Reviews


Review # 01

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“I love to read part 1 (see elsewhere for part 2). If I could do that all day, plus listening to music (without the obligation to write about it) and drink coffee (and hopefully still sleep well at night), then that would almost perfect; maybe watch one movie every evening. But a book that makes it difficult for the reader is not well spending on me. Mikel R. Nieto already published a hard to read a book (Vital Weekly 1037), called ‘Dark Sound’. That book was all black letters on black paper and you would have to sit either in sunlight or a strong lamp. I tried and I failed. This new book is about silence and the sound of snowflakes. And snow being white, of course, means that we deal with a book of white paper and very light grey ink, and you need the same procedure of holding book against the light to read it. I have up after a few pages. I copied some info from the likewise difficult to read the website (warning: very long quote ahead; you may label this as laziness on my part). “This book contains texts by three authors: Tim Ingold, Carmen Pardo and Mikel R. Nieto, on the research carried out by Nieto in Finland during 2016 (…)” Did I just read the word Flexi disc? Yes, I did. There is indeed a Flexi disc with this book. Ever since I was kid and music magazines sometimes had a Flexi disc (Flexipop and the Dutch magazine Vinyl) I love Flexi discs. They are fragile and simply look great. Mikel R. Nieto recorded the sound of snow falling for this one-sided Flexi disc. I was trying very to remember if someone had done this before, and I am almost convinced someone had (John Hudak or Stephan Mathieu, I was thinking of), but I might be wrong. Hearing snowflakes is not easy, and I have no idea what kind of equipment Nieto has but it sounds a bit distorted, like a microphone being snowed in (no pun intended), but it sounded very nice. Even when I am not particularly fond of snow and ice myself, I always enjoy the way the environment sounds so different after the snow has fallen, like a blanket covering your ears; that is something I heard in this music as well. I trust this is not the review Nieto has hoped for, but alas, so it is.”

– Frans de Waard at Vital Weekly # 1209


Review # 02

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Four years ago, Mikel R. Nieto released Dark Sound, a black book with black type and a black CD that served as a meditation on noise. A soft hiss of this world is the yin to its yang, a white book with white type and a clear Flexi-disc that addresses silence, sound and snow. The two form a fascinating diptych. Dark Sound is the more political, an indictment of the intrusion of noise from profit barons and non-indigenous people; in this stark context, silence implies silencing. Yet while A soft hiss of this world is less overt, its societal implications range from the censorship of speech to the extinguishing of languages. Just as snow can muffle or amplify, and the color white can mean all colors or none, the winter landscape ~ and in this case, soundscape ~ is transformed into a tabula rasa.

Again, those who purchase the bundle will need to deal with some necessary frustration. The type is best read on an angle in direct light (sunlight being better than artificial light in this instance). The Flexi-disc ~ which fortunately does not need to be cut from any mooring ~ is the only sonic document, serving as a parable of abrasion. As the label writes, “each listening destroys the sound” (italics included). In short, don’t look for it on Spotify or iTunes. Once upon a time, this was the way we listened to music, and there’s an invisible reward to such tactile interaction, along with a certain sadness: this is fragile, this is temporary, this is already changing as a result of my touch. Nieto underlines the point in a visual experiment, portraying first the code of lost files and then John Cage’s “Lecture on Nothing,” erasing all but the punctuation and final sentence.

Before we reach that point, a series of essays prepares for the experience of sound. Tim Ingold contributes “Sounds of Snow,” a thought exercise that emphasizes the properties of precipitation, accumulation, and deterioration (the life cycle of Frosty the Snowman). The wind becomes a supporting character, along with the ice, decorated with dirt and bubbles of air. From here, Ingold branches into the sound of interacting, which for humans is mostly walking on snow (though the author neglects to mention shoveling!). And then there is a beautiful section on the Finnish language’s 40+ words that refer to water, snow and ice. Carmen Pardo Salgado follows this with “Crystals of Silence,” expanding from the photography of Snowflake Bentley to the paintings of Kandinsly to Debussy’s “The Snow Is Dancing” to Walter Benjamin’s prose and eventually to Citizen Kane, focusing on “a new silence,” once described by Wallace Stevens as “the nothing that is.” Selgado’s final section contains a light language barrier, as the North American reader soon realizes that “snow ball” means “snow globe” and not the thing we throw at the heads of people we love. And then Nieto leads us to the recording through “This is nothing,” a lovely extended poem that meditates on snow and scale, sound and silence.

