Friday 20 June 2014

Music Review: Merzouga - 52°46’ North 13°29’ East – Music for Wax-Cylinders

(Gruenrekorder Gruen 124)

There are two predominant forms of field recording releases I get sent here at Wonderful Wooden Reasons. The first is of the collector variety; a compendium of noises often on a particular theme (usually location) meant to represent, reproduce or chronicle. The second is the field recording as instrument, or perhaps more correctly sound source, to be manipulated and processed often until it's unrecognisable and a thick soupy grey murk.

Of the two it is the former that I hold in higher regard (which is not to discount the latter entirely) but there is a third and much rarer form that comes my way on occasion that is by far for me the preferred. Here the field recording becomes a clear and equal partner in the work, neither hidden nor dominant, and this is what we have here.

At the heart of this album are a number of wax cylinder recordings created in the early 20th century by globetrotting Germans and kept in the archives of the Berlin Phonogram Archive. These phonograms have been digitised and made available to artists to explore and utilise.

Merzouga are the duo of Eva Popplein (electronics)and Janko Hanushevsky (electric bass) and here they have seamlessly interwoven a selection of beautifully worn, warm, crisp and crackly recordings of song and speech into their music. The voices guide the piece with the Hanushevsky's bass giving the proceedings a real melancholy perfectly at home with the aged beauty of the recordings whilst also occasionally pushing itself to the fore and fluttering against your perceptions like one of the more broken of the elder recordings. Popplein's electronics insinuate themselves in between the sounds adding subtle textures and colours with the realisation that its presence is all the stronger for it's restraint.

This is a glorious recording. It's a communion with voices past, an exploration of the ethnographers curiosity and, most of all, a celebration of the vitality of sound.

For the last 11 years Wonderful Wooden Reasons has championed experimental and non-commercial music of all forms. Please visit to access our extensive archives of music, book and movie reviews.
It is the in-house magazine for the Quiet World label which has released music from artists such as Ian Holloway, Darren Tate, Banks Bailey, Philip Corner, Colin Andrew Sheffield and many more.

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