LINE_062 | CD + Digital | limited edition of 500 | September 2013
Interior Field is a new stereo variation of a multi-channel sound work created from field recordings of a variety of small and large spaces from around the world. This work was originally presented at Civilian Art Projects in Washington, DC in 2012.
Through his compositional practice, Chartier utilizes the unique physicality of these environments to create a newly defined acoustic space. Interior Field is a transposition of location, focus, and experience itself.
A significant element of “Interior Field (Part 2)” comes from binaural recordings at the McMillan Sand Filtration Site in Washington, DC. This unique historical site, built in 1905, is currently slated for almost complete demolition and redevelopment. Chartier was given special access to record at this site during a major rainstorm. Vast vaulted catacomb chambers with floor surfaces covered in four feet of sand create an unexpectedly deep acoustic field.
Interior Field is the follow up to Chartier’s critically acclaimed field recording work Fields for Mixing, released in 2010 on Room40 (Australia).
Interior Field (part 1) 36:22
Interior Field (part 2) 25:27
cover: Ontological Surveillance (Drone N-072613-8) detail, Archival ink jet print, 2013 by Robert Walden
Richard Chartier (b.1971), sound and installation artist, is considered one of the key figures in the current of reductionist electronic sound which has been termed both “microsound” and Neo-Modernist. Chartier’s minimalist digital work explores the inter-relationships between the spatial nature of sound, silence, focus, perception and the act of listening itself. Chartier’s sound works/installations have been presented in galleries and museums internationally including the 2002′s Whitney Biennial and he has performed his work live across Europe, Japan, Australia, and North America at digital art/electronic music festivals and exhibits. In 2000 he formed the recording label LINE and has since curated its continuing documentation of compositional and installation work by international sound artists/composers exploring the aesthetics of contemporary and digital minimalism. In 2010, Chartier was awarded a Smithsonian Institution Artist Research Fellowship to explore the National Museum of American History’s collection of 19th-Century acoustic apparatus for scientific demonstration.
Through his patented processing techniques Chartier transposes unique spatial settings into a hyperreal cloud of drones, crackles and fizzing electrical energies which challenge perceptions of where and what you're listening to. The 2nd part uses significant elements of binaural recordings made at the McMillan sand Filtration Site in Washington, DC (a unique historical site, built in 1905 and currently slated for demolition and redevelopment) during a major rainstorm, to great effect, masterfully shaping a foreboding and enigmatic 26 minute soundfield with a slowly evolving sense of underlying melodic progression.
Rattlesnakes ooze out the poison of increasing white noise. Fangs of a different nature echo out the dark thunder of a stuttering growl caught in the throat. The vibrations shimmer as much as they hover, creeping forward with a sense of purpose behind their sluggish momentum. Staccato stabs of subterranean bass beam out like a lost SOS signal stuck on a faded loop that has long been left abandoned.
A tidal roar of static thunders through the sound barrier, carrying on its turbulent, sky-stretched wings a sonic boom that, seconds later, shoots out a thousand drops of rain. The rain subsides and then fails, but the sodden ground shakes with the padded rhythm of a minotaur; a steady, throbbing pulse that is of indeterminate origin. Interestingly, the vague mystery as to the origin contrasts sharply with the detailed, meticulous clarity of sound. The frequencies glide through as if the recorded space were a slim veil between the spheres of the third and fourth dimension.
Interior Field is a multi-channel sound work that had its premiere at Civilian Art Projects, Washington DC. Densely layered, the varying tones and squirming frequencies are measured in fine, microscopic degrees. It is never saturated or dunked in abrasive texture, although the fangs that hiss during “Part I” are suitable carriers for its high-pitched venom.
Ethereal strands of harmony are to be found between the archways of found sound and experimental noise, with beautiful ambient-led passages that focus in on Chartier’s skill at leading the listener on a compelling journey. While tape loops survive and thrive on expectation, it is impossible to know what is next when faced with Chartier’s sound design. Chartier’s relatively recent collaboration with William Basinski, Aurora Liminalis, shot thin lights of harmony out of a clouded cauldron, although this could put down to Basinski’s gorgeously anchored presence on the record. Left alone to explore the space, Interior Field is less of a sedate listen – although there are peaceful sections – and more an experimental nest of subtle activity.
