Tanabe, Voltear. BEN OWEN
(CON-V 2011)

One leaf lets go, and  then another takes the wind.
– Ransetsu

The 17th century Japanese haiku poet Ransetsu was renowned for his compassion and for his poetical austerity. The four works in this series certainly reflect Ransetsu’s austerity, manifesting a conceptual approach in the reduced resources and in the presentation of various environmental and instrumental sounds ’as such’.

tanabe 6 offers us field recordings from the coast of Tanabe in Japan. The piece is a meditation on the envelope of waves, the waves filtered in quite a unique way, so that a hint of resonance reveals itself at the amplitude peaks, revealing a sophisticated almost electronic sounding timbre superimposed on a background seascape. Small background sounds including possible human movement keep the ears alert. Despite the apparent austerity of the work, it merits repeat listening simply because of an element of persistence in its unique approach to field recordings, in what it leaves out and in its refusal to interfere to the point of contrivance.

9425 – 2/mw is described as a medium wave radio segment. The first three minutes or so give us the almost uniform static of a slowly modulating radio sound, with interest in the increased iterations, then a shade of contrast in the odd blip. From 3:00 to 5.30 the starkness is broken by the odd static burst, a good blast of ‘elektronische’. From 5:40 it sounds like you’ve crawled into the back of a jumbo jet engine. Musically we’re listening to fairly uniform timbres, mid/low and broadband, a uniform density, with some interest in the tremolo. The sudden end left my ears hissing, as if I had my own internal radio set.

3 morning is a simple harmonium piece. A single tone, somewhere around the ‘b flat’ below middle ‘c’, allows us to contemplate the richness of reeds, their overtones and the movement of the bellow. There is a very gradual crescendo over 8’30” but overall the piece is so uniform that the incidental sounds come to be of interest.
tanabe 7 offers us more field recordings. The sounds of this seascape are more burbly this time, the wave envelope sounds less processed. In the troughs all sorts of interesting little activities and background sounds catch the ear, including what sounds like the movements of the artist.

Apart from the simplicity and innocent refreshing pleasure of listening to a good recording of waves on the shore, the Tanabe pieces will make field recordists reflect on their own practice and stop worrying too much about over-complicating things. Less can indeed be more.

Recorded in Tanabe, Japan and Brooklyn, New York between 2005 and 2011.

Released on con-v as a C40 cassette, limited to 65 copies.

-Caity Kerr

Ben Owen website
CON-V website