Sleeping Dogs Lie 37: Hildegard Westerkamp, Max Richter

Hildegard Westerkamp is famous for her soundwalks — audio recordings documenting a particular place at a particular time of day. Found material — out of which, using studio-based manipulations, she fashions a unique sonic event. Thus, the environment is reshaped, subjectivised, revealed anew. This extraordinary CD contains several examples of her work. Kits Beach Soundwalk begins with a description of what we can already hear: waves lapping in the foreground, bird calls, background city roar. Then Westerkamp demonstrates some of her filtering and equalising techniques. By employing several ellipses, literal description is transformed into one dream narrative affer another, each illustrated with variations on the multiple, random clicking noises made by barnacles. Eventually, the city is allowed to return (in the guise of a flapping, flailing, playful rnonster).

Richter’s pieces are so evocative they warrant the appellation ‘cinematic’ (his CV includes production work for Future Sound of London and Vashti Bunyan, plus scores for film projects like Stanislaw Mucha’s Hope and Darren Almond’s Siberia ). How fitting, then, to discover that Richter’s The Art of Mirrors (issued by downloads-only label Seven Things) is musical accompaniment for never-before-seen films from the Derek Jarman archive (around sixty 8mm film works produced between 1970 and 1983). Interestingly, while Songs From Before is comprised of short compositions threaded into a whole, The Art of Mirrors is a single-movement, 52-minute piece; however, it’s a rather misleading detail—more a matter of CD indexing—since the two works are equally episodic in nature. It’s not an unrelated composition either, as The Art of Mirrors opens with the sparse organ chords of “Song” and gentle vibes of “Harmonium,” and “Sunlight” surfaces too. The longer work is a live recording though there’s little that sonically identifies it as such beyond modest stage noise and the closing applause. One thing that recommends the live presentation is that it builds to a ravishing climax whereas the studio set ends less dramatically with a piano coda (“From the Rue Vilin”). Obviously The Art of Mirrors is less concise than Songs From Before yet still provides a natural companion to it. In a perfect world, the release would be available in a DVD format too so that we might view Jarman’s visuals alongside Richter’s music.

01. Hildegard Westerkamp: “Kits Beach Soundwalk” (from “Transformations”, empreintes DIGITALes, 1996)
02. Max Richter: “The Art of Mirrors” (7hings, 2006)