Michael Pollard: Translations 01 (Spectrum Spools, 2012)
Ever since Spectrum Spools started releasing records in 2011, I’ve been pretty obsessive about collecting them. I wasn’t too into the Hive Mind LP they released, though, so I held off on a few of their releases last year, but they still released a lot of gems, especially the epic Motion Sickness Of Time Travel 2xLP. I bought this Michael Pollard album sight unseen, and while I don’t want to say that there’s such thing as a typical Spectrum Spools release, this one definitely isn’t the type of instant-gratification synth-bliss you’d get from an Outer Space or Forma album. It’s mostly field recordings, and it’s mastered by Russell Haswell, who knows a thing or two about recording sounds. Unlike Haswell’s recordings (I’m thinking of the Wild Tracks release), some of the recordings on Translations 01 are modified. Or, rather, they take certain sounds as source material and use computers, synths, and technology to create drone pieces. “Material Study 02″ uses a cello and a North Face jacket (!) along with Max/MSP and a few synths, and turns out a glowing, minimal drone. Much more hypnotic is “Spacialisation Study 01″, which is subtitled “One freeze from seven positions in a house”, and poking around online looking for information, it appears that what he’s actually recording is the tone that a sleeping computer makes, recorded from different areas in the house, and turning that into a drone, which is why it’s so warm and glowing. Not just using computers to make music, but actually making music out of the computer itself. The second spacialisation study uses the previous study as source material, isolating and overlaying clicks, creating a collage of short, muffled, decaying bursts.
Oddly enough, possibly the most soothing recording on the album ends up being the most straightforward and minimal. The last track on the album is a pencil being rubbed on rice paper taped to a wall, recorded by a stereo contact mic. The drawing produced in this recording is the album’s cover. Turn the album cover sideways so that the “L” and “R” on the top and bottom of the drawing actually correspond to the left and right sides, and it’s like you’re listening to the album cover in stereo. Maybe “soothing” isn’t the right word, but it definitely has some sort of oddly calming effect, and I think it’s such a brief, simple concept and statement that it ends up being very memorable, and that’s why it ends the album and why the drawing is the album’s cover art.
I didn’t mention the first side of the album yet, which is another unprocessed audio recording, namely that of a stereo condenser hydrophone buried under the sand in a lake, while firecrackers are being set off. So basically, an entire album side of muffled rustling and crackling sounds. I’m still trying to decide if this is something I actually enjoy and would want to listen to, or if it just sounds like a cool concept. The second side has a bit more variation, so it’s easier to appreciate. Of course, the back cover states that this record is “intended for playback in a room via loudspeakers”, and of course I mainly just listen to records at home on my small computer speakers as to not piss off my neighbors. So maybe something’s missing if I’m not blasting these recordings on huge speakers, and really getting inside the sounds so that they’re larger than life.