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Michael Pollard - Translations 01

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Artist: Michael Pollard

Album: Translations 01

Label: Spectrum Spools

Review date: Feb. 5, 2013

Having the first name that I do means that I’ve gotten my share of pocket-dialed phone calls. The era of the smartphone has lessened their number dramatically, but if I ever miss the unintentional attention, I can always throw side 1 of Translations 01 on the turntable. “Material Study 01 (Sand),” which was recorded from under the surface of a lake’s sandy floor, doesn’t sound so far off from those calls from friends’ purses or hip pockets, even if its creation was of a more interesting and intentional nature. The entire record isn’t all so underground: The track is only one of Michael Pollard’s adventures in microphone placement on an album that’s luckily not as stiff and dry as its production notes.

On Translations 01, Pollard drops a cello, plays loud sounds in an empty house, and makes a pencil rubbing of a blank wall. These aren’t acts performance art, but the sources for Pollard’s deliberate experiments in digital audio. “Material Study 02 (Cello and Jacket)” begins with a recording from a contact mic attached to the aforementioned dropped cello and, was, as Pollard puts it, “...amplitude modulated in a computer audio synthesis environment by a pair of stereo contact microphones taped to a wind breaker being blown by an air circulator as it hung from the ceiling by a string.” Pollard can make even “A pencil rubbing for the album cover” seem like a scientific endeavor, meticulously detailing any equipment used and the latitude and longitude of each recording. The ratio of effort to effect skews toward the former, especially given the general invisibility of the preparation and action behind some of Pollard’s studies. Some tracks are feats of process over product, like “Spatialisation Study 01 (One freeze from seven positions in a house),” rich with subdued beauty, which is a systematically constructed collage of an afternoon’s worth of tones from seven carefully selected spots in an empty house.

Much as people come to care more about others when they’ve learned something about them, the notes and details lend some context to Translations 01’s tracks that would be missing were they presented sans text. Looking at the image on the cover makes “A pencil rubbing for the album cover” a more meaningful listening experience than it would be otherwise, and though “Material Study 01 (Sand)” could still use a little more color, there’s something added by the knowledge that some of its muffled sound is made by Pollard’s brother tossing firecrackers into the lake in which he stands.

Translations 01 isn’t the most inviting record. Its tracks are largely unidirectional endeavors, conceptual exercises in which the resulting audible product takes no precedence over the means by which it was produced. The way that Pollard shows his work, however, adds a human dimension to the record, even if it’s inaudible in the mix. Released without comment in a more conventionally decorated sleeve, Translations 01 would be another inscrutable album of experimental music, but instead, in a way, it’s a revealing record that gives the listener a look behind the sound and the methods of the man who made it.

By Adam Strohm

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