The duo known as Soundvial played a handful of pieces at the December 5, 2003, Field Effects concert event in San Francisco. Two of those compositions are available for free download from the group’s website, at soundvial.org. One of them, “Le Saint Jean,” is a highly recommended work of augmented field recording. It consists of sound drawn from the real world and then subsequently fashioned into something that requires no particular taste for the experimental to be recognized as musical, even tuneful. The Soundvial site describes the track, concisely if incompletely, as “a rainy afternoon at a cafe in the 18th arrondissement of paris.” That’s a major understatement.
Like much of the work curated in the Field Effects series, Soundvial uses as its source material field recordings, sound captured in the wild — in this instance, the urban wild. But the sounds of the cafe (the clack of dishes, street noise, a woman’s voice) are just the start of the track, which reproduces them whole before introducing a guitar line and then looping segments of the found elements as melodic and rhythmic motifs. A sequence of ring tones divides the composition roughly in half, between the raw and the cooked. Hearing the raw materials reworked as song elements suggests that the listener think back on the first half of the piece as a kind of overture. At the very end, the unedited sounds are reprised briefly, which in turn suggests that the listener think back on the “musical” half of the piece as a kind of dream.
Soundvial consists of Ken Reisman and Matt Simon. For more information on the Field Effects series, visit fieldeffects.org.