16.2.12

Craig Vear - Esk (3LEAVES)

Business as usual for the next month, it would appear, means 6 hour days in the studio, sifting through recorded material to arrive at something cohesive, all the while battling ear fatigue as sounds from the inside of giant mechanical ships eject from studio monitors. Things are coming along swimmingly.

The River Esk is a 45km body of water that stretches through North Yorkshire, England, and empties into the North Sea. A quick scan of the internet reveals much on the river's vitality: a bearer of fish and other wildlife and at one time providing support for small villages that peppered its banks. In 2008 the field recordist Craig Vear turned his attention to the Esk river, and with a little help of a research grant from the Leverhulme Trust, he began gathering audio for what would become his "sound poem" tracing the flow of the Esk from source to sea (only Vear actually recorded it backwards, from sea to source, and then worked in reverse).

Vear's portrait is steeped in all of the sounds one might expect to hear from a river, a good portion of the first half cycling through numerous recorded segments of bird song and water flow, fading in and then fading out predictably. The honesty of Vear's recordings are undermined by how utterly bland they are, unfolding in an elementary one-after-the-next fashion. However, as we get into the more hydrophone dominated back half, Vear slows the pace down and introduces more grit, which, in the grand scheme of his poetic vision makes good sense: more activity and cleaner, quicker transitions corresponding to the source, or "young river", while more languid, longer and grittier sections corresponding to the body and estuary, or "old river".

The "grittiness" of sound herein stems not only from the hydrophone's unique and recognizable conversion of pressure waves and underwater vibration into sound (I think of it as very trebly though I'm not sure how accurate that is), but also from occasional wind distortion and handling noise. These accidental sounds are typically unwanted and can slow a work down, though I believe Vear's choice to include them was a finer deliberation than had he decided to smooth out all the rough edges. Again, this speaks to the honesty of Vear's portrait. That said, when working to create a single, unified piece of music – that Esk strives to be – it becomes the job of the field composer to take the sounds they've gathered and create something that extends beyond any one given recording. In the case of Esk, I hear little more than a line-up of individual pleasant river sounds.

Craig Vear - Esk (excerpt) by ScrapyardForecast

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