(Unfathomless 2011)

Injya is yet another fine release on the specialist label Unfathomless. The label, run by Belgian owner Daniel Crokaert, focuses primarily on ‘phonographies reflecting the spirit of a specific place’

The two artists, James McDougall & Hiroki Sasajima , have apparently chosen to work across space and time, each carrying out recordings in their respective countries, Japan and Australia, then coming to some agreement on how best to work the material into an album. This type of conceptual project has seen many fine realisations in the past, in a variety of settings: urban, rural and wilderness. By way of explanation we are told:-

Sometimes, the impossible is a basket of new unlikely seeds – realizing the geographical difficulty of working in unison on the same site, we opted for using at least common geologic context, not knowing where this could lead us…

What could come indeed out of distance, sensory communion, a mutual love for depicting the relief of things, its tactility ?…perhaps as with the best abstraction, a fertilizing stream, something perhaps larger than what the initial elements could have implied…something surprising even to us…

Injya is the encounter of our combined wanderings, and most probably the emergence of an imaginary entity powerful enough to engage us in a strange way…

The album is characterised by a linear approach to organising sounds; the sounds themselves are recognisable as field recordings processed to varying degrees. By linear I mean that the individual strands of the polyphony act less as agents of morphological attraction vis-à-vis each other and more as self-sufficient lines, with their own musical interest. Machaut as opposed to Victoria if you like your early choral music. In this the work is similar in many ways to other work from the Unfathomless catalogue, which is no bad thing if you like the in-house aesthetic of the label.

The first piece, Akigawa dou (spur and valley), is a feast for lovers of onomatopoeia. In fact the use of onomatopoeia in the working language of sound artists and musicians is well embedded as an individual and social practice, despite the many contrived efforts to classify sounds scientifically.

We have burble, hiss, glug, thrum, some percussive clanks (wooden), all with ‘legitimate’ or natural sounding dynamics, affording a pleasing ebb and flow to the emerging sound field. Apart from this ebb and flow, in which one or other of the layers comes to the fore, there is little sense of development, except for the (possible) later appearance of filtered versions of previous. There would seem to be evidence of what I like to call environmental intervention, various fiddlings and manipulations by the artists. Evidence of the artists’ presence, if that’s what we have here, has always struck me as a means of strengthening this kind of fairly reductionist and abstracted work. Apart from being part of the fun, it distances the work from those dubious ‘pure’ or purist positions unwisely adopted by some artists in the field. The various spaces, outdoors and indoors, are freely juxtaposed. I found my listening wavering between an appreciation of the different spaces and an awakening to the clarity of the various blips, scrapes, periodic machine sounds (in the sense of a regular pulse) and metallic clicks which brought to mind the workings of a small tight chamber orchestra.

Seki (Dundas) is perhaps darker than the previous piece, though it manifests a similar treatment of material, a temporal unfolding rather than a spectromorphological unveiling. The sounds are well chosen, avoiding the more obvious processing, with flurries of activity and a clear sense of agency. The occasional break in the flow, percussive hits and an opening out into outdoor ambience, lend a sense of drama or even narrative though I suspect this isn’t intended. I was slightly surprised at appearance of one of those good old climactic acousmatic wallops with the obligatory extended debris – the stylistic incongruity broke the spell. Finally, outside of the sounds well sculpted I was drawn in by the tease of a fine balance between abstraction and a possible narrative.

Odake (vale) opens in a much more industrial or machinelike fashion, the opening giving way to very subtle panned fluttery gestures. The piece then builds tension most effectively with a distinctive, almost tuned, midrange layer underpinning the gestural and ‘intervention’ layers. This tuned midrange is a feature that you’ll find in the work of other Unfathomless artists. Interesting as it is, I was actually quite impressed by what the artists had going on prior to the appearance of this shared stylistic feature.

The last piece, Ku (above Tennison’s hill) offers a fine expansive outdoor ambience peppered with interventions. We the have another hint of a tonal midrange, a quite enjoyable randomness, or apparent randomness alongside the impression of effortlessness. However, as this piece unfolded I felt that it began to speak less of location than of compositional techniques and procedures. Then another good crescendo, another acousmatic wallop plus the debris of much furniture shuffling in the basement, finishing with a final long statement containing filtered gestures, watery sounds, white noise, electronic hiss, high sine waves, a prominent midrange layer, everything but the kitchen sink and the possibility that someone is getting too close to their material.

These small criticisms aside, this album succeeds very well in exploring a favourite notion of mine (for what it’s worth) – that of the listening environment, an investigation of specific relationships and fields of possibility. First, at the beginning of the work’s processes, we have the environment that the artists choose to work with, in which relationships between the active listener in the field and his or her environment are explored. As the work proceeds other relationships are opened up: between composer and listener, between the listener’s expectations and the work, to name but two. Without a consideration of the wider ramifications of work such as this, we’d be left merely with some nice sounds thrown together more or less skilfully, and there’s already an overabundance of that around the place.

– Caity Kerr

James McDougall website
Hiroki Sasajima website
Unfathomless website