For Richard Chartier, the devil is in the detail. The frequencies of the Interior Field are constructed out of living spaces; a series of field recordings taken inside both small and large spaces, fused together so as to shape a living, breathing tomb of sonic architecture. Split into two sections, the sound of Interior Field is beautifully developed, smooth curves vanquishing the possible outbreak of abrasive texture. The deep, cavernous rumble is a rock of noise that sheds the skin of safety, replacing it with susceptibility that still clings tightly to curiosity – it will keep you engaged.
The second part, recorded at the McMillan Sand Filtration Site in Washington DC, cycles through the deeper levels of industrial sound, kicking up fine grains of bass like untouched pebbles of dirt. Described as ‘a unique historical site’, the building is slated for demolition and a seismic redevelopment. It’s the sound of an interior in flux, its life coming to a close. The deeper bass almost sweats out apprehension as it continues to chug along. The groaning sound of the building is absorbed into its very walls, to be forever etched in history. Yet, counter-balancing the anxiety is the calming influence of rain. Recorded during a rainstorm, the music of the air tickles crisply, sharply, conceiving their own well-articulated rhythms. Placed together, Interior Field is the sound of a successful co-existence, hugged tightly into one space. Only then will it surrender its secrets.
Presented in two long-form pieces, Interior Field continues Chartier's penchant for creating intensely hushed, understated sound art that at times teeters into silence. My first listening to the album was via headphones in a moderately busy café, and I could tell I was missing something. Listening again at home in almost pure silence, a multitude of sound was lurking beneath the surface. Unlike the work of Bernhard Günter, Chartier's work can be appreciated without the requirement of full silence and concentration, it is just not completely realized unless it stands on its own.
The first piece opens with a desolation that feels far more empty and isolated than any of his other works, almost as if there is not the slightest bit of humanity around. Because of this, the recordings take on a disconnected, other worldly quality that makes them much harder to visualize as being anything either in nature or caused by humankind. In other places, there is sound like distant, reverberated fireworks or popping bubble wrap that, with the environmental characteristics they take on a far more sinister character than they should.
At times throughout the lengthy composition, processed recordings of various tones sneak through, a consistency with his work on other recent albums, but the bleak mood never goes away. Shrill, high frequency segments arrive and, even with their low volume levels are undeniable and commanding, as is the occasionally dissonant glitch swipe here or there. Some other moments are mundane (one portion instantly sounded like an amplified recording of a hard drive spinning), and others exotic: the ambience later on has a mechanical, factory type feel to it to truly be describable as "industrial".
Speaking of industry, most of the second piece is based upon binaural recordings at the McMillan Sand Filtration Site in Washington DC, which is marked for demolition some 100-plus years since its construction. Perhaps it is because of this specific location’s limitations, but the second piece is more constant, and does not go through as many changes and evolutions as the first did. Recorded during a significant rainstorm, the constant sound of water becomes a textural element that, even when tones and other noises appear, makes for the more significant facet of this composition.
It is that differing approach to these two pieces that makes the album as a whole so engaging. With the first portion sounding constantly in motion, shifting from place to place and time to time, it allows for a lot of experimentation and evolution to appear. The second, however, is strengthened by its static nature, allowing each part to build and expand and truly setting a mood to be absorbed, albeit a cold and isolated one. Chartier is a rather prolific artist, and he should be commended for his inability to stick to one single approach to sound art. The material that bears his name certainly has commonalities and a consistently high level of quality, but each stands on their own, and this dark, haunting disc is no different.
Site-specific work rendering architecture pliable while at the same time telling its very solid history. Los Angeles artist Richard Chartier originally presented Interior Field as an installation for Civilian Arts Projects in Washington, DC., combining field recordings made all over the world. The surround effect may have been engrossing in situ, but it works subtley and superbly as an at-home stereo experience, redefining itself as it redefines inside, outside and in-between. "Part 1" creaks and judders into being before spreading foggily. "Part 2" contains recordings made during a rainstorm at the McMillan Sand Filtration Site, a hundred-year-old water treatment plant arrestingly landscaped by architect and wildlife conservationist Frederick Law Olmstead, Jr., that local citizens are battling to save from partial demolition. The pock-pock of the raindrops has a tactile report as satisfying as bursting bubblewrap.
