Ominous Sonographies: Mystery Sea, Unfathomless and Daniel Crokaert -- Part One

Well, so much for August being a hyper-prolific blogging month. In fact, as quite obviously noticeable from the archive list on the right hand side, I didn't even manage to churn out one measly post. There were, however, good reasons for this. Namely, the excellent summer we've been blessed with in Vancouver and not to mention a microphone purchase or two that forced me out into the world rather than idling in front of my computer.

And now, I finally have a chance to present the much overdue three part post highlighting the nose-to-the-grindstone work ethic of Daniel Crokaert and his Mystery Sea and Unfathomless labels.

Mystery Sea ~
Daniel Crokaert operates out of Brussels, Belgium and has been steadily – and it would seem, effortlessly –releasing exquisitely packaged short run (100) cdrs for Mystery Sea for nearly a decade. Crokaert publishes his "seas" (as he puts it) with an utmost attention to detail. This fact along with an artistic ethos that he personally overseas (sorry) in each release, can make one forget that they're dealing with cdrs here.

The label has nearly exhausted the gamut of note worthy musicians to contribute to its perpetual dark-ocean-drone theme, releasing work from mnortham, Dale Lloyd, Coelacanth and Troum in the early years, to Matt Shoemaker, Asher and jgrzinich more recently. And by the looks of it, he's not slowing down either. For this particular highlight I've decided to extract 5 recent releases from the MS catalogue to discuss and review, which, I think should paint a fairly cohesive picture as too what this excellent label has to offer.

Jgrzinich Phase Inversion

Speaking of jgrzinich, I've recently been spinning this incredible disc as therapy for restless nights. And in case you were wondering – as I was – the pseudonym is actually a mash up of his first and last name; John Grzinich, much like Michael Northam (mnortham), which, I believe is something they came up with together.

Jgrzinich is building an impressive catalogue with releases on Sirr, Intransitive, and Staalplaat already behind him. There is good reason for his work appearing on such prestigious labels as he has continuously produced some of the finest drones around. Jgrzinich's recordings are the culmination of countless hours spent in the field wandering in and around abandoned buildings, grasslands, silos and airplane hangers, anywhere that might hold a magical sound. His weapon of choice appears to be the contact mic, of which he affixes to these buildings and silos in various ways. Roadside fences, wires and train stations also seem to be points of interest for Mr. Grzinich, and he will often physically shape his objects, sometimes adding cups or plastic bags, or even an extra metallic appendage; much like prepping an instrument. Then he'll attach his mics, either sit back to let whipping wind or rushing water do the work, or he'll manipulate the objects himself to achieve desired sounds. To view photos and videos of Jgrzinich in action try these links:

images from Phase Space

It's not just that jgrzinich is able to capture these sonic spaces that is impressive – there are many-a-sound-artist who use similar techniques in the field. No, it is the focus and patience of his acoustically derived works that really make his recordings stand above so many others. Phase Inversion is no exception. A slow fade in for the 21 minute opener Dispersion Trajectory and the listener find's themselves amidst a thickly lain drone. Not thick in a wall-of-sound sense, like Acre or early SunnO))), but more of a coagulated pulse, slowly clotting with the introduction of subdued murmuring, out-of-focus tactile flourishes and maybe a happy accident or two. The second of these three tracks sees a reversal of roles, the flourishes shifting to the foreground while a low frequency throb simmers beneath it. That is, until the tolling of a ghostly bell just shy of the ten minute mark begins to play out, aligning the composition more with the first and third pieces.

If the staunch trajectory of Phase Inversion is a testament to anything, it is that John Grzinich cares about the environments that he is so evidently finely tuned into. I can picture him traversing Estonia where he now resides, painstakingly seeking out freshly discarded materials, ransacking through a post-industrial squat for objects to clang together, testing the acoustic parameters of a newly discovered sonic environment. And in all honesty, if he were to call you up one day to partake in an organic matter and sheet metal jam within the walls of a hollowed out geodesic dome... you'd be foolish to refuse. Like all his work, nicely done.

James McDougall Dispossession of Periphery

James McDougall is an up-and-comer with a handful of cd-r and mp3 releases spanning two years. A small but significant start to what could very well be a fruitful occupation in sound. Gnawing contact mics are immediately recognizable as the opener slowly churns a palpable grind. The track is quite nice, constantly speed checking and barely straying from its minimalist ethos. The rest of the album sees McDougall expanding his palette to include bowed metal, breath, water, and whirring motors. At times the music takes on a more lush cinematic feel, as described by Brian Olewnick from Just Outside; unfortunately, not to the album's merit. I would have personally liked to have seen McDougall adopt a less-is-more mentality in some of these arrangements. It's clear that some 'voice' searching is in order for this (artistically) young artist. All things considered though, Dispossession of Periphery is a fine effort that reveals much potential for future releases.

Terje Paulsen Horisont

Here is a man who I don't think many people know of. After two Mystery Sea releases appearing quite close together –MS 58 and MS 62–maybe the dimly-lit sound world of Norway's Terje Paulsen will acquire a bit more attention. With an undercurrent drone running through the center of the piece and a myriad of other sounds like rippling water, subdued bells and indiscernible rustlings, the single track on Horisont remains very consistent. However, the album's conclusion feels a tad abrupt. Seeing Paulsen extend the piece for an extra 15 minutes and oh, I don't know, maybe bring everything down to a gentle simmer, would have given this album the extra quality points it needs. Not a bad work by any means, just a little short and little too safe.

Simon Whetham Beneath the Swinging Bridge

The liner notes of Simon Whetham's Beneath the Swinging Bridge state that all the source material for this album was recorded in the Cumberland Basin in Bristol, UK. So, water, again plays a dominate role, along with structures that hold sonic possibilities, like the Bristol Swing Bridges. You've got to turn this one up to reveal it's intricacies. I initially had it playing at a fairly low volume and could only make out the bubbling of water, but I assure you that there are some menacing drones lurking in the background. Whetham gradually reveals more of the world beneath the bridge until we are actually there with him, listening to cars pass above and what could be the bellowing of gas pipes. Some of the sounds are maybe a little over processed, and again, at 37 minutes it feels a bit underdeveloped. Great idea though with moments of brilliance.

Hiroki Sasajima Nille

On his album split into 4 parts, Japanese sound artist Hiroki Sasajima presents a rather focused set of ominous field work, layered and significantly blurred around the edges. Most of these parts take the form of a low-end drone, that like many other Mystery Sea releases exemplarily captures the deep ocean theme, albeit can begin to stunt one's fascination after a while. Sasajima incorporates some of the other usual suspects quite impressively, ie bubbling water, rustlings and tactile elements, and there are a number of very minimal tonal sections buried in here that grabbed my attention. As a whole, the album doesn't elicit the potency of a jgrzinich or Asher release but is worth investigating none the less.

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