And now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for: what does the recording sound like? A soft hiss of this world is not as soft as the title implies, but it’s fascinating. The timbres include squeaks and squeals that are akin to the yanking of a photograph needle, and below that a light static and pop (or is that the needle? It’s impossible to tell). The overall impression is of paratrooper flakes landing on an ice field in a moderate wind, which is something like one might expect given the photo on the right. The twist is that when one thinks of snow, one thinks of sight rather than sound, and the only way to catch this sound is through amplification. This is less Christmas card snow than glacial melt. The “nothing that is” may one day be the nothing that isn’t, melting away like the static below the needle as it reaches the end, producing something that sounds like what we would imagine snow to be, although ironically it’s the only part that isn’t snow at all.

– Richard Allen at A Closer Listen


Review # 03

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(…) 11s Cover für „snow“ ist wie ein Einzelbild aus MIKEL R. NIETOs Videoessay „Citizen Kane“. Über Schnee im Stummfilm (Alice Guys ‚L’Hiver, danse de la neige‘) und bei Debussy (‚La neige danse‘). Über Schnee als Borromäischer Knoten aus Naturphänomen, Erinnerung & Tod, zwischen kristallisierter H2O-Physik, Johannes Keplers „Neujahrsgabe oder Über den sechseckigen Schnee“ (1611), Ernst Haeckels „Kristallseelen“ (1917), Conrad Aikens „Silent Snow, Secret Snow“ (1934), Yoko Onos ‚Listen, the snow is falling‘ (1969). Mit André Bazins ‚Il neige sur le cinéma‘ (1948) als Spur hin zur Schneekugel von „Citizen Kane“. Schnee bricht den Schlafzauber der Wicked Witch of the West, DiCaprio bricht mit seinem „The Revenant“-Oscar eine Lanze für mehr Schnee, und das Geheimnis von ‚Rosebud‘ quillt als schwarzer Rauch wie aus einem Auschwitz-Krematorium. Schwarz wie „Dark Sound“ (2016), das schwarz auf schwarz gedruckte ökopolitische Statement des baskischen Bioakustikers & Konzeptkünstlers gegen die Ölindustrie. Dem er nun A soft hiss of this world (Gruen 191, Buch & Flexidisc) an die Seite stellt. Weiß auf weiß gedruckt gibt es zu entziffern: ‚Sounds of Snow‘ von Tim Ingold, Professor für Anthropologie, ‚Crystals of Silence‘ von Carmen Pardo, die Musikgeschichte an der Universitat de Girona lehrt, und ‚This is Nothing‘ von Nieto, in ihren Muttersprachen Englisch, Spanisch und Baskisch. Drei Meditationen über den Schwund von Schnee und wie dieses Schwinden immer lauter dröhnt. Darüber, wie Schnee klingt, wie Weiß klingt – so laut wie Gedanken? Was es verschweigt oder verrät, bei Kandinsky, Malewitsch, Debussy, Mallarmé, Maurice Blanchot und Roland Barthes. Als Sendbote des Nichts in Gestalt winziger Sterne, als lautloses Gestöber von Lettern wie bei Walter Benjamin, als aus Schnee geballte Erinnerung. Nieto selber raunt und ich versuche zu übersetzen, was er sagt, was er zu sagen versucht: Wir sind blind für das Nichts. Wir wissen nichts. Wir interagieren mit dem Unhörbaren. Wir segeln auf einem Ozean bewohnter Stillen. Klang wiegt nichts. Er fällt nicht. Er hat keine Form. Er existiert als solches nicht. Der einzige Klang der existiert, ist der, der wahrgenommen wird. Die Auflösung der Geschichte – hisstory – wird lautlos sein. Noch trägt das Gebot der Stille ein Versprechen in sich. Eine Spur. In Stille, Asche und im Schatten von Worten gründet Unsagbares. Die Natur der Sache, die sich verbirgt, Heraklits Wesen der Dinge, das sich versteckt. Nieto lässt, wie ein zweiter Mattin, Schnee rumpeln, weiß rauschen. Jedes Pflügen der Nadel nutzt etwas davon ab. Schon komisch, dass Schall und Gehör nur auf der Erde existieren. Any Body Sounds. Silence Kills. Im großen Alles & Nichts explodieren selbst Supernovas nicht lauter als Schneeflocken.