Originally exhibited in 2012 at the center gallery of Civilian Art Projects, an art gallery in Washington DC, "Interior Field" is a multi-channel sound work that renowned American sound-artist Richard Chartier, who can be considered a sort of tightrope walker between silence and sound as he seems to focus on the threshold of perception by his intriguing releases and installations, assembled from field recordings of a number of small and large spaces he explored by means of contact mics around the world. His peculiar approach to sound, which persuaded many followers of the genre to consider him a key figure of the so-called reductionist microsound electronic music, a branch of minimalism where properly musical elements got somehow hidden or gradually emerge from found sounds or field recordings, so that the consequent engaging listening experience requires concentration and manages to channelize a conscious involvement into it. This stereophonic adaptation confirms Chartier's good reputation and his strategy to pull music out from his palette of sonic captures: the first of the two parts this 65-minutes lasting work has been split is a perfect assay of the above-mentioned reductionist approach as after a number of immersive and sinuous twines of droning field recordings, sine waves and magnetic hissing, Richard subtly achieves an almost celestial tone, while on the second half, which features some binaural recordings at the McMillan Sand Filtration Site in Washington DC, an impressive historical site, built in 1905, whose characteristic acoustic properties come from its diagram and the catacomb-like underground cells and sand filters for water from the Potomac River, musical elements (mainly more or less stretched single tones) sound like crawling and fading over the cryptic sonic grid that a rainstorm caused inside this site where Richard awaited together with his mics.
The drone endures.
Something within us reliably and consistently responds to a continuous periodic waveform, whether it be through the spirituality of Indian classical musics, didgeridoo, bagpipes, Japanese Gagaku, or the inevitable reworkings, reinterpretations, and resurgences of that much maligned, and predominantly digital genre, “ambient”, or “drone ambient”, or one of several sub-divided nomenclatures that stakes a claim in the name of dronal progress.
Richard Chartier’s sonic treatments have seen the artist’s career spanning an arc from early digital manipulation , through to the defiantly monochromatic near-silences of works such as Two Locations, and Of Surfaces, demarcating artistic terrain only previously explored by micro-sonic evangelist, and Chartier contemporary, Bernhard Gunther. Chartier’s most recent recordings, mainly in collaboration with the likes of Robert Curgenven, Yann Novak, and long-time compadre, William Basinski, have seen him very much at home, basking in the warm and cosy glow of lush, and layered minimalist drone workouts. These slowly evolving, enveloping tracts gently cycle and meander through tight, sweeping frequency variations, aural washes, that are the audible corrolary of the Colour Field artists of the early 1970′s. Within this territory, and through sheer tenacity, and precision craftsmanship, Chartier has inevitably become one of the genre’s acknowledged masters, which no doubt comes with it’s own baggage in terms of career development. At times, it appeared that he had, like Ryoji Ikeda, and Carsten Nicolai (a.k.a. Alva Noto) become boxed in by his trademark sound, leaving little or no room for expansion or experimentation, a slave to a characteristic sound and modus operandi that had become exclusively his. More recently, (or perhaps more obviously) Chartier has dabbled with field recording , with a foray on Australia’s Room 40 imprint, entitled, A Field For Mixing. This release saw Chartier exploring and breaking out of the taut, pared-down dronescapes that so characterised his work, and step out into daylight, sampling and treating sounds from various locations around the globe, and incorporating them into his oeuvre.
Whilst field recording has enjoyed a steady following over the last few years, it still remains very much in the margins, being championed and celebrated only by luminaries such as Chris Watson and Alan Lamb, both of whom have enjoyed success from their idiosyncratic approach to the genre. Indeed, the genre has now become somewhat overpopulated, with everyone who owns a digital hand recorder, disappearing off into the wilderness to record birdsong, mountain streams, or all manner of naturally occuring sonic ephemera. This population explosion has, to some extent hindered the genre, with a glut of artists mimicking each others’ work, transforming what was once unique and special into vapid cliché.
