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The air against the ground

from the air in the sand by Loren Chasse

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    the air in the sand
    drawing dirt
    the tree on the sky
    the air inside the rain
    drawing water
    the air against the ground

    The San Francisco based sound artist Loren Chasse is apt to describe the many facets of his work through a simple metaphor. For example, Chasse often qualifies his microphone as a physical extension of the ear, and site-specific environments become his ersatz studio and mixing board. Yet these metaphors extend far beyond the concept of sound construction and into sympathetic relationships with everything around him. On his critically acclaimed 2002 album Hedge of Nerves, he applied the often fetishized sound of vinyl crackle to elemental recordings of wind, sand, fire, wood, and surf for an album bristling with tactility whose complex details amassed into an transcendent, oceanic blur. This was not a mimesis of an antiquated technology dumped upon a digital production with the facade of "making something real," but an abstracted coupling of complementary acoustics hopefully to engage the imagination of the audience.
    For his most recent album The Air In The Sand, Chasse posits another metaphor: the composition as a diorama. Within his ideas about the sound diorama, Chasse exaggerates those sounds which he feels to be essential for a space and minimizes everything else. Again, the recording process of The Air In The Sand revolves around Chasse's active participation within a particular environment. In these unspecified spaces, he broadcasts an array of drones, textures, and field recordings back into the sonic environment where they intermingle with the ambience of that location. Part of this process is an attempt to move away from the constraints of the digital workstation; but at the same time, Chasse is far more interested in the curious alchemy that occurs when a space listens to itself making sound. The nighttime chorus of crickets gurgles within aqueous percolations and the tectonic crash of surf crashing against rock. Elsewhere, rain vaporizes in a caustic sizzle as it falls upon overhead electrical wires, and this sound is compounded by the sharp crack of branches and the slow hiss of sand.
    For all of the elemental sounds that dominate his recordings, Chasse extracts subtle musical timbres and fragile half-melodies that haunt The Air In The Sand. While some of Chasse's recording techniques remain similar, it is important to note that Chasse sets this body of work (along with id battery and Coelacanth) outside of his ongoing pastoral contributions to the polyphonic Jewelled Antler constellation (e.g. Thuja, The Blithe Sons, Child Readers, and even his pseudonymous solo project Of.) With an emphasis placed upon location and its sonic ghosts, Chasse exposes something profoundly beautiful lurking in the shadows of the landscape. - Jim Haynes, June 05
    "Chasse prefers not to relate his solo work to his activities as a member of the Jewelled Antler Collective (Blithe Sons, Thuja, etc.) This second album under his own name comes closer to a field research project than the free-folk tone poems of his Antler collaborations. Consisting entirely of location recordings,The Air in The Sand is Chasse at his most austere, distilling his art to a point of the utmost purity and simplicity.

    His enthralling work is a reulst of the daringly straightforward methodology employed in its creation. What Chasse does is to sound various environments by playing back recordings on location through portable amplification, later editing the results in the studio. There's little evidence of postproduction, unlike his work as Coelacanth with Jim Haynes, for example, and yet this is something other than documentary in its intent. Through some of the field work's greatest hits are revisited here (crickets, rainfall, etc), the recording procedure produces something strangely other, a heightened form of naturalism that is completely, astonishingly musical.

    Chasse invokes the idea of the diorama to describe his processes. Just as a diorama presents a wider environment in minautre form, his work suggests the experience of actually being in the environment, of listening to it breath. Though his marginally more eventful work with his collaborators might be more immediately arresting - thuja in particular are extraordinary - The Air in The Sand presents Chasse's alchemy in fascinatingly unaddorned form." Keith Moline - The Wire

    Loren Chasse is best known for his work with various groups under the Jewelled Antler umbrella such as Thuja, The Franciscan Hobbies, and Of. This is hardly surprising as those various groups are all impressive in their own way. Chasse, however, also is a master when it comes to blending sounds and nature into one harmonious constant. There is a fine line between distorting the natural brilliance of a particular location and melding with it, but it's a line Chasse doesn't cross.

    "The Air in the Sand" is the latest offering from Chasse, this time on Australia's fantastic (and criminally overlooked!) Naturestrip label. On this release, we learn that Chasse explores what he calls "the compostion as a diorama." Basically, as he was recorded sounds from particular spaces, he manipulated it so that the most important ones were the most audible. It's a subtle thing, but also brilliant. Adding to the context, Chasse also had his own simple drones played back while he was making these recordings, thus mixing them into the pieces and creating sonic environmental bliss.

