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Philip Samartzis - Soft and Loud

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Artist: Philip Samartzis

Album: Soft and Loud

Label: Plates of Sound

Review date: Nov. 20, 2005

The disorientation one experiences when traveling abroad is caused by more than just jetlag. No matter how predominant the effects of globalization have become, either through the ubiquity of the same goods and services or the creation of an all-seeing, all-feeling virtual global city, exposure to certain stimuli in a foreign culture (be they heard or seen) consistently reinforces the distance from home.

Philip Samartzis' Soft and Loud is a travelogue of sorts, recording one foreigner's response to and dialogue with the sounds that form the foreign background noise of daily life in modern Japan. No stranger to the fields of musique concrete and experimental electronics/turntablism, Samartzis has a CV that has taken him from helping to found Australian noise group Gum in the 1980s, to collaborations with people such as Keiji Haino and Oren Ambarchi, to his current position as senior lecturer and coordinator of sound at RMIT University in Melbourne. This inaugural release on Joey Rhyu's Plates of Sound label gives the deluxe, 180-gram vinyl treatment to an album that was originally released on Samartzis' own Microphonics label.

The six parts that encompass the Soft and Loud composition were originally constructed between 1999 and 2003 for an eight channel surround sound playback. With each speaker placed in a circular formation, the idea was that the listener would alter their position in an attempt to find different and intriguing zones of activity. Structurally, then, it comes into brief alignment with Ryoji Ikeda's Matrix [for Rooms] installation and record, but deviates substantially in its emphasis on individual sounds and their careful placement across the spatial field. For a modern comparison, think Janek Schaefer without the wonders of a tri-stylused record player.

Samartzis' field recordings are cautiously bent and refracted; slow rumbles are punctuated harshly, brief melodic figures cut in half. Some elements are familiar - the rush of water, the somber refrain of a street merchant selling chestnuts, birdsong, subway din and clatter. Others are more like with granular synthesis techniques as opposed to any recognizable means of generating sound for everyday use.

The first side of the LP replicates tidal flows, with each of the three pieces ebbing ominously. The juxtapositions are jarring, and for each burst of crowd noise or song form that slides from the speakers, more alien tones emerge moments later to supplant them. Side two delights not in placement, but rather subtle transformation from the common to the bizarre. An avian chorus becomes shrill robotics, whereas the underground trains sound like a ceaseless army of transport beasts. But none of these sounds are even remotely haphazard. Samartzis' meticulous construction leaves no room for chance assemblage. Rather, taken together, these recordings mirror the feeling of stumbling through a culture that is not one's own, endlessly over-stimulated from every possible direction.

Soft and Loud's strength comes from the relentless call and response of the more pastoral and serene images of the Japanese countryside and the frenetic, chaotic hubbub of big city life and technological progress. Philip Samartzis adeptly deploys his recordings to place the listener in his position, as an outsider hyperaware of these contrasts that constitute the habitus of Japan's culture. Housed in a beautifully designed sleeve with thorough liner notes from the composer himself, Soft and Loud is an exquisite postcard from the land of the Rising Sun, and a tantalizing harbinger of what Rhyu has in store for his nascent imprint. Limited to a one-time only pressing of five hundred copies, this is a pensive work of devotion on all sides that is indeed worthy of merit.

By Michael Crumsho

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