‘I think we’re both rebels,’ is how Simon Fisher Turner summarised Soundescapes, his distance collaboration with documentary film-maker Espen J. Jörgensen which was released by Mute Artists in November 2011. The product of a chance encounter following Jörgensen browsing MySpace in response to having heard Turner’s soundtrack to the David Lynch movie Nadja, Soundescapescontains thirteen tracks of adventurous sonic exploration, marking this out as the freshly-independent Mute’s most experimental release so far, and reuniting Turner with the enduring faith of Daniel Miller, whose original Mute imprint was Turner’s primary output for a large chunk of his career.
On the gatefold cardboard sleeve (which hides a fold-out poster), Turner is credited with ‘structure, rearrangements, composing, editor, voice, life recordings’ while Jörgensen is responsible for ‘sampling, circuit bent & analogue instruments, beats, oscillators, rain app, voice, composing’. From how the pair have described their collaboration, this demarcation of roles and responsibilities was crucial to Soundescapes‘ genesis – Jörgensen would effectively ‘feed’ Turner a diverse array of almost random recorded sounds, the sources of which were often not evident or known to the recipient, while over the course of two to three years Turner would process those sounds into the tracks via harsh edits into the thirteen songs included on the album. Just as Turner would be blind to the sources of the sounds, Jörgensen would often find it yet harder to identify his own sounds in the resulting tracks. Jörgensen’s sound sources included circuit bent instruments, snatches of conversations and pounded wood among others, none of which are remotely identifiable on the album. It’s also worth bearing in mind that this collaboration occurred without either side ever meeting one another, nor even speaking over the phone.
One condition of the collaboration would be that each side was unable to challenge the other, meaning that Jörgensen would not comment extensively on the final tracks Turner was sending him, while Turner would be the one to ask for more sounds or indeed decide when Jörgensen should stop the pipeline of noises. Jörgensen only commented on two tracks, one of which, ‘Tristfull’, includes one of the more identifiable sound sources in the form of a French rain shower recorded by Turner, soaking the backdrop with organic sound while layers of what could be tinkly music box sounds (but easily could be from something entirely different) dominate the foreground. Similarly ‘Drippex’, which starts with a snatch of wobbly, Marc Bolan-esque vocals (one of Turner’s own contributions) wanders off on nice gentle synth arpeggios, while closer ‘Twomen’ features snatches of what Jörgensen calls ‘bedtalk in Japanese’ and simple, layered baby xylophone loops. These are three of the prettier tracks here, a direct contrast with the busy ‘Noise Activity’ which Jörgensen originally described to me as the duo’s ‘ADHD track’ when describing its short abrasive punch to the eardrums.
Jörgensen sent me a photo of one of his favourite sound sources, a circuit bent Speak & Learn children’s education tool that I vaguely remember from my own childhood. That trademark electronic voice tone is evident (I think) on ‘Worry’, but instead of the friendly computer I remember, that voice is manic, distorted and uncomfortable to listen to, while all the while a regimented grid of pulsing not-quite-beats and synth squalls keep time. Elsewhere tracks blend together calm and serene tones with mechanistic cyborg confrontationalism, a case in point being the (almost) title track ‘Soundescape’ (early versions of which Jörgensen sent me as a ‘legal bootleg’), wherein vast blankets of Eno-esque drift clash with the abrupt intrusion of broken electronic machinery whirring to life.
‘Selfcentred’ starts with drones and noxious clouds of threatening noise, concluding with brief snatches of what could be tiny orchestral loops if you listen really closely punctuated by patches of strained silence. Most tracks on Soundescapes are perfunctory affairs, generally lasting no more than four minutes or so, until you reach the hypnotic ‘Start At The End’ which stretches out its template of loops and grinding Throbbing Gristle-style industrial sound closer to the nine minute mark. Some Aphex-style detuned and distorted beats emerge toward the end of this album highlight, closing out the track with thunderous and gorgeous noise.
When I tried to import this CD into iTunes, the genre that came up was ‘pop’. Surely this should be ‘subversive pop’, given the often punishing sonic assault that the listener is presented with, and it is amusing to imagine a parallel dimension in which this is what pop music might sound like. For me, this noisy and adventurous release is a welcome, uncompromising, addition to New Mute’s diverse 2011 release schedule, a direct relative of its more sonically challenging material from yesteryear and a not-so-gentle reminder that Mute’s genesis lies squarely in electronic music’s wilder hinterlands. Sometimes you just need something a bit more edgy to clear your head, and Soundescapes does that many times over the course of its 40-odd minutes.
Originally posted 2011; edited 2018.
(c) 2018 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence