Review by John McEnroe in The Field Reporter
2012 has been a very succesful and prolific year for Chris Whitehead with releases like ‘Gryphaea’, South gare’, Ravenscar’ and recently
‘Ch – da ( d – 2 )’ with Darius Ciuta.
This time I will focus on ‘Ravenscar’ published by Unfathomless one of the most active and relevant labels on the musique concrete line.
In the beginning ‘Ravenscar’ presents us the sea, the roaring and loud waves of the ocean…later some ‘tactile sounds’ appear and merge with the waves sounds.
By ‘tactile sounds’ I mean sound explored on a magnifying approach where the textures, friction and the smallest movements are amplified.
I say tactile approach because this is probably done with contact microphones that capture the sound that propagates through solids through a membrane that is placed on the surface. I have the notion that the artist is particularly fond on looking for the detail in materials like wood, stone and concrete where he explores their textural and other material aspects through a micro approach. These tactile sounds are something Chris Whitehead is a master of: whether he uses only contact microphones or air microphones pointing to small events, this is a characteristic formal aspect of his work that again on ‘Ravenscar’ is greatly instrumented.
When Chris Whitehead juxtaposes the sea waves and the magnifying sounds I personally feel like we are listening simultaneously to the roaring surface of the sea and all the tiny small movement occurring underwater on the often quite ground of the sea. What a poetic, strong and beautiful analogy.
When the sea waves sounds start to fade we are left to this micro universe where wood and stones and other material ‘play’ in a very organic way: whether this is done in the style of Foley or capturing natural incidental processes, these sonorities present an enormous formal value that the listener could fully enjoy.
The sounds of water in their different manifestations are greatly instrumented by the artist along ‘Ravenscar’ where he explores their different acoustic properties from the sounds of the overwhelming sea waves to the sounds of small creeks and little dripping. Water presents always this biological implication of being the origin and sustain of life and this is something we can’t escape from. In this case water functions like a narrative linking element that connects the different fragments of the piece.
Through the beginning of the second third of the piece something dark starts to arise with a series of droning sounds and guttural birdsongs that are combined with repetitive sounds that brings the work to a very intense point that kicks out like a perception-altering drug. Here the listener is put near the boundaries of his comfort zone where enjoyment and repulsion convey; the levels of acoustic intensity here reminds me of the sound design of the Alejandro Jodorowski movies where sound is explored on its eeriest, more intense and harshest facet.
The intensity levels gradually fades through the middle of the piece until grave drones take over while he can simultaneously listen to the sounds of dripping water inside some sort of cave or a similar structure. This is like being in the outer space and the city’s sewage system at the same time. This long fragment is probably the most significative for me as this is where the cosmological aspect is better instrumented putting the listener into some kind of trip where we are confined to the depths of his persona.
After this beautiful sequence the releases enters a territory where droning sounds, tactile sounds, processed material and quotidian sounds are juxtaposed building a strong emotional atmosphere where the sound images bring to live something potentially scary and yet strongly beautiful that somehow never fully develops…later the sounds of wind emerges to clean it all out.
The wind fades to the sounds of bleeps and the droning sonorities of an airplane.
Then it all ends.
‘Ravenscar’ is a really carefully and thoughtful composed piece -yet very emotional and open- where the structure on time and depth is taken advantage of to its fullest. Here we are confronted to the cosmological and the quotidian, we are confronted to to the magnitude of the universe addressed in both its immensity and its detailed and infinite complexity.
To review ‘Ravenscar’ brings the Michael Chion idea that films are in a way sound art pieces, but on the other way around: ‘Ravenscar’ narratively and psychologically works like a film in terms of the use of the time line and images similar to sci-fi movies like Andrei Tarkowski’s Stalker or Solyaris where we go through an inner trip of obvious-cosmological character that takes place in nature zones and urban areas, places that are, after all, built on star dust.
Review by Richard Allen in A Closer Listen
The village of Ravenscar, located in North Yorkshire, is the home of many geological formations and scenic vistas. The variety of potential sounds makes it a natural choice for field recording expeditions.
Although the album is presented as a single 43-minute piece, it is presented in five distinct sections. The first, and most powerful, is “Wind”, which stretches eleven minutes into the piece and hearkens back to the work of Chris Watson.This section alone – meticulously mastered with an ear to stereo effects – justifies the purchase. Sharp sounds press against dull resonances to create a three-dimensional effect. Sheets of rain battle with the waves as sullen seabirds seek shelter.
The second section begins to creep in halfway through “Wind”, but becomes much more noticeable as the wind retreats. ”Alum” is the sound of jostled rocks, whose chemicals were processed in early industry. The restrained nature of this section makes one wonder why it didn’t launch the album; it’s smart to start with a compelling section, but it’s hard to descend from excitement to introspection, which is why schoolchildren don’t begin the day with recess. But then a weird, unidentified noise enters the mix, sounding like a cross between a synthesizer, a bird and a mechanical device. This otherworldly tone provides a sense of mystery, but deserves the context of exposition.
The wind returns, subdued, in “Tunnel”, which grows more active as drips and echoes increase. Whitehead calls this section “a monument to the ghosts of steam”. A dog barks and pants; human footsteps fall; the timbre turns hollow and desolate. As we leave the tunnel, we hear birdsong once again, which arrives like a blessing, an escape from the claustrophobia. ”Grass”, by far the warmest section, incorporates the sounds of insects and farm animals. These bucolic reminders are joined by the sounds of rushing water and nearby traffic, which gather like members of an orchestra waiting for the final push. These sounds continue into the album’s shortest segment, “Radar”, which introduces tantalizing electronic pings and airplane motors, turning the album toward the scored. Turns out the radar station has been abandoned for years, and is now used by sheep retreating from the winds. In light of this fact, “Wind” might have made a stunning conclusion, but it’s the only change that might have been made to this evocative album.
Chris Whitehead has done a splendid job gathering these sounds to create a geographical postcard. With any luck, it will be sold in Ravenscar shoppes for years to come.