Acclimation, or acclimatisation as it is more commonly termed, is a process by which an individual organism adjusts to a change in its environment. This could be the response of an animal or plant to a change of season; the adaptation of a mountaineer to a high-altitude atmosphere; or, perhaps more obliquely, the ‘becoming natural’ of certain introduced objects or processes (consider how, for many observers of the British landscape, treeless fields and dry stone walls have ‘acclimated’ to their environment and thus become ‘natural’, while wind turbines have yet to do so).
The latter example may be somewhat spurious, but it is relevant to the themes and processes behind Jake Muir’s new album. The Seattle-based artist was inspired by the invitation to perform at the century-old Georgetown Steam Plant to create a live set based on industrial and aqueous field recordings, and this set became the basis of “Acclimation”. Without knowing this context, however, it would be difficult to link the album’s two tracks back to any kind of industrial activity; on the contrary, Muir has arranged and processed his sounds such that they come to resemble a more general enveloping environment. Mechanical, electronic, and ecological effects overrun their respective boundaries and blur the perceptual and conceptual lines between them.
What does this sound like in practice? ‘Cold Seeps’ presents a dense, humid tropical atmosphere, with damp gleaming and splish-splashes of water, the brushing of leaves and snapping of twigs. None of these things are heard, exactly; rather, a rich field of abstract sound suggests or gestures towards such things. Later on in the piece, a faint ringing glimmer builds into an emphatic high-pitched stutter, and gleaming winds race over low bass throb, evoking more a weather system on another planet, or a moon such as Titan or Enceladus, than anywhere on Earth. Towards the end, however, bright, undulating tones recall sharp sunlight and the rolling of the sea, a postcard from the Pacific coast reduced to smudged outlines and splotches of colour.
A similar approach to rhythm informs ‘Black Smokers’, the vague tossing and turning of which has more in common with outdoor environments than the strictly regulated pulse of most Western music. A faint crackle recalls quiet, hesitant footsteps on gravel or sand, and tones soar like the cries of distant birds. Things rattle and echo as if on the floor of a vast canyon, or tap intermittently like a moored boat’s rigging against a mast. Harmony is sometimes present, though somewhat effaced, or rather transformed: glistening tones gather in what sometimes resemble chords, but also gusts, flocks, streams. Perhaps it’s just my own idiosyncratic way of listening to it, but to me it seems that with “Acclimation” Muir has succeeded in bringing the ‘industrial’ and the ‘natural’ together in ways that sound like neither, but somehow lean decidedly towards the latter; I’d be interested in hearing what impressions it forms on other listening ears.