MR. Wi$E: Narrative Mixing First Movement, Land

This is interesting. It’s a project from MR Wi$E, a DJ in the US. There’s an awful lot of work gone into it. It deserves to be listened to properly.

narrative mixing cover art updated2

I’d given it a few blasts from my laptop but it wasn’t until I’d followed the artist’s recommendation and downloaded it for portable play that it really came into its own. It is, resolutely, music for headphones.

I listened, properly listened, to it on a lunchbreak, while walking through the snow into the city centre. Sludge-sliding along Granby Street, past the chicken takeaways and retail shops being converted into betting ones, I gave it a proper audience. The hood of my parka was up and buttoned at the front, creating a mini soundbooth. The air was cold and damp. It was perfect.

There is an idea that snowfall makes everything unreal. A white superlayer that changes everything, making it all seem familiar but unrecognisable. Prettified. The opposite is actually true. Once the white starts to melt it becomes slushy and filthy. Taking care not to slip, it’s impossible not to become more acutely aware of the hard physical reality of the environment. Splashes of greybrown muck cling to your clothing. Like it or not, you’re going to get wet. The environment becomes you. And the clean, austere synthetic ambient of tradition is replaced by the messy, disparate ambient of reality.

Land is the ambient of reality. It is a collection of sounds and samples that have been picked up from all manner of places (most were gathered from freesound) and woven together into a coherent whole.

Sound collages have been done before, most famously on The White Album. Lennon’s Revolution 9 was an audacious and largely successful attempt to place Stockhausen-style musique concrète in millions of homes. As a piece though, it’s something of a mess. Formless and cacophonous (which was actually probably the point), it showed that a sound collage can be done, without doing anything with it.

A later work, The KLF Chill Out, applied the technique to a stronger narrative, suggesting a journey around the Gulf Coast, accompanied by a fleeting listens to Acker Bilk, Elvis and some Tuvan throat singers. Land achieves the same effect, and easily places itself the equal, if not superior of it. There’s so much going on here –it’s a really rich listening experience. It took over 200 hours to put together, and the effort really shows. It is a work of utter craftsmanship. Two more movements are in the pipeline, and although I’d say that I can’t wait to hear them, I’m happy for him to take his time making them.

What impresses most is the artistry involved. The different sounds blend together almost imperceptibly, as they do in real life. Music, traditional music in the sense of rhythm and melody, appears and disappears, but always with narrative justification. It’s a remarkable achievement, essentially an album featuring diegetic music. A track is heard, partially, on a car stereo that first has to be tuned. Later on, the listener attends a gig. The ears are enveloped by the echolalia of the expectant audience, before a powerfully sung version of When a Man Loves a Woman is heard in its entirety, from the first playful jabs at the piano keys to the fade of the applause at the end.

The headphone element adds so much to the experience. Binaural features shape the sound to craft a feeling of a real environment, while the closeness of the listening experience gives it an intimate feel. The channel differences create the effect of actually being at the show, the vocals clearer than the piano. Doors open and close. You even feel as though you’ve not quite got the best seats in the house. Reality over perfection again. Actuality, not artifice.

Talking of the real, the sound effects are as affecting as the music. From footsteps on pavements to falling rain, the rapid zap of radio stations being changed to a man scat-singing to himself, they are the sounds of the everyday made curiously into music. Listening so closely makes them feel somehow hyperreal, like you’re hearing them in a ways you haven’t done before. Which of course, you are.

What it means is that when actual music does kick in, as it does with the funky R&B on the car stereo, it feels especially vivid. That said, you never fully escape music in this piece, it’s always there in the background, whether emanating from a recognisable source, such a a busker, or as a slow piano thread, holding it all together.

It’s just like a real city of course. Which takes me back to my snowbound walk. It took me about ten minutes to reach town proper, taking in Gallowtree Gate, Humberstone Gate and Charles Street, at the bus station. Rather dull, prosaic streets that I must have walked down a thousand times. An ideal arena for this tapestry of ordinariness. Rather more so than I’d thought.

Later, reading the list of sound samples I saw this:

S: Charles Street Bus Station 10.03.2012(24-bit 44.1kHz).wav by LeicesterSoundmap | License: Creative Commons 0

The same Charles Street, the same Bus Station. Some guy living thousands of miles away created a collage of sound using some of the noise of my own city, lifted from the very street on which I listened to it.

Happenstance. Wonderful happenstance.

You’ll find the whole piece up at Soundcloud, and downloadable via Facebook.