– Rigobert Dittmann at Bad Alchemy Magazin (104)


Review # 04

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Issued as part of Gruenrekorder’s Field Recording Series in a 500-copy edition, A soft hiss of this world is, in its visual presentation, a logical sequel to the previous book project by sound artist Mikel R. Nieto: whereas Dark Sound challenged the reader by having its words appear black on black, the new book presents its texts by Nieto, Tim Ingold, and Carmen Pardo as white on white. Such a choice might seem perverse, but there is a reason for it, given that the research project has to do with the ‘sound’ of snow, which on the immediate experiential level seems non-existent, and relatedly silence. As with the previous book, the new one’s texts are presented in multiple languages, in this case Basque, Spanish, and English.

The genesis for the project was 600 hours of field recordings collected by Nieto in the Finnish landscape, recordings of snow, ice, and snowflakes made using microphones capable of capturing activity at a level below the threshold of human audibility. One particularly fascinating thing about the six minutes of material presented on the transparent flexi-disc is that every time it’s played the turntable needle wears away the vinyl such that, like the snowflake, each play brings the recording one step closer to extinction; in Nieto’s words, “each listening destroys the sound.” The disc content sounds, in fact, like material decaying before one’s ears, the piece unfurling as a blistered, rippling stream of static, noise, and chatter. The impression created is of inaudible phenomena that through magnification reveals the presence of sound, the effect similar to a physical entity that appears static but at a microscopic view shows robust cellular activity.

Ingold, an anthropologist and Professor of Social Anthropology, and Pardo, a Professor at the University of Girona, make compelling contributions to the book. His “Sounds of Snow” casts a phenomenological eye on snow by contrasting a snowflake’s sound with that of a raindrop, which makes a tiny plop when it strikes the surface of a lake and loses its form when it hits the ground. But as rain turns to snow, Ingold writes, “the landscape vanishes from hearing.”

Pardo’s “Crystals of Silence” begins with an historical account of snow-related visual records, drawings, for example, having appeared in 1637 in Descartes’ Discours de la Méthode and a Vermont farmer Wilson A. Bentley recognized for having taken in 1865 the first photo of a snowflake’s structure. Yet while the visual classification of the subject advanced, a grasp of its aural character would prove less easy by comparison, especially when the snowy landscape appears to be silent (as Pardo notes, Kandinsky regarded white as both a “non-colour” and a “non-sound”). An appreciation for Nieto’s project follows for his attempt to capture the snowflake’s sound and recognition of the subject’s imminent disappearance, what she characterizes as a “paradoxical search for the appearance and the disappearance at the same time. [Nieto’s work] intends to put on record the different sounds of the snow, while at the same time showing that all recording is already a registration of the disappearance of that having been recorded.” His flexi-disc is ostensibly, therefore, “evidence of a disappearance.” She then explores issues of temporality, silence, and nothingness before introducing ideas from an article by Roland Barthes and Roland Havas about different modes of listening and considering Nieto’s recording in light of them. At essay’s end, a final move sees Pardo referencing the famous scene in Welles’s Citizen Kane where the snow globe, itself containing snow falling over a house, falls to the ground and shatters.

Nieto’s own text contribution, “This is Nothing,” is in four parts: the first a collection of thoughts on silence, listening, landscape, language, and more; the second a diary-like account that includes photographs; the third code representing “the only thing that could be recovered from all recordings”; and the fourth a treatment of John Cage’s “Lecture on Nothing” that alters the text by omitting everything but punctuation marks and its closing sentence. Pithy quotes by Nietzsche, Eliot, Lyotard, and Wittgenstein also appear, as does reference to Heidegger’s Dasein.

