Field Recordings from Unreliable Travelog

Philip Scheffner builds art from field recordings that he makes on his travels. A/C (on the Pong label) contains a kind of program music, in which the winding narrative that his sounds accompany is the course of his journey: insect noise, traffic, interior hum. Scheffner is no omniscient narrator; much as he is inclined to fracture and layer the recordings, he also intrudes upon them. When a woman yaps into his microphone, you can hear either him or a travel-mate — Merle Kröger, co-credited for recording A/C‘s dialogue — laughing at the absurdity of her hyperbole. “It’s a dead city,” the woman says, as car horns blare repeatedly in the foreground. Even the listener is inclined to giggle at the disparity between what she says and what we’re experiencing, via the proxy of Scheffner’s mic.

There is as much peace on A/C as there is urban anxiety. The music on the album’s third track (there are seven cuts total, ranging in length from a minute to over 11, all untitled) is so patient, the rhythm so seductive, that it girds itself to whatever the listener might be doing. In contrast, track five opens startlingly with car horns and other street noise. “Don’t be so naive,” that same woman tells us, an admonishment in English heavily spiced with an Indian accent. She might be critiquing the assumptions of her arty Western visitors. Or, she might be speaking to the audience, who are accustomed to verses and choruses, and who must make peace with the complexity in Scheffner’s sounds, which are — despite their familiarity — invasive and often grating. At the end of track five, a digitized harmonica fades in, the melody veering toward what sounds like “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” (or, perhaps, “God Save the Queen”), and you can’t help but empathize: home feels very far away.

This album review appeared, in slightly different form, in the autumn 2003 issue of e|i magazine.

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