Songs From A Cold Place
I think that it’s only appropriate, that I start my Flaming Pines Sound Bytes Special with a release by the founder of the label herself, Kate Carr. I’ve been following the Australian label for a few years now, since the 2011 Listen To The Weather compilation, followed by Carr’s own label debut, Summer Floods. In the process, I watched (and heard) the imprint’s, and indeed its curator’s fascination with nature evolve and grow into a catalog of incredible field recordings, many concerned with, and dedicated to the birds, the rivers, and the organic minimal ambient sounds these images and places evoke. In April of 2013, Carr spent a month in northern Iceland as part of the Listhus residency program. During her stay she collected many field recordings, capturing the sonic landscapes of an early Iceland spring. It is during this time of the year, when the migratory geese arrive for a stopover on the journey further north. The nine delicate pieces archive the sounds from the bird cliffs of Grimsey Island, the desolate rocky moors of the Skagi peninsula, the frozen inlets of Skagafjörður and the tiny fishing town of Ólafsfjörður. The natural settings, the fauna and the elements are perfectly captured by Songs From A Cold Place, at times making my living room seem frigid, as if a gust of wind has vaulted through my walls. Over these frosty sounds, Carr simply strums her guitar, a harp, a glockenspiel and a traditional Icelandic instrument called a langspil. During one of the pieces, I feel a shiver and slowly take another sip of my hot tea. Nevertheless, these sounds make me want to go to Iceland.
After immersing myself in the chilly sounds of Iceland, I take the time to travel somewhere warmer. I land upon the sounds of Nektarios Manaras with his debut titled Hovering. Hailing from the Greek island of Chalkis, Manaras celebrates sea life, the ancient Metéora rock pillar complex of monasteries and dancing flowers. Here, once again, with the power of music, we are transported to remote lands and distant times. This is not, however, a “traditional” Greek sound. Among the many instruments, the bowed guitars, flugelhorn, monomer and fujara slowly sway to the jazzy rhythm of airy percussion. “As the music plays, whales slowly submerge and monks scale the rock face to pray while the earth floats its way around the sun. It is an album to soak in on sun-dappled days, as the sun sinks beneath the sea and everything for that one moment seems perfect.” The influence of jazz is clearly revealed as soon as saxophone comes in. This is a slow paced, smokey, and drowned out sound, one in which it’s easy to get lost, as the sun warms up my frigid bones, and casts its rays upon the waters of the seas. The music patiently unfurls, eventually stretching its ambiance into complex history of the ethnic sounds with “Anemone dance.” Manaras says the following about his debut release: “The main idea is that everything in the universe and earth is floating in such a beautiful way. That is the feeling I’m trying to capture with my music.” Although Hovering is Manaras’ first release under his own name, you can find more of his music with his band, Eziak, on the Greek Triple Bath label.
I’m Living With Melancholy in the Fog
My Flaming Pines itinerary continues with a stopover in Japan. From the title of the album alone, I’m Living With Melancholy in the Fog, I approach the music rather cautiously, reluctant to be drowned in despair. Track titles such as “I broke up her marriage”, “Another death, another life”, and “A complete failure” hint at sadness shared within, but the music carries a hint of faith and even optimism. Shuffling background textures are cut with the clarity of guitar, piano and sitar. Major chords and melodies are predominant in this eight-piece release, dedicated to the expression of sadness for the aftermath of the Fukushima tsunami and nuclear disaster in 2011. As you surely remember, on March 11, 2011, the Great East Japan Earthquake struck the Pacific coast of Tōhoku. The music community united in a benefit compilation, organized by Keith and Hollie Kennif, titled For Nihon (Unseen, 2011), but it seems that waves of sound still vibrate. Perhaps, as science has already proved, these tides will never dissipate, but will forever retain the information of existence, even until to humans they sound like complete and total silence. Yuco is a project by two friends from Tokyo: Masayoshi Miyazaki and Hiroshi Kobayash. Although Miyazaki was living in China when the disaster occurred, he nevertheless felt profound heartache for his home, and picked up the instruments to capture his sorrow. The recordings are complimented with various field recording by Kobayash, to create an album filled with melancholy, grief, and hope.
A Piece of Water
I pick up my bags and travel to Russia. Virtually moving across its vast landscape, I end up all the way in its most north-west corner, in the city of Petrozavodsk, capital of Republic of Karelia. My sonic tour guide is Sashash Ulz, and through A Piece of Water he shows me his homeland, stretching across the shore of Lake Onega. Located near the border with Finland, Petrozavodsk is nestled between the Salmon and Needle rivers which flow into the lake. The city carries a long history, dating back to 1700s, when it was founded by Peter The Great, for its natural ore deposits (hence its literal translation as Petrine Factory). “A resident of the town since the age of one, Ulz says his hometown is place of great natural beauty and power, and the site of his earliest memories“. The music on this Flaming Pines release consists of five lo-fi meditative tracks, with submerged pads, muffled voices, and field recordings. A Piece of Water conveys an intimate solitary soundscape reflecting off the beaches of the lake, but these textures just as easily mix with the sounds of an urban city, Ulz’s guitar, and the reverb of some cavernous place. The final piece, “Cold Spring Sea” features a beautiful honky-tonk de-tuned solo piano simply playing over the sounds of the waves. The album appears to be a ninth full-length release (by my counting), with many past limited editions appearing as cassettes on many small DIY labels, such as the Finnish Jozik Records, Russian Swollen Beam, and Petrozavodsk own Full Of Nothing. Fans of experimental collectible physical media will not want to miss out on this and many other Ulz releases.