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Joe Colley - Lonely Microphone

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Artist: Joe Colley

Album: Lonely Microphone

Label: Senufo Editions

Review date: Aug. 13, 2012

Approach Lonely Microphone as you would, say, a Chris Marker film. In Marker’s case, don’t box yourself in by thinking that Sans Soleil is a documentary. Likewise, don’t think of Lonley Microphone as just a collage of field recordings. Sure, Colley stitches together a montage of altered field captures (from traffic and railway clatter to water flowing and bird calls), shortwave noise and electro-acoustic phenomena, but such a list is only a taxonomy, not a complete description. What’s needed is a more oblique perspective.

It’s because Colley puts the microphone at the center of this work that the cinema parallel bears out. But it’s more a question of contrast: What does the microphone capture that the camera cannot? The ear is less literal than the eye. Colley’s impressionistic audio documentaries capture psychological states, not specific times or places. They get at what film cannot. We know that the camera is subjective, but the subjectivity of music is more intense.

    Because it really is necessary to film elemental things such as “a small patch of earth,” “a fingernail growing on the hand of a dead man,” “the drying up and subsequent recovery of a clump of glass,” and “the cleaning of a swimming pool” in order that the sensual impressions people have can at last appear on film. The obsession with meaning is what gets in the way. - Kluge

Colley shows that a purely sonic experience can break down this obsession with meaning. With just audio, we can’t be certain that we’re hearing, say, the cleaning of a swimming pool. Since we lack certainty, we fill in, extrapolate, imagine. We no longer wonder what Colley intended.

Instead we drift to what we think while we listen to these two sides of vinyl. What places do we conjure when we hear the far-off Doppler throb of traffic? What memories do we dig into? What happens mentally when the roaring, oscillating peak midway through Side B gives way to a microscopic cracking and calming ground hum? Do you panic? Get anxious? Feel purged? Find relief? This is a way of understanding without answers. Here there are only responses and questions.

By Matthew Wuethrich

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