(Untreated recordings from on-site testimonies archives)

(Oto 2012)

Review by Chris Whitehead

The first release on Takanobu Hoshino’s OtO label, is quite a startling and daring launch. The Fukushima based sound artist has chosen Francisco Meirino to kick start his new venture with an album of stark beauty and purity. It requires a deep listening approach. I know that term is a bit of a cliché these days, but this time I think it is truly valid. This work simply will not reveal the truth at its core without respecting its subtlety.

As soon as ‘Undetected’ arrived through the post I couldn’t wait to hear it, so I slid it into the car CD player to listen to on the half hour drive to work. For a collection as subtle and nuanced as this, trying to appreciate the detail and peripheral disturbances involved proved unfruitful whilst motoring. During one particularly quiet spell I forgot I had I had a CD on at all, there was just the noise of the car’s engine until a sudden thump led me to momentarily think the exhaust had fallen off. It was actually an unidentified loud bang recorded in Meirino’s back yard.

I would suggest that this release requires some preparation before listening. Firstly the environment needs to be pretty silent, preferably dark to avoid visual distractions and obviously the listener needs to be comfortable. Headphones are essential. Ideally Francisco Meirino likes to play live in total darkness, and maybe we should follow his example. Some of the sounds revealed here are on the very cusp of audibility, and yet they are essential to the whole.

‘Undetected’ presents sixteen recordings from Meirino’s archives in an unadulterated form. They appear to be the sort of components from which he often constructs his tracks, but in this instance no composition takes place. Like the parts of an engine laid out on a workbench, Meirino invites us to examine these pure and unadorned sonic objects as they sit there in the cold light of day.

The first track follows a gently fizzing oscillator through its death throes. After two minutes of undulating static the device suddenly blinks out of existence forever with an impressive final burst. This sets the tone for what is to come: The sound of carbonic acid decomposing in water via a hydrophone, crisp and sharp: An unknown recording from a lost archive featuring drum rolls of charged pulses: A manhole on a construction site and strong wind on scaffolding. Sounds that in turn explore open spaces, manmade interiors and microscopic events within circuits and machines.

Three separate pieces are concerned with ultrasonic discharges in voltage circuits captured using electromagnetic field detectors. Like tiny stars punctuating the blackness of empty space, flickers of electricity momentarily flare into existence, only to die away in an instant. This practice reminds me of the Dark Matter search experiments carried out in a 1100 metre deep potash mine close to where I live. The depth of rock cuts out cosmic rays by a factor of 1 million allowing for ultra low background particle detection.

Two variations on the subject of falling snow (one of snow falling on a metal plate and one of it falling onto itself) provide a physical counterpoint to the ultrasonic discharges. Similar in the sense that they record points of sound set against a silent background, continuity is maintained. The sequencing of these selections is important. Listening to the tracks as they occur in order provides the best way into this secret world.

‘Reel to Reel Motor and Voltage Discharges’, gleaned from a tape recorder with belt and high density ground problems, begins with high pitched crackling and a thin sustained buzz before a deep throbbing bass sound underpins everything. Meirino’s fascination with malfunctioning machinery and failing systems seems to bleed into everything he does.

The disc closes with a loud, multichannel examination of a hospital’s ventilation system , rattling machine noise and churning turbines forming a deeply mechanical finale to a superb and hugely rewarding release. ‘Undetected’ delivers more secret pleasures with each exploration of its hidden undercurrents.

[Francisco Meirino photo courtesy of Antifrost]

Francisco Meirino website
Oto website

Chris Whitehead

Sound artist.