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Tarab - Take All the Ships From the Harbour and Sail Them Straight Into Hell

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Artist: Tarab

Album: Take All the Ships From the Harbour and Sail Them Straight Into Hell

Label: 23five, Inc.

Review date: Aug. 20, 2009

Like any fiction writer worth a damn, Eamon Sprod (a.k.a. Tarab) is a good liar. He takes what is familiar to us - field grabs of domestic, urban, and natural sounds - and distorts, heightens, and intensifies them until what was recognizable becomes strange yet still resonant with truth. He uses simple means - microphone placement, subtle manual manipulation of the environment and some careful editing - to create his extended compositions. His third full length recording, the cumbersomely and cryptically titled Take All the Ships From the Harbour and Sail Them Straight Into Hell, should put him at the forefront of the rapidly developing (and increasingly crowded) field recording scene. It also suggests that "field recordings" is becoming a dull tool for the job of describing what artists like Sprod and the roster of the Compost and Height download label are working at, a souped-up hybrid of musique concrète and field recording.

Like much work in the hybrid, Take all the ships..., a 55 minute suite of environmental sound, is drawn from a few specific places (in this case, Angel Island, a deserted military base turned national park), but is not really meant to be about that place. Instead, it is a layered series of sonic events that act as metaphors. The dominant mood here is bleak and overcast, and certain motifs recur: wind howling and whistling through pipes, ice cracking and tinkling, shortwave radio transmissions, the complaint of metal being scrapped and twisted, booming reverb that seemingly has no source. The sounds become signifiers of desolation, solitude, a creeping sense of life that has no human presence.

This metaphorical approach moves the result into fictive, often surreal territory, but, like G*Park, Sprod’s recording method is austere but meticulous. This means that his sounds retain plenty of natural reverb and keep their stochastic character. They hold the interest even when the inevitable lulls in activity set in, those moments when the piece feels more episodic than fully developed. But in their precision and ability to evoke tactile images, Sprod’s sounds are powerful ones, reminiscent of what Tod Dockstader has said about the sounds he preferred: "“I like to have edges. Sound to me is always very physical. I can feel, not just hear it. It has personality. It has weight, proportion. It’s like I can pick it up and hold it." The sounds are masked, but not abstracted. They are the kind of lies you want to believe.

By Matthew Wuethrich

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