In 2014, I don’t mind admitting I was quietly terrified of Swiss sound artist Dave Phillips. His album Homo Animalis was bleak, malevolent almost gutteral sound art. It was deeply unsettling, at the time Cyclic Defrost said “This not the kind of soundscape you sink into. Phillips wants you on the edge of your seat, shell-shocked, jumping at shadows.” You can read the full review, a peculiar mixture of fear and admiration, here.
So as you might imagine, when news came of a new Phillips release there was a fair degree of trepidation. What dark caverns of our emotional landscape will he be traversing this time? So it’s with a little bit of relief that I can say that South Africa recordings is just that, the only manipulation is EQ, panning, and some layering of multiple recordings – though not too much he is at pains to point out.
There are a lot of night recordings, possibly because day temperatures varied between 30° and 43°C. We’re talking toads, cicadas, beetles, frogs, geckos, though also warthogs, birds, jackals, lions, hyenas, doves, crows and who knows what else. There are 36 tracks at 157 minutes across two cds.
He doesn’t attempt to isolate individual sounds/ animals like Chris Watson has done in the past, rather these are incredibly vivid soundscapes, the location, the time of day/ night, the interaction between all of the species and their environment, continues to fascinate him.
He’s finding cause and effect, he’s finding composition here, when the thunder crashes and the birds twitter in response, before dying out and the cicadas take over. You couldn’t script it, or sculpt it any better – perhaps this is why Phillips has chosen to leave it pretty much alone. Though I must admit I was a little suspicious of this piece, “Late Afternoon Events at MMabolela Rock on the Impopo river” as it sounds a little too dynamic, and it turns out this is one of his layering experiments, with two recordings.
“Nature speaks languages. We can ”hear” them, but do we listen, do we try to understand?” Asks Phillips in the press release in which he implores the listener to immerse themselves in his sounds. This is very much music if you want it to be, otherwise it’s exotica, the African jungle, a launching pad for your imagination. One thing Phillips does to contribute to his desire for immersion is longevity. Each of the pieces play out over the time and the subtle and not so subtle changes over time are telling. There is a real beauty here, one that Phillips fears will be lost, these remarkable national parks and unique ecosystems at the mercy of mankind. You can listen or you can hear. Phillips has given us the tools, now it’s up to us.
You can find it here.