    It's not often that something that seems so simple is built in such a complex manner. Each sound here is perfectly placed and manipulated. The environments that Chasse explores feel completely natural, even with his artificial drones laid in the cracks. Take the opening track for example, the buzzing chirps of cicadas sound perfectly natural alongside Chasse's low-frequency, solemn drones. The music unfolds at snail-speed, mimicking the setting of a distant sun on a desolate landscape. Maybe the sunset doesn't actually make a sound, but in Chasse's world, and in his capable hands, we get a pretty good idea of what it might sound like if it did. This is no small task.

    On other pieces, the non-natural sounds aren't quite as subtle, but are done so with purpose. Take "The Tree on the Sky," for example. Electronic whirs hint at a distant disturbance. It's like Chasse is chiseling away at some rocky facade, attempting to show off the true face of this windswept field. It's almost haunting. Living in Oklahoma, this piece reminds me of the vast open spaces in the southern part of the state. I can smell the oncoming thunderstorms when I listen to this; Chasse has the mood down perfect. "The Air in the Sand" is not something you put on often. It's an album that demands attention. The crevices that exist within these aural dioramas are the real beauty; little, seemingly minor elements that make all the difference. Chasse's ability to mold the environment into something so aurally tangible is magnificent. "The Air in the Sand" might be his best offering to date.- Brad Rose - Foxy Digitalis
    Chasse is a San Francisco-based sound artist, a teacher in the school system there and a member of the groups Thula and idBattery. Naturestrip’s previous release was Toshiya Tsunoda’s superb “Scenery of Decalcomania”, another venture into processed field recordings, making “the air in the sand” an interesting point of comparison. While Tsunoda tends to funnel his captured sounds through or between devices of his own making, as near as I can tell Chasse seems to record the sounds “as is”, manipulating, layering and otherwise messing with them later on in the studio. Perhaps peculiar to this recording (I believe I’ve only previously heard Chasse in idBattery), the results have something of a muted character, a wind-buffeted aspect which, after all, is entirely in keeping with the disc’s title. If, given my druthers, I lean towards Tsunoda’s crispness, even harshness, Chasse’s work still has plenty of rewards on its own.

    On the opening, title track, Chasse, as elsewhere, conjures up vaguely melodic motifs from his sourced sounds, sculpting tones created by moving air into modulating notes that recall those achieved by blowing across the open tops of bottles. There’s only a limited sense of a specific place—these don’t strike me as narrative pieces in a geographical way despite the occasional crickets or bird calls, though a “story-line” is sometimes suggested—more of a layered evocation of a given phenomena, richer and more complex than you might hear in situ. It’s as if Chasse is depicting the myriad ways one might perceive air coursing through a given location if only one sat and listened for a few months—compressed into 17 minutes. The moment-to-moment detail might get sacrificed to a generalized view of the scene but then this wide-angle approach offers delicacies for your ears that may not have been otherwise audible. An interesting kind of choice to have to make. Experienced purely on a sensual level (and why not?), the music is a wonderful place in which to wallow. “the tree on the sky” contrasts rumbles of an almost watery nature with wooden clicks and sand-blown hisses with eerie effectiveness, imparting an urgent, rushing feel to the music that has one “looking” ahead, avoiding being aurally dashed against upcoming flotsam and jetsam. As advertised, the bulk of “the air inside the rain” appears to have been constructed with dozens of overlaid rainfalls, a hyper-dense sheet through which the odd bird attempts to maneuver. The piece mutates slowly, dull thuds just on the verge of hearing (passing traffic outside?) emerge, high-pitched tones from far away glimmer in and out, an airplane’s engine suddenly intrudes; all the while, the rainfall is constant, a deluge. The musical tones that coalesce briefly on this track have something of a guitar-like quality—for just a moment, it sounded like a snippet from a Godspeed You Black Emperor! performance. Chasse saves the best for last, though, and “the air against the ground” closes out the disc brilliantly. Fairly steady-state, he pares things down to a fascinating core of air and overtones, a drone that’s constrained but still dirty enough to leave a mark, the atmosphere sufficiently sooty and blemished, that you simply “buy” it as a natural phenomenon. Very good stuff.