While Nieto’s and Gruenrekorder’s commitment to presenting the project with integrity warrants admiration, some small degree of concession might have been made in the book’s colour design. Considering that presumably only the most determined reader will have the patience to read its contents in its published form, one wonders whether a more readable light grey type would have been the more pragmatic choice. Though the text can be read with relative ease under certain lighting conditions, little would have been lost in making a slight adjustment to the type colour. It’s a fascinating and provocative project, regardless.

Textura


Review # 05

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Pod koniec zeszłego roku, niemiecki label Gruenrekorder wydał kolejną książkę z udziałem Mikela R. Nieto oraz nagrania projektu eksperymentującego z liśćmi drzew.

Tim Ingold & Carmen Pardo & Mikel R. Nieto – A soft hiss of this world (Gruenrekorder | 2019)

W 2016 roku opisywałem na Nowej Muzyce poprzednią pozycję książkową autorstwa Mikela R. Nieto pt. Dark Sound. Hiszpański artysta dźwiękowy przybliżał tam wiele interesujących zagadnień związanych z hałasem, ciszą i słuchaniem. Do książki była dołączona płyta wypełniona nagraniami terenowymi pochodzącymi z lasów tropikalnych położonych we wschodniej części Ekwadoru.

Tegoroczne wydawnictwo A soft hiss of this world jest owocem współpracy Nieto, Tima Ingolda (brytyjski antropolog społeczny specjalizujący się m.in. w badaniu ludów fińskich) i Carmen Parado (badaczka z tytułem profesora na Uniwersytecie w Gironie, zajmująca się muzyką współczesną).

Czy zastanawialiście się nad tym, jakie odgłosy wydają śnieg / płatki śniegu i lód? Jeśli tak, to ten projekt z pewnością was zainteresuje. Nieto zrealizował takowe nagrania w Finlandii w 2016 roku, a do tego celu opracował specjalne mikrofony umożliwiające rejestrowanie delikatnych odgłosów, by móc odróżnić dźwięki między poszczególnymi płatkami śniegu. Pytanie: czy można nagrać coś tak nieosiągalnego lub wręcz nieistniejącego? Nieto dowodzi, że tak. Choć tego typu badania były prowadzone już w 1985 roku przez Josepha Scrimgera, który znalazł nieoczekiwany stały dźwięk wybrzmiewający w trakcie opadów śniegu, ale nie udało mu się zidentyfikować jego źródła. Dopiero wiele lat później Lawrence Crum z Uniwersytetu Waszyngtonu słuchając tych nagrań, zasugerował, że w tym stałym dźwięku było dużo mikro-dźwięków, które odpowiadały uderzeniom poszczególnych płatków o powierzchnię wody.

Niestety Nieto stracił ponad 600 godzin nagrań, udało się uratować tylko jedno, które trafiło na oryginalny nośnik, czyli przezroczysty Flexi-Disc. Można go nabyć za darmo przy zakupie książki A soft hiss of this world, zaś każdy odsłuch tego fragmentu sprawia, że nośnik powoli niszczeje.

Łatwo można wywnioskować, iż artyści koncentrują się na takich procesach jak „utrata” czy „znikanie”. Ich przesłanie można odczytywać w kontekście utraconych nagrań czy zanikających form językowych. W języku fińskim istnieje ponad czterdzieści terminów dotyczących różnych stanów wody, śniegu i lodu. Wraz ze zmieniającym się krajobrazem zanikają słowa. W podobnym anturażu jest utrzymana sama treść książki A soft hiss of this world – jak i Dark Sound – teksty są ledwie widoczne, więc lepiej je czytać w świetle dziennym. Teksty zostały przygotowane w trzech językach: baskijskim, hiszpańskim i angielskim. Ostatni rozdział powstał z inspiracji „Wykładem o niczym” (1959 r.) Johna Cage’a, w związku z tym znalazły się tu jedynie znaki interpunkcyjne: przecinki, kropki, separatory i ostatnie zdanie z tekstu Cage’a.

Zachęcam do sięgnięcia po to niecodzienne wydawnictwo i po zawarte w nim teksty Tima Ingolda, Carmen Pardo i Mikela R. Nieto.

Łukasz Komła at Nowamuzyka