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Chris Watson / BJ Nilsen - Storm

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Artist: Chris Watson / BJ Nilsen

Album: Storm

Label: Touch

Review date: Jan. 17, 2007

Environmental recordings are often used to sooth, but as anyone who’s stepped outside their door without a coat on a typical Chicago (or Moscow, or Breckenridge, or Beijing) January night knows, Mother Nature isn’t always up for coddling her babies. Chris Watson (ex-Cabaret Voltaire) and BJ Nilsen (a.k.a. Hazard) bring a keen consciousness of the power of natural forces to their outdoor recordings; the way they let wind, rain and waves blast out of your speakers might make you reach for your best boots and slicker and look for high ground.

Each man contributed one track to Storm, and they collaborated on a third. Watson’s “No Man’s Land” takes its title literally; the only voices you hear come from sea birds and seals, although the latter’s vocal range overlaps quite disturbingly with that of human victims of torture. No man in his right mind would want to spend too much time in the surf that dominates the piece, which was collected during five years of autumnal recording along the North Sea coastline but stitched seamlessly together by Watson to evoke a relentless storm surge.

Nilsen’s “Austrvegr” stands on the opposite shore, Sweden’s to be exact, and forgoes animal sounds to focus on wind, water and whatever they happen to strike. Not many things are harder to record faithfully than a stiff breeze, and there are points where you are conscious that you’re hearing sounds conducted (and limited) by a microphone. He also uses sounds the sounds of rain upon roofs, further acknowledging the presence of humanity even as he excludes its sounds. But it’s a humanity dwarfed by the powers on display.

In between the solo pieces lies “SIGWX,” which lasts over half an hour. It weaves the sounds of one gale, taken from both England and Scandinavia, into a dynamic auditory adventure. Rain, waves and wind rise and subside; a vast range of possible water sounds unfolds without hurry. Both recordists leave more evidence of their handiwork, processing some of the sounds, juxtaposing others in a trans-oceanic dialogue, and at one point bringing things down to silence, the better to manage the tension that arises from extended exposure to the sounds of storm.

This CD is not the place to turn if you’re looking for a sleep aid or an adjunct to your court-ordered anger management class, but as an emotionally evocative experience of sound or a reminder that nature still has the upper hand, it’s impressive.

By Bill Meyer

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