A Country Falling Apart
Edu Comelles is one half of the duo Cello + Laptop and founder of Audiotalaia, a platform for the diffusion, promotion and production of experimental music, sound art, ambient music and field recordings. He has also released a number of albums of field recording-based sound works, both under his own name and under the alias Mensa. “A Country Falling Apart” is the latest addition to his discography, and was created entirely using sounds recorded out ‘in the field’, with only minimal editing in the form of an occasional shift of pitch. However, it is clear from listening that these sounds have also been carefully scored, either through their arrangement in post-production, their performance on-site, or a mix of both.
As perhaps befits a work intended to convey the chaotic state of Comelles’ native Spain following the economic upheavals of the past few years, the album is dominated by metallic clangs, screeches, throbs, and other sharp sounds. Neglect and abandonment make themselves audible in the squeal of rusted joints echoing in empty spaces, yet do these acoustic phenomena testify to more than this? And how could such testimony be distinguished from the thoughts and emotions we project onto the material at the mere mention of the word ‘crisis’? Treading a thin line between externally-imposed emotional content and the meanings arising from the shape and form of the music itself, “A Country Falling Apart” throws the tired dichotomy of subjective experience and objective document into disarray: the distinctions between projected rage, desolation, and despair, an internal aesthetic logic that necessitates, for example, the irruption of silence to allow reverberate tails to decay, and the groaning of the very architecture under the strain of economic collapse is at times very difficult to draw.
There are quieter moments here too, the gentleness of “Stir & Season” approaching an almost serene beauty; at other times the music’s punch is only complete with the addition of a bitterly ironic title, as in the case of bonus track “The Welfare State” (one minutes of silence followed by two and a half of rubbish being emptied from a dumper truck). The object of a field recording is always fully present and in that sense always already political, as all objects are. Yet getting field recordings to do politics is no easy task, and involves negotiating some tough questions and assumptions regarding the nature of truth, the status of the document, and the ability of both the microphone and its operator to bear witness to empirical events. “A Country Falling Apart” is one of the bravest yet also most competent attempts I’ve heard to grasp this bull by the horns, the moment when literal description tips over into emotional feedback being relentlessly contested, deferred, challenged, and embraced. After catastrophe, what field recording, what art, can henceforth be contemplated? With this release, Comelles brings us a little closer to finding out.