A Taste of Tape Music
“Glassy Metals,” off this album, is due to be performed at the San Francisco Tape Music Festival on Friday night, Jan. 20.
Maggi Payne — Arctic Winds (Innova, 2010)
The pieces on this CD give you a glimpse of the cinematic possibilities in soundscapes, or “tape music,” or computer electronics — whatever you want to call it. The sounds move from speaker to speaker, and with changes in volume, you can almost feel them surging closer, then farther away. Imagine what could be done with a ring of 16 or 20 speakers surrounding the listener. The last minutes of “Distant Thunder” feel like they up the air pressure, as if you’ve been enveloped. It’s interesting to hear in headphones, but the sound cries out for a more three- (or, really, two-) dimensional representation.
She’s never been to the Arctic, it turns out — so in that sense, Arctic Winds is unlike the Antarctic-inspired art of Cheryl E. Leonard or the field recordings of Douglas Quin. (Digression: Quin has a new LP on Taiga that I’ve seen at KZSU. Got to check that out.)
But Payne’s artificial world gives us something that really sounds like it should be called “Arctic Winds.” It’s an eerie place, full of dark, agoraphobic moods. “Fluid Dynamics” does sound like surging cold winds, one furious wave after another, with pauses consisting of uneasy rustling. “Apparent Horizon” is a warmer track, full of cricket-like sounds and even some direct samples of astronaut communications, which ironically provide some of the more down-to-earth moments of the album.
“Glassy Metals,” being performed tonight at the Festival, struck me as one of the smaller tracks on here, in terms of force-of -sound. It’s a series of sounds, actually, a chain of episodes: insects in a warm swamp, steam rushing through pipes, a pulsing machine. It’s a showcase of sounds, tickling the ears in different ways. In that sense, it’s a fine choice to showcase in a bigger environment.
On a more down-to-earth level, Payne’s liner notes provide fun descriptions of the sounds and inspirations that went into the album. Most of them are quite simple (ball bearings rolling and clacking against things seems to be a favorite) but are then transformed into something otherworldly. BART makes an appearance on “Glassy Metals,” although you can’t recognize it. Ironically, a very BART-like sound appears on the next track, “Fizz,” which did use fizzing as a sample — one that apparently wasn’t easy to get, either.