Running water must be up there alongside birdsong, passing cars, and church bells as one of the most frequently heard sounds in contemporary field recording. Is there anything new that can be done with such a sound? A group of Italian musicians and sound artists think so, and offer “Aqua Matrix” as evidence: an album consisting of five tracks by five different artists using material recorded in Irpinia, site of one of the most important reservoirs in Italy. The water sounds used are of a more industrial nature than is usually the case, due to the site’s function as a major source of water for the region of Apulia (population approx. 4 million). Still, is there still new sonic territory to explore using these sounds?
To answer this question, the five participating artists use different contrasting techniques. Enrico Coniglio’s piece ‘Acque Lotiche Acque Lentiche’ comes the closest to ‘traditional’ unadorned field recording, but the sounds are still fairly unusual: a dirty spluttering and splattering proves that water can be acoustically rough as well as melodious, while other hissings and gurglings have a sort of metallic ring to them, suggesting a form of industrial architecture rather than mountain streams. SEC_ and Attilio Novellino choose to augment their water sounds with synthesised chords and pulses, while Gamino’s ‘Tuttintorno’ includes a meandering melody that seems aqueous in its very essence, as if composed from filtered recordings of pouring liquid.
The album leans towards more dramatic, energetic representations of water, perhaps reflecting the colossal volumes of the stuff shifted by the Apulian Aqueduct every day. The exception to this is Fabio Perletta’s ‘Moto ?’, but even this piece doesn’t reach the depths of meditative quiet that Perletta is often associated with. Small splashes and crackles, heard very close, are contrasted with distant, echoing clanking and tapping; simple rhythms are made out of scrapes and squeaks. The range of creative approaches heard on “Aqua Matrix” is very broad, but they consistently evoke an aural impression of a place both aqueous and heavily shaped by human intervention — in other words by the sort of industrial-scale water management that is heard much less frequently in phonographic sound art than babbling brooks or scenic lakes. I’m convinced: it turns out there are new ways to creatively investigate the sounds of water after all.