Sound Awakener is the solo project of experimental musician Nhung Nguyen. Her latest release “The noises within” was created as a sound walk from Hanoi’s Fine Art Museum to Manzi Art Space across the city, but also works very well as a more stationary form of travel sat in front of two speakers. The album opens with the rhythmic chinking of what sounds like china cups and other hollow household objects, over which a metallic clattering and a resonating tone sometimes intervene. Following this domestic scene, the music widens out to take in a number of different sound worlds: among others, a curiously wooden, bubbling vent with what sounds like a xylophone being played underwater; a reverberating tunnel through which billow winds of sonic dust like the atomised passbys of ghost vehicles; a cave full of clunks and scrapes that swoop and shimmer like giant bats emerging from and receding into darkness.
In the fifth track (all the pieces or stages along the route are simply titled by their track number), a vast variety of sounds are heard, some found in the general environment, some created using objects or instruments. There’s radio static, running water, bird tweets, and clatter; the thrum of passing mopeds and boom and rumble of the city; voices heard in various contexts; and many more unidentifiable or simply acousmatic sounds. These are arranged into two frames or paths, between which the music cuts at regular and fairly rapid intervals, even as the frames themselves move along parallel journeys. Some of the sounds seem to bleed across both frames, though this may just be my ears struggling to keep up with the pace of change. It’s as if there are in fact two people taking part in your (real or imagined) soundwalk: two people crossing a city from different starting points, maybe thinking of each other, or maybe passing in the street without recognition. Maybe both those people are you.
At the middle point in the album, both temporally and conceptually, sits eight minutes of lush ambient chords, overlaid with the gentle intermittent trickling of streams and brushing of solar winds. It’s easy to think of this as the calm at the centre of the frequently chaotic and disorienting storm kicked up by the rest of the album, the inner peace contrasting with the outer tumult of the city. Listening more closely, however, it seems that every moment of “The noises within” has its own inside and outside, balancing chaos and compositional structure with enough clarity to suggest a recognisable world, yet with enough unpredictability and unbridled energy to render that world believable. Perhaps what I’m hearing, then, isn’t the sound of ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ as such, but rather of the multiple correspondences and endless passing between them. This album can be a walk in two directions, outwards and inwards, at the same time.