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Radio // Into India
1 October 2003
By Matthew McFarlane in Musicworks #87 (Canada), October 1, 2003

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“… it is a pleasure to listen to, moving and spiritual beyond the voices of those she recorded.”

A locale with a wealth of religious, cultural, and environmental backgrounds seems perfectly suited to the rich musical textures of Hildegard Westerkamp’s sonic world. No, it’s not Vancouver, as you might have guessed, but India. Westerkamp’s latest release, Into India, is a much-anticipated disc, given that her last solo disc came out seven years ago.

Westerkamp’s previous music teemed with environmental sounds, from beach noises to forest sounds, from crickets to the fog horns of the Georgia Strait; but Into India embraces the overwhelming density of India’s population. She records the sounds of its citizen’s activities, cultures, and religions.

Into India comprises three individual pieces composed in a five-year period between 1997 and 2002. The first, Gently Penetrating Beneath the Sounding Surfaces of Another Place, uses material Westerkamp gathered from her first trip to India in 1992. It is the most consistently noisy of her Indian works, using sounds of New Delhi and in particular the sounds of the market. Westerkamp was struck by the dichotomy between what she called “the shimmering beauty and grungy dirt and pollution side by side all the time,” and here explores the contrasting sounds, alternating religious and mystical sounding bells and chimes with the chants from the markets and sound of traffic.

The second piece is entitled Into the Labyrinth, referring to a journey into Indian culture and geography. In 2000, Westerkamp travelled throughout India recording sounds of the country for the piece. ln the liner notes she lists eighteen sound sources as her material, and these are easy to follow and identify within the work. Into the Labyrinth benefits from a richer tablet of sounds than Gently Penetrating Beneath the Sounding Surfaces of Another Place and Westerkamp even finds humour in the seemingly endless honking of India’s traffic, creating a piece within a piece for honking horns. A middle passage using the sound of crickets serves as a pause in the endless human voices exhibited throughout this disc.

The third and final work, Attending to Sacred Matters, was composed in 2002. India is birthplace to three of the world’s major religions, Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism. It calls itself home to more than twenty religions. This is dwarfed in comparison to the estimated 850 languages still in use in India today. Despite India’s pride in its ethnic, linguistic, and religious diversity, conflict continues to be a major problem. About a third of the way into the work, Westerkamp quotes Vandana Shiva, founder of the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology, an Indian organization that works for environmental protection. Shiva says, “The real value of water, is the spiritual value of being the very foundation of life.” Westerkamp uses water sounds as a link between passages highlighting the environmental message of the work.

In Gently Penetrating Beneath the Sounding Surfaces of Another Place, Westerkamp reflects on the beauty of the land contrasted with the terrible pollution, in Attending to Sacred Matters, she tackles this pollution head on and challenges India’s rich religious community to pay attention to the destruction of their land and resources. Despite its strong message, her music is never dogmatic. Rather, it is a pleasure to listen to, moving and spiritual beyond the voices of those she recorded.

blogue@press-649 press@649
1 June 2003
By David Turgeon in electrocd.com (Québec), June 1, 2003

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Field recordings have always fascinated electroacoustic composers, ever since Pierre Schaeffer’s Cinq études de bruits (1948), featuring processed train sounds. With R Murray Schafer’s Vancouver Soundscape 1973 (1972-73), these everyday sounds are articulated around a discourse which will be termed “sound ecology,” whereby sounds keep their original meaning, and no longer serve as anecdotic content to be used and abused at the composer’s whim. Jonty Harrison synthesises these two approaches in his short text About Évidence matérielle.

Actually, every composer seems to have their own unique approach towards field recordings. If sound ecology has seen the burgeoning of microphone artists such as Claude Schryer and of course Hildegard Westerkamp and her famous Kits Beach Soundwalk (1989), sound travels such as French duo Kristoff K Roll’s CD Corazón Road (1993) are, in this respect, closer to the art of documentary film. Meanwhile, Brooklyn-based composer Jon Hudak starts off with an extremely minimalist palette so as to seek out the “essence” of sounds, which, to the listener, translate into soft, dreamy soundscapes. A student of the aforementioned Jonty Harrison, Natasha Barrett conceives beautiful landscapes of sounds with very discreet field recordings, that retain an aesthetic likeness to the acousmatic tradition.

Many young composers settle into this landscape (of sound…) and their work is of such interest to us, it would be a shame not to let them be heard. We shall first mention the California-based V. V. (real name Ven Voisey), who organises his found sounds into an architecture reminescent of “old school” musique concrète—doing so, he uncovers a previously unheard aesthetic affinity between Schaeffer and Merzbow… With Relisten, Austrian composer Bernhard Gal guides us through his carefully selected episodes of “found musics” (that is, musical structures that preexist within the environment.) Finally, because of its numerous ideas and its incredible pacing, the surprising flume ridge.halifax.lisbon (2001) from Montréal composer Cal Crawford will undoubtedly seduce listeners looking for unheard acousmatic grounds.

Two small treats to end with. First, the pretty Aenviron: one mini-CDR is a simple thread of five pure field recordings (with no processing!). After all, if there is such a thing as cinema for the ear, why shouldn’t there be a photo album for the ear! And to close the loop, may we also suggest to make a stop at Lionel Marchetti’s recent mini-CD with the evocative title, Train de nuit (Noord 3-683) (1998-99). This work for one loudspeaker, dedicated (couldn’t you guess?) to Pierre Schaeffer, remind us again of the ever renewed importance of environmental sources in feeding the electroacoustic ocean.

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