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Murmer - What are the Roots that Clutch

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Artist: Murmer

Album: What are the Roots that Clutch

Label: Helen Scarsdale

Review date: Jul. 18, 2012

What are the Roots that Clutch is half a line borrowed from T.S. Eliot’s early 20th century poem, The Waste Land. Eliot’s modernist tome was, and still is, considered revolutionary in its vision, doing for poetry what James Joyce’s Ulysses did for prose in far fewer words. In as much as The Waste Land was able to pare down the whole of humanity to a mere 434 lines, the poem — with its both high- and low-brow referencing, its incessant slippages into other languages, and constant shift of speaker presence, tone and style — remains soaked in obscurity.

I bet, however, that we aren’t supposed to read too deeply into the connection between The Waste Land and What are the Roots that Clutch, Patrick McGinley’s latest work under the Murmer guise. When considered out of its original poetic context, the title is an all-too-perfect image of McGinley’s music, which is primarily composed of the field recordings he captures in various locales around the world. Not unlike the plight of Thomas Köner, McGinley pays homage to the inhospitable environs of our planet, with ears intuitively honed to the slightly crooked drone that spouts somewhere far off in the distance.

Like The Waste Land, the works cited for What are the Roots… remains obscure, the liner notes revealing that the first, third and fifth parts were “composed from found sounds, found objects, and live room feedback,” while the second and fourth are of “unmanipulated found sounds from Mooste (Estonia) & Dieppe (France), respectively.” The organ-like wheeze on the fifth and final part suggests something perhaps a bit more conventional, but McGinley’s been known to bend and blur the edges of his recordings, making them all the more difficult to unfurl.

While it’s clear that What are the Roots… isn’t specific to a certain place, McGinley’s sounds coalesce to form his most provocative statement yet. The opening, nearly 20-minute piece begins with silence, then is sparked to life with the sounds of whipping winds and what might have been a fan belt on its last legs. Eventually, the sounds of frogs give way to unassuming tones that pulse and shift slightly in color, taunting with a calm as deceptive as the eye of a storm. The two unprocessed tracks on the album sound not unlike recordings from Yannick Dauby’s latest trip to Estonia that were immaculately showcased on the Lind, Raud, Astaajad release from earlier this year. McGinley produced two tracks of his own on that album, setting up this release of arcane sounds quite nicely.

Like all of McGinley’s obscure work as Murmer, the roots that clutch on these recordings won’t see the light of day, but that isn’t to say one shouldn’t invest the time to do a little digging.

By Adrian Dziewanski

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