Kiyoshi Mizutani - Scenery of the Border, Environment and Folklore of the Tanzana Mountains [2005, and/OAR]
In the early eighties Mizutani was a member of Merzbow, but as you will hear on this collection, he has since grown far away from that group's (now of course the solo project of Masami Akita) hellish noise roller-coasters.
This is a double cd with field recordings collected from Mizutani's travels throughout the Tanzana mountain region on the island Honshu. Everything here is quiet, calm and meditation. As on a lot of environmental recordings it is the water and bird sounds that catch your hear immediately. That does not mean that we are talking hazy new age shit here. Rather repeated listenings raise all kinds of questions about sound, its attributes and functions.
On Scenery of the Border the sounds and, foremost, the silences between them make you realize that literally every sound source can become music. Of course you will be privy to this fact when you often open your ears to noise, industrial and musique concrète, all styles of music that, in a time of increased use of micro-tonality, are using silence as a constitutive part of the music.
What environmental sounds also have in common with noise and improvisation is that they are not composed as such. The chance of re-hearing these sounds is slight unto non-existent. The question can then be asked whether it is useful at all (let us for the sake of argument take for granted that listening to sound or music is useful) to listen to such a record more than once. Derek Bailey once said that recordings of improvisations (in a sense 'found sound' of its own) should be listened to once and then thrown away.
There is of course always an ironic element in musique concrète. Mostly it is constituted of sounds that are so common to us that we do no longer hear them, let alone listen to them. In a sense then environmental sounds give post-industrial man, estranged from nature as he is, the chance to experience nature in his living room.
What is more peculiar about this double set is the fact that, apart from the far-away song of a few devoted priests and a minute fragment of a village celebration, most of the time any trace of humanity is missing from these sound environments. It is as if mankind has been quietly and rapidly lifted from the face of the earth, leaving only the earth itself, the animals, the plants, the rivers and waterfalls to quietly murmur their ever continuing song, a song that was there long before the first human appeared on the planet.
You realize too that the objects and buildings that man has left behind (his factories and power plants and tunnels) will stop being of any use whatsoever shortly after mankind's disappearance. It also points out how little the actual percentage of human noise on this planet still is. We may be (to paraphrase Agent Smith) be breeding like a virus, but in the end the greater part of the earth's surface, uninviting as it is, is still completely unpopulated by human beings and, thus, unblemished by sound emanating from humans.
All these considerations - which I will concede are all truisms - bring to mind Keiji Haino's dictum that every artist should understand that in the beginning was not (as vulgarized through the Bible, in turn taking its cue from Greek - and thus western - philosophy) the word. Neither was it rhythm. Not at all: in the beginning was vibration. Pure sound was there a whole long time before anyone (or anything for that matter) ever uttered a single word. And it will be there long after the last word has died out.