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Staking a Sonic Claim (MP3s)

The music in recent years from Alan Morse Davies often has had the appeal of life, as well as thought, experienced in slowest of slow motion. This is because his pieces have taken existing audio documents — of Western popular music, of Western classical music, and of the chanting from cultures less far along the Western sense of the development continuum — and extended their playing time by stretching them like so much sonic taffy, and thus revealing structures, textures, and meditative spaces inside the originals.

A new Davies album, titled Svalbard, and its subsequent single, the three-song Spitsbergen, employ pre-existing recordings as well, 78s by his description, but those always surprisingly malleable physical documents are merely one element among several, heard alongside the Welsh pibgyrn (bagpipe), the Italian zampogna (bagpipe) and ciamarella (shawm), and the hardanger fiddle, all of which he has then processed extensively. The results range, in his apt words, “from the relatively static to the dramatic.” All of them stake a claim on the landscape of the arctic Norwegian archipelago, Svalbard, which is their source of inspiration. We often speak of things being frozen in time, and that metaphor is particularly apt in sound that takes bitter cold environs as their subject matter. The tracks, for all their distinctions from one another, are inherently lovely, at times with a kind of extravagance that seems at odds with their placidity. Here are two, one from each of the two collections: “Kvitøya” (MP3), off Svalbard, and “Edgeøya” (MP3), off Spitsbergen.

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Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

How things just shy of frozen — frozen as in stasis, and frozen as in arctic — can feel so warm is but one of the mysteries of Davies’ approach.

The two sets are available for free download and streaming via archive.org: Spitsbergen (cover above right), Svalbard (cover above left). More on Davies at at-sea.com and alanmorsedavies.wordpress.com. (Photo up top by Per Harald Olsen, courtesy of wikipedia.org.)

By Marc Weidenbaum

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