The word “delta” has various meanings, meanings not entirely devoid of relation to one another. For example, there is the delta that is the place where a river divides and leaves an alluvial deposit. And there is the use of the term in the sciences, where it can signify a difference, an incremental change, a quantifiable gap.
In Phill Niblock‘s three-part “Sound Delta,” recently released for free download as part of the Touch Radio podcast (MP3), those two meanings collide, overlap, and otherwise play off each other.
The first and longest of the podcast’s three sections, “Zound Delta,” is a mix of field recordings of a waterway, and what appear to be treated renditions thereof — sounds of rushing water, of gentle sloshing, at times seeming entirely natural, while at others mixed with a droning that suggests some sort of electronic processing on Niblock’s part. Now, those procedures could simply be a recording artifact, or the result of the sonic circumstances — the sound of a microphone underwater, or the echo in the belly of a boat. The potential confusion speaks to importance of context in listening, and the way many computer-music effects in point of fact mirror everyday experience. (The piece was the result of a 2009 residency with the European Sound Delta Project, where the Danube River meets Black Sea.)
All three of the tracks in “Sound Delta” make use of this sense of shifting, of life being experienced at the same time it is being processed. Niblock makes much of the gap between real and real-derived: of the delta, as it were, between life and electronic mediation. And what he finds there is as rich as any alluvial deposit.
A second track, “Bells & Timps,” takes Belgium church bells as its source material (recording credit goes to Godfried Willem Raes). Niblock says of the work, “I modified the time by stretching vastly, and some changes in pitch as well.” The result is a halo of attenuated sounds that hover around the original. And the third, “BuchBel,” makes much of the sound of a train recorded at night between Bucharest and Belgrade.
All three tracks are combined into one MP3 here. “Zound Delta” runs through approximately 21:52, “Bells & Timps” at about 27:22, and “BuchBel” runs from there until the end (39:23).
(Photo of Niblock in performance in Spain during 2006 from flickr.com by Asier Gogortza, published per Creative Commons.)