. Doomed to be sold and killed and eaten, squawking and bleating, our knowing why they are there adds a sense of poignancy to tracks such as Venta de patos (sale of ducks), Vento de pajaros (sale of birds) and the self explanatory Claustrofobia.

Venta de pescados (sale of fish) is the sound of the refrigerators that keep the fish edible in this tropical climate. Outside, here in North Yorkshire, the wind is blowing even more strongly and rattling the roof. It is 10.44pm and English Premier League football is just beginning on the television in the other room. I can hear the theme tune faintly beneath the overwhelming thrum of machine drone coming from a refrigerator in a fish market in Colombia.

– Chris Whitehead

Miguel Isaza website
Invisible Valley website

Chris Whitehead

Sound artist.