Reviews and pictures from Sietse's record collection
Simon Whetham somehow appeared on my radar about two years ago. Since I have been trying to keep up with his work a bit. And I can say this is really satisfying. Specially when his CD Unheard Prayers dropped in. Not that this is really happy music, as it is totally the opposite, but we will get to that in a bit.
Whetham is a musician whose music is in the vague field of micromusic, drones, field-recordings and minimalism. Though, somehow he knows to stand out of most of the other music released in this field. This mainly has to do with his use of strings in certain pieces. His work can be found on labels such as Entr’acte, Mystery Sea, Install, Trente Oiseaux and many others.For his first release on incredible Dragon’s Eye Recordings he presents us a work that was inspired by a 4 day stay in Krakow where he was attending for a live perfomance at Audio Art. During his visit Whetham stayed in the Kazimierz area of Krakow, which is the old Jewish area during the Second World War. This area is now mainly know because the Nazis turned it into the Jewish ghetto during occupation. This place still breaths the air of this horrible time.
Inspired by this area Whetham started composing music.
The CD has three pieces of music on it and starts out with Part One (An Uncertain Distance), which is build up from unrecognizable field-recordings creating a haunting atmosphere. We hear scratching of metal, weird pops, the humming wind, radio statics and more. The recordings are very well chosen to start this CD.
The second piece is Part Second (Paths, Crossing) is the longest of the three pieces. And not only the longest, it is also the one with most variation. At first we hear those field-recordings again, quietly. Slowly the volume increases and the first signs of (synthesized) strings appear, sad strings I must say. The sad heavy tones are in contrast with the recordings of birds singing their song. These birds amplify the feeling as they have been the innocent bystanders all the time, not aware of all atrocities done to the Jewish people.
While the strings fade the birds stay and new field-recordings are added. Soft drones of distant traffic and ventilation while there are the sounds of people working and talking. We get some time to rest, though a sadness stays.
Again we return to the part where strings slowly fade in, this time as if they are playing in the room next door. Sad and slow. And after that again drones on the lower scale, but also soft piercing tones. A great piece which tells us so much. It breathes the area, you can feel the atmosphere as if it is surrounding you.
In the last piece Part Third (The Chamber) is more dense with thick layers of humming ventilation sounds and dripping water. Though in the end we get a piece again where very soft strings are playing while we hear cars passing by. It is as if we are taking a step away. Time fades away, slowly erasing history from this place.
Simon Whetham presents us something really special here, something that reminds us of the past. It is a damn fine piece of work showing a really good way field-recordings can be combined with classical music elements, something we do not hear very often.
Listen to Part Second (Paths, Crossing) through the Dragon’s Eye Recordings website.
Prayers Unheard was released on CD-R limited to 200 (sadly enough sold-out at the source, but maybe google can get you to some obscure webshop still selling it). Though, I heard rumors about a possible vinyl reissue. But if this will ever happen. Let’s hope it does.