Various Artists, Haunted Weather: Music, Silence, and Memory

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Staubgold
Released: 2004


David Toop has written a number of interesting books on a wide variety of musical styles, including rap, exotica, and ambient. His latest book, Haunted Weather: Music, Silence, and Memory, examines the musical realm that the BBC's web site has (more or less) accurately termed "experimental." This is a broad term, indeed, covering as it does academic compositions, field recordings, and about seventeen different varieties of electronic music (not to mention stuff that, as yet, has found no categorization). But one of Toop's gifts as a writer is his ability to ignore the categorizations that generally dominate most music journalism and to focus instead on describing and exploring the music itself. The music he examines in this book--and which forms the core of the companion CD collection--is remarkably diverse, from the digital cut up experiments of Oval to field recordings of water dripping into a buried bowl, but each work, in Toop's words, attempts "to articulate new responses to the dramas of social change, technological shifts and upheavals in how to make, how to show, how to hear with clarity, how to remember, how to move around, how to maintain poise in a world gone crazy with commercial and informational delirium."

Toop's book is, basically, exploring how technology and information have altered modern life and modern thought in ways that most people probably don't even realize. Of course, lots of writers have covered this ground to death. What makes Toop's book different is that he isn't interested in exploring the problems of modern life; he is, rather, interested in exploring how musicians have used those problems as creative inspiration. The book, then, is really a travel narrative through the musical world of the early 21st century, with an emphasis on artists who are devising new and interesting ways to explore the sounds, memories, and even the silences of modern life.

To read Toop's book is to gain a rich appreciation for the absolute torrent of interesting, creative work that has emerged in the digital age. Toop travels all over the world, from Japan to California to London to South America to Africa to the Middle East and back again, and in each place he encounters yet another artist doing something absolutely original and absolutely amazing. And it's these very artists and their interesting, original work that comprise this CD collection. Granted, some of this work will already be familiar to you. What electronic fan hasn't heard Fennesz's "Caecillia," from his Endless Summer album? For that matter, what Chris Watson fan won't know his wonderful field recording from Iceland's Vatnajskull? But this work's true strength is its eclecticism. Sure, you know Autechre "Parhelic Triangle," but do you know Janet Cardiff's "The Missing Voice"? It's a field recording created for a walking tour of London's East End. You might know Pan Sonic's "Maa" (from A), but do you know Toshiya Tsunoda's "Bottle at Park," an amazing recording of eerie whispers and hollowed-out buzzing made by placing a microphone inside a bottle and leaving it in a park? Or how about the echoing, mist-filled drones of Yurihito Watanabe's "The Door Practice: Summer Solstice"?

I could go on and on describing the many fascinating, unusual, surreal, frightening, and imaginative works that form the bulk of this collection. There are lots of field recordings (which I, personally, love), many electronic works, some free jazz and improvisation pieces, some sound installation excerpts, and a whole bunch of music that cannot possibly be categorized.

Normally, throwing so much variety into a single collection isn't a good idea. The different sounds usually don't mesh together, and the end result is often a fragmented, disjointed mess. Not here, however. The music has been intelligently ordered and mixed to resemble a mix CD (so one work overlaps the next). The result is less a collection of tracks and more a single entity. But, really, the reason this collection works is that it perfectly complements Toop's book. Let's face it: writing about music is never as satisfying as listening to music. No matter how eloquent Toop's description of Derek Bailey's experiments might be, it's much more interesting to hear those experiments for yourself. Hence, I think this collection is utterly essential for those who want to read Toop's book.

But even if you don't want to read the book, this is still a collection worth buying as it houses some excellent recordings from a variety of artists, many of whom you have probably never heard of. I'd never heard of the Spontaneous Music Ensemble, Peter Cusack, or Tacita Dean, and if I hadn't bought this CD, I would have missed out on some amazing music.

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