The Path Described
Tristan Louth-Robins spent much of his childhood on South Australia’s Fleurieu Peninsula, a coastal area far from the region’s main population centres. Although he has been working as a sound artist since 2005, it is only recently that he has turned to the environment he grew up in as a starting point for new work: he began a sound map of the peninsula in 2011, and created two sound installations, “The Roil” and “Echocline” (both 2012), from field recordings made there. Now this re-acquaintance with home territory has led to an album entitled “The Path Described”, consisting of three compositions weaving together Fleurieu-made field recordings. The sounds presented are familiar fare for coastal phonographic works: waves breaking on the shore, birds and insects, hydrophonic interludes, babbling streams, and the occasional echo of distant human activity.
When reviewing music I usually don’t read the provided press release or liner notes until I’ve heard the work a couple of times, and such was the case here. The album’s title seemed to imply a strict sense of narrative, yet upon listening I struggled to discern a clear linear path from one sound to the next; there are no sounds of human movement, and despite crossfades between each auditory ‘scene’ I didn’t catch a sense of travel. Rather, each of the three tracks seemed to develop in a distinctly musical way, an impression heightened by the formal device of beginning each track by the shore: I heard the sound of breaking waves as the album’s leitmotif, and it never seemed far away, quietly shushing in the background or mimicked by the wind in the reeds. Though clearly not an attempt at sonata form, I came to hear Louth-Robins’ treatment of the waves as a very loose example of thematic statement, development, and recapitulation.
Imagine my surprise, then, when I finally read the liner notes and realised that the title of the album was no loose metaphor, and that each track set out to document a very specific path between particular locations, the latitudes and longitudes of which were provided. The gap I heard between what sounds and what it sounds like — the gap that opens a sound up to mediation through and as form — was perhaps in this case self-discovered, or even projected, rather than being prised open by the artist; or at least, it was not intended to take the form I thought it took. Well, I suppose that what you hear is what you hear, to extend Frank Stella’s soundbyte. And however one hears it, “The Path Described” is doubtlessly a very enjoyable album, full of interesting and engaging sounds that neither rush by in a hurry nor overstay their welcome, that lull and transport without receding into sonic wallpaper. These paths may be a little worn, but they are well worth following.