Nathan McLaughlin – Echolocation #1 (Digitalis, Ltd.)

by mrdpetri

Side A: Undulating static begins, with a low hum that shifts subtly over time. The static is sort of like the loping sound of the needle of a record player running endless circles at the end of a side when the automatic needle dismount doesn’t do its job, but it’s much more gentle and less predictable. The static changes its patterns and is almost imperceptibly filtered, with the parallel elements of other types of statics and low frequencies making their own subtle changes. Right now as I write this a guy across the street is mowing the lawn. I thought at first that the low hum of the lawnmower was part of the recording, as the subtle ways that the sounds on side A are introduced makes it easy to be so absorbed into the recording that any sufficiently vague sound you hear in the listening space can be mistaken for an element in the recording. I don’t mean this negatively. The way the piece on side A is designed, the sounds work on the ears and mind similarly to natural sounds you would hear outside in isolation, like subtle wind movements, insects, animals shifting around. Nothing jumps out at you and demands attention, but there is a lot going on that when attended to gives a sense of wonder.

Side B seems to focus on a single sound source which resembles a low frequency guitar feedback. The sound is like the sound a lightly distorted guitar makes when the body or the back of the neck is struck gently with a fist. This low rumble comes in gentle bursts with a short dollop of delay that trails off in its wake. The whole of this side of the tape is composed of the play this sound makes with the space that follows it. The source sound itself changes subtly here and there, too, making the trails of delay and/or reverb form different reactive sounds.

The insert reads: (these recordings)”…are performed live to a stereo feed with an absolute minimum amount of post processing or editing (and no post effects of any kind).” The center of the work here is the minutae of the interplay of these atonal statics and rumbles and the spaces between them. Some listeners would have an easier time getting into this if there was more of a tonal center, or more sounds that demand the attention of the listener. It’s very much o.k. that these characteristics are absent though, because their absence of course informs the listener that there are other ways to think about listening. There is often a lot more going on in situations that seem like perhaps not much is happening. Nathan McLaughlin has done an excellent job bringing these obscured ideas to the table in a well executed and thoughtful collection.