(Gruenrekorder 2012)

‘Sempervirent’ is the result of fieldwork conducted in various protected areas of Costa Rica by French sound artist Rodolphe Alexis. The collection of 10 field recordings, gathered over a 2 month period, gives the listener a taste of the different natural soundscapes that exist within the forest ecosystems of Central America.

Central and South American forests have been the inspiration behind many a publication. It seems almost natural though, that a field recordist would be drawn to these biomes which, all being well, are heaving with biodiversity both visually and  aurally. Alexis, like many before him (and doubtless many after), saw the acoustic potential and headed to Costa Rica armed with a quadraphonic microphone array, a parabolic microphone, a hydrophone and, most importantly, a scientist’s passport.

Multichannel recordings were made in the field, but, for the purposes of this release, were transformed into standard stereo edits that provide a series of “sequence-shots” from different wildlife refuges, parks and local reserves. The full effect of these recordings in their original form can be experienced through live performances and the multichannel installation Dry, Wet, Evergreen.

It’s difficult to choose, but one of the “stand-out” tracks has to be ‘at dawn among the river’. The stereo image created here is superb. Set against a backdrop of insects, birds and the gentle trickle of the nearby river, Mantled Howler Monkeys soon come into voice. At one point it feels as if a howler monkey is literally perched on your left shoulder, calling to others across the forest canopy.

If I had to describe ‘Sempervirent’ in one word, it would be “calm”. A definite feeling of tranquillity and peace is cast over the listener during the duration of this publication. The recordings are understated, though not in the least boring or devoid of interest. What I mean is that the listener is not thrown headfirst into a sea of sound, where bird, mammal, amphibian and insect voices all come together in what can be an amazing, but sometimes overwhelming, cacophony.

Each track brings something new for the listener to enjoy; a crucial skill when it comes to compiling a selection of individual recordings. In addition to species recordings, ‘Sempervirent’ also points its microphone at the surrounding geophony. Towards the end of track 3, a chorus of parrots is gradually overshadowed by the approach of a thunderstorm. The patter of falling rain over the forest is accompanied by cracking thunderclaps and is a definite highlight for me.

As is always the case with Gruenrekorder, the packaging and artwork is wonderful. The accompanying booklet features an assortment of photographs from the recording locations and provides a visual point of reference when listening to the soundscapes.

As a lover of natural field recordings in their purest form, it’s just wonderful for me to see this publication added to Gruenrekorder’s growing catalogue. As with the recent Peter Caeldries offering, ‘Jhirna Jali’ (Gruenrekorder GrDI 107), ‘Sempervirent’ uses sound to celebrate some of our planet’s remaining “wild places”. Here the ever-invading presence of the 21st century can be left behind, giving us as listeners the opportunity to experience soundscapes that have been in existence long before the dawn of humankind.

[Rodolphe Alexis, photo from Meanwhile, in Fukushima]

-Cheryl Tipp

Rodolphe Alexis website
Gruenrekorder website

Cheryl Tipp

Wildlife sounds curator at British Library.