(Gruenrekorder 2012)

Review by Chris Whitehead

Let’s deconstruct a rainforest and rebuild it as a sound object. Let’s walk into it, experience it and find a point where fragments of the modern world bleed in.

A bell-like tone repeats and tethers ‘Meadow’, the first track of Slavek Kwi’s ‘Ultrealith’ CD, firmly to the substrata of field-recording based composition. Gentle flutters or sudden bursts of unidentified noise invade the space, but natural sounds also drift in and remain in the background in various configurations, often before vanishing back forever into the ether. Disarmingly, a woman suddenly asks ‘what do you think?’ seemingly from part of a phantom broadcast that disappears as soon as it is detected.

As always with Kwi the feeling that pervades his compositions  is a sense of awe at the diversity of nature. Images of rainforest creatures, insects, bats and frogs decorate the book of photographs that comes with ‘Ultrealith’, and even in the tracks that don’t explicitly harness the rainforest as a source, we still get the feeling that teeming life is all around us.

‘Expirations’ is based on the sounds of insects, and they fly around our ears like airborne motors. The correlation between these creatures and tiny machines is an easy one to make with their hard, evenly contoured exoskeletons, jointed legs and otherworldly eyes. The rapidity of their wing movements and their stridulations are a common motif in this piece, but a host of other sounds are woven into the picture. Birds, water, bangs, cracks, fizzes, whizzes and pops. Bullets! Smashed glass! It joyfully ends with a small frog’s single croak.

The next 44 minutes belong to a totality called ‘Subaquantum Ultrealith’. It is broken down into five very different tracks, and as far as I can see, the only glue binding them together is the fact that they were all part of a 4 channel performance project made in 2009.

Three of the tracks once again draw from Kwi’s nature recordings, and his control of the medium is astonishing. They are threaded through with well positioned incongruity though, just in case we lapse into thinking that these are soundscapes existing out there in reality. Oddly, during ‘Insectin’ a voice asks ‘and how does that make you feel?’ a few times in gradually diminishing  repetition. How does it make you feel? Well it makes you feel like listening to it again to make sure you heard it right the first time.

The two remaining  tracks that form ‘Subaquantum Ultrealith’ are conspicuously different in their formal design. ‘Monochrome 1’ is dedicated to John Cage and consists of 64 recordings of the same voice piled upon each other.  It is like listening to sensory overload made audible and is reminiscent of Kraftwerk’s ‘The News’ from ‘Radio Activity’. If listened to carefully, as when in a room of chattering people, directing attention to a single voice can yield meaning.

‘Monochrome 2’ is another construct of predominantly human activity. 60 tracks of a man improvising on a guitar coalesce one by one until he is in his own orchestra of clones. A table tennis game is taking place early on. Recordings of crowded places, perhaps a cafe or a tube station. Then frogs. Frogs. Then nothing.

Finally ‘Pet Radio’ is a section utilising the sounds of domestic pets, which in a way also celebrates the act of bringing the wildness of nature into our homes. Cats, for instance, are still hunters and killers, however much they curl up in front of the fire purring and mewing. Eerily domestic birds such as canaries and parrots are heard surrounded by silence, implicitly suggesting their removal from their environment. Sleeping cats sound forbidding and machine like, not too many degrees of separation from the growl of a lion. When playing ‘Ultrealith’ at home our two cats came in during the bird squawks, pricked up their ears and stared at the speakers. Clearly the residual memory built into their DNA of stealthy predation is not so far beneath the surface.

Beautiful in its construction and realisation, yet not afraid to bowl the odd googly, as we say in England, ‘Ultrealith’ is a work of intricate composition that no one but Slavek Kwi  could conceivably have produced.

[Slavek Kwi, courtesy of Arteleku]

Slavek Kwi website
Gruenrekorder website

Chris Whitehead

Sound artist.