On Interior Field, Chartier fuses location recordings and other found sounds with drones and tone clusters, a rich textural field that is enriched both by the source of the recordings, and the stark, severely reduced cover artwork by Robert Walden. Chartier selects, (perhaps rather tellingly) the McMillan Sand Filtration Site in Washington DC as his main locus for investigation. Perhaps the fact that the site once specialised in removing sand and foreign bodies from the DC water supply to ensure it’s purity, is an obvious, symbolic manifestation of Chartier’s approach. Looking very much like the Roman cistern in Istanbul, the site is a starkly enigmatic monument to moving water. Indeed, Chartier cleverly intersects the sound of rainfall with the internal resonances and reverberations of the site itself, lending much of the work a gritty, visceral , at times violently expansive atmosphere. Tonalities and silences, light and shade are very much the order of the day here, with much of this highly reduced soundscape peppered with eerie interventions, clanks and grindings that are in some ways subtly informed by the Industrial music of the early 1990’s. This subtly “amped up” sound is a bold move for Chartier, here clearly setting out his stall for future work. The second half of the recording oscillates around the staccato pointillism of rainfall itself. Chartier shifts his recording equipment around the site, closing in, and close-miking various surfaces and ambiences, documenting the clatter of water on concrete, or it’s gentle traverses and rivulets dripping from brutalist architecture. Here, the stochastic sounds of rainfall are taken through various frequencies and EQ shifts, an exploration of colour and texture, that is indeed reminiscent of Gunther’s classic LINE masterpiece, Monochrome White. Chartier’s vision, though is less gauzy, less evanescent, and Interior Field serves to map all of the sonic nuances yielded by the filtration site, in some ways paying homage to it’s past, and it’s processes. Overall, I would hesitate to say that this is something of a transitional piece for Chartier, with all the hallmarks of quality and precision that we have come to expect from the man and his works. I look forward to the next step. Highly recommended.
(White Line, UK)
The most notable thing about Richard Chartier’s latest is that it starts with so many organic sounds. The naturalism is startling given his repertoire often focusing on severe, digital minimalism. For Interior Field, Chartier used field recordings from a variety of spaces both large and small around the world. The triangulation of location, focus, and experience informs the often haunting aesthetic of the album, about an hour of sound split into two halves. Fair warning that to best experience the album, I highly recommend a good set of headphones in a quiet space. I was not able to really appreciate the complexity and range of its sounds with my windows open (although one might argue that the environment outside merely adds another layer to the listening experience) or on my open monitors, where a conspicuous fan in my amp dominated over the subtleties of Chartier’s arrangements.
Part one starts with unusual concrete sounds that at first resemble water drops on a surface… or is that the creaking of wood? The ambiguity of the source of the sound is at first curious and then fascinating. Even the sedate drones that underpin the front end of the piece feel more organic in nature, as if they are environmental or contact sounds that have been manipulated and pitched down. Fans of Chartier’s knack for sculpting minimal microtonal drones will not be disappointed, though — he delivers that in spades here, building on the more acoustic sounds that start things off and then forming a subtly undulating fabric of sonic threads. Sine waves, hums, hiss, and tiny drones all shift shape as gradually as they originally come into focus. They share the same drowsy, slow morph of his Recurrence album released last year, but the end effect and atmosphere are distinctly different. Chartier’s sleight of hand is more refined than ever here, with gradual changes in sound that seem so effortless they are almost unnoticeable at first. By the time I realize the sound has evolved, it’s in a totally different place and shape from where it started; that sort of slow motion is not easy to achieve. The earthiness of Chartier’s arrangements here reminds me at times of the grimy, post-industrial landscapes of David Lynch and Alan Splet’s Eraserhead soundtrack. The second segment of the first half has a more overt rhythm to the sound, like moving parts patiently working in tandem, before settling back into a more comfortable, continuous low hum. (I can’t fully do the music justice in writing about it here — there is something special about Chartier’s ear and abilities to finely design sound that really resonates here.)
The second half of the album picks up where the first left off, although it feels like somewhat of a corollary to the broader arc of the first part. I say this because while it shares the same combination of natural texture and drones and atmosphere, it is far more subtle and more even than the front half. Continuous, steady rain provides the texture throughout most of the track, along with quiet, low drones that come and go even more subtly than in the first track. The distinction between the two is I suppose like comparing two swatches in a greyscale: relatively different, but only on a micro level. However, they combine to form yet another stunning entry in Chartier and Line’s respective discographies. It’s nice to hear him working with field recordings in a way that feels so entirely different than a sound recordist like Chris Watson. Watson aims to preserve and emphasize the source material in as meticulous and pronounced ways as possible, whereas Chartier uses his recordings to help create a broader sound that seems more concerned with space and tone in nuanced and various ways rather than then a focused fascination on the source itself. Highly recommended.