    Btw, in case anyone’s keeping count, that makes naturestrip’s line score a solid four for four so far. - Brian Olewnik - Bagatellen
    Loren Chasse is a not a man who releases tons and tons of material, but just very occasionally bits and pieces here and there. His work fits along the lines of people like Raymond Dijkstra (see elsewhere), yet dwells more outdoor recordings, or Yannick Dauby. Sound events are taped from a very close range, like rain, stones, twigs and what else there is out there, waiting to be picked up and rubbed, broken and scratched. The environment plays a role too, even when one could think it wouldn't matter with all the close miking. But rubbing stones near the sea side sound differently than on the veranda with the rain pouring down. All of these recordings are then taken home and layered on each other and mixed very effectively. Electronics might play a role here, but I doubt that. I would be surprised to learn that what we think is 'electronics' here, is just a plane passing, or the hum of some airco. Many hours of careful recording and mixing must have went in this recording, since it all works rather flawless. For those who think that Tsunoda is too conceptual, for those who think Lopez is too inaudible and for those who like their environmental artists to be playful, Loren Chasse is the name to get hold off. FdW - Vital Weeekly

    Loren Chasse has traveled extensively to piece together this amazonic breath of free consciousness. The Air in the Sand includes six field recording collages, tracks recorded in multiple outdoor locations, along the ocean and through mountains, then remixed in the studio. It’s a calming brew with sprouts of grey areas throughout. The title track illustrates a meditational calm before the storm. Varietals of punctuated textures float in and out as layers build on both “Drawing Dirt” and “A Tree on the Sky.” Muted underwater sounds perturb and delight, as fate would have it. Chasse realigns and manipulate stactile elements, with a horizon line of crosshatching drips and contained echoes. Its heavy rain, or a roaring fire, or simple raking multiplied 10x on “The Air Inside the Rain.” The familiar sounds of chirping birds (a staple in the world of so many field recorders) do their own kinetic thing as it’s entwined here. Using air as a formula Chasse preoccupies our immediate surroundings, our private space. But he does it with the passionate power of listening, documenting and giving back excerpts of his private experience. 4.5 stars. - TJ Norris - Igloo

    Listening to Loren Chasse's constructions one can't avoid noticing the parity among their sources; given the risk of repetition, cliches and color predominance that often are the consequence of environment-based music, Loren seems to have found the correct combination to represent natural components in all their brightness, mixing biotic sounds and concrete human manifestations with experienced sapience. For example, in "The air inside the rain" the stunning "glissando motor" Doppler effect of a flying aircraft appears out of nowhere, leaving room after a few moments to unstable pseudo-drones, seemingly made of a non-existent composite of air and metal (tape speed manipulation is not out of the equation, I suppose) that modulate unvoluntarily, just like the wind in a bottle filtered by an harmonizer. Chasse design unresolved electroacoustic problems which are just looking for the right slot in everyone's psyche to affirm their inherent staying power. - Massimo Ricci - Touching Extremes

    Loren Chasse (Thuja, idBattery, The Blithe Sons, Coelacanth, Jewelled Antler Collective – the list of his many projects is a long one) has certainly been prolific of late, and I won't pretend to be familiar with everything he's released in the past couple of years, but this latest offering on the new Australian Naturestrip label is worth hunting down. Or rather digging up, as Chasse's music is a kind of sonic archaeology, a reworked aural document of various digs for sonic treasure buried along the California coastline (and elsewhere). Yup, field recording (and I've said before it's high time we dumped that word "field".. are the sounds of underground stations and iron foundries field recordings? I think not) is where it's at, chillun. Even if you can't afford a humdinging pair of mics and a portable DAT like my pal Eric La Casa you can probably treat yourself to a Minidisc recorder and amuse yourself taping the world around you and bouncing the results over to the hard drive for some nifty post-prod on your common and garden music software. That's the difficult bit: crafting the raw material into something more than the sum of its parts, a coherent work that stands as electronic music in its own right. Whether or not the original source sounds are to be identifiable or not is a matter of taste (most of Chasse's aren't), but making sure the resulting structure stands up to repeated listening is a question of skill. On the strength of The Air in the Sand, Loren Chasse has bucketfuls to spare.–Dan Warbuton - Paris Transatlantic

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from the air in the sand, released January 1, 2004


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naturestrip label Australia

Naturestrip is an independent Australian sound and art supporter that has evolved to fund and assist a variety of projects. Visit website for more information. Naturestrip started life in 2003 releasing seven albums creating quite a following in the world of experimental sound. It focused on working with artists who created compositions using field recordings as material in their art making. ... more

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