The latest album from Craig Vear – simply titled Esk – is a 40-minute piece compiled of recordings from 2008 of the River Esk, which begins in North Yorkshire National Park and ends in the North Sea. Initially using hydrophones and then air mics, Vear recorded in reverse order and then organised the recordings in order of the river’s flow.
The album starts off simply, with mosquito sounds and the gentle rippling of the titular river. Throughout the first twenty minutes, Vear captures anything that enters the environment: we hear planes, trucks, various fauna, and sections of strong wind which overpower his recording equipment to pretty interesting effect.
At the halfway point, Vear dives head first into the bottom of the river, with an edginess and grittiness lacking from the first half. With strong bass pulses and squeaking sounds that sound halfway between ice cracking and ducks quacking, this is the most interesting part of the album. As the piece comes to a close, recordings of what sounds like a bucket being filled up and poured into the river are played. Soon after we get sounds close up from a boat’s rudder that splashes around the water. These sections are beautifully circular, fluid and dynamic, but unfortunately they come after twenty-five minutes of stagnancy.
Whereas another recent 3Leaves release – Berlin Fields by Steve Roden – was thrilling in the way it allowed the listener to so vividly experience European cities, Vear’s effort seems one dimensional and motionless. Obviously this is the case when capturing only one location rather than three bustling cities as Roden did, but I couldn’t help but feel Vear’s piece was more enjoyable in the background when trying to concentrate on something else, rather than allowing the listener to go on their own thrilling – and extremely visual – trip. Esk never feels at all infinite or fluid; odd and especially disappointing given that you are essentially listening to a flowing river for forty minutes.