Gryphaea. CHRIS WHITEHEAD
“Gryphaea” is the newest release by english sound artist Chris Whitehead responsible for the work “Estuary” that on this journal Hiroki Sasajima highlighted as one of the remarkably interesting works of 2011.
“Gryphaea is a genus of extinct oysters, marine bivalve mollusks in the family Gryphaeidae”
“Gryphaea is based on the geological features of England’s North Yorkshire coastline. The cliffs around Whitby are rich in marine fossils, and during Jurassic times this area was on the fringes of the shallow, warm Tethys Ocean, which covered most of Europe”
When a sound artist picks up a particular subject in this case of geographical nature, he could envision two approaches: the more phonographic based and the more musique concrete based. On both scenarios the individual sensible experience of the artist, and the geographical phenomena in the artist’s consciousness are the motor behind the work, but the method, articulation and instrumentation on both scenarios are very different.
Based on what I can hear in “Gryphaea” it was constructed in three stances: the recording of the sounds, the processing/montage of those sounds and a third stance can be assumed when sine waves appear. The sonorities of “Gryphaea” have this artificial / natural qualities that help establishing a more subjective and interpretation-based approach where textures and in general the tactile experience seem to be the formal core of the compositional work. The textures in “Gryphaea” are crisp, grainy , sometimes harsh and percussive, and even subtle through the final piece “Peak fault”.
In contrast with the textural layer of sound that goes through the entire release, Chris Whitehead uses other elements like untreated field recordings, processed field recordings and sine waves that work in a background level giving to this work some very effective and beautiful sense of depth.
Overall this is a very interesting approach when it comes to site recording when we consider that the artist was working in a place where the past and the future coexist in a topographic sense, where you can feel the lapse of time literally imprinted in the layered depth of the ground. In this sense this work is very successful establishing a feedback between concept and instrumentation that efficiently works on the ever-fundamental poetical level.
Aside from all the sense that this work makes articulating concept and form, “Gryphaea” is a release of strong beauty where the careful and meticulous work of the artist pays off revealing to the listener a very strong tactile and immersive experience.