How can a mere music critic be expected to pass judgment on the sound of the waterfall at Stony Point, the River Orchy in Scotland, or Cymtillery Stream in South Wales? Is it even possible to discuss a trickling brook or a foaming rapids in terms of music? How can we be so naive as to think that a recording of a river has artistic value? Yet how can we be so presumptuous and narrow-minded as to say that it doesn’t? Where exactly should we draw the line between art and nature? Is it possible to include some things under both categories?
I doubt that I could do a really convincing job on these questions even in 10,000 words, so I’m going to sidestep all the important issues and simply say that my visit to Annea Lockwood’s exhibit at the Kitchen was as fascinating as it was problematic. The recordings in the River Archives are amazingly clean, with scarcely a bird song or a wind noise anywhere. Most of them were done on location by the artist. A few were contributed by friends. They proceeded in segments about five minutes long, each of which had its own distinctive personality. As one might expect, much of the trickling, foaming, and swirling is quite attractive, and it led me to discover several things about river sounds that I had never noticed. They all have crazy half-predictable rhythms. Some of them have bass lines. For some reason it is difficult to pay close attention to them for more than a few minutes at a time, despite a wealth of activity.
In conjunction with the week-long exhibit, Lockwood presented evening performances in which she chanted along with the tapes. On March 23 she was assisted by another singer, Marilyn Rosenberger. Their voices blended well, and they exhibited remarkable breath control, frequently sustaining phrases for more than 30 seconds. Beginning on a high tone, they sang for about 40 minutes, gradually descending in range and increasing in rhythmic activity. The text was drawn from an intriguing collection of about 20 ancient words from various languages. Most are mellifluous, like ‘malaman,’ and all of them mean ‘sound.’ The chanting was largely improvised, and its accidental sequence did not have the finesse of a finished composition, though it seemed like an appropriate human response to the rivers.
Lockwood’s River Archives remains the important thing, not only because it is such a curious idea and because it contains such a variety of attractive water sounds, but even more because it forces us to re-examine so many fundamental questions. Ask me in a few years, and I may have figured out a few of the answers.Note:
Sorry. I still don’t know.