Inumaki, Esuzaki by Ludwig Berger

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Ludwig Berger | Inumaki, Esuzaki
Vertical Music (CS/DL)

I have previously described Ludwig Berger as a field recordist with an unusual interest in apparently dull sounds, and as if to prove a point, he presents us here with a recording of a tree.  Not a lush, bustling forest, nor a windswept gully, not clever things being done to trees or instruments hung from trees but rather a single tree in isolation, curiously described here as ‘tree music’. But of course, trees are not dull and, as with other ‘pure’ nature sounds (I am thinking here of sea, wind, and such) this source offers a near infinite variety of articulation, though all rendered through the same, extremely limited palette. As a recording it is utterly monochrome, with Berger using only a contact mic to amplify the minor creaks of the tree, resulting in a sound world that is surprisingly reminiscent of a saxophone playing and endless stream of short bursts on a single note. 

I imagine it might be tempting to process such a recording in some way, but Berger is nothing if not restrained, and provides instead an hour long, unadulterated recording of this singular phenomena. Skip ahead to any point in the recording, and you will find it sounds nearly identical – there is no progression, no structure, nothing but that intermittent tone. It is here, however, that Berger’s dedication to his material pays off. Rather than obfuscating his source with all of the annoying and all too human interventions that a more egotistical composer would no doubt draw forth, by leaving us only with an extended recording of the naked tree – or near enough, the contact mic of course providing no small amount of colour – we are treated to the full range of subtle permutations that that creaking perennial is prone to. 

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Near infinite yet utterly microscopic changes abound – the length of each tone’s attack, slight fluctuations in pitch, minor trills, the spacing and dynamics, the strength of its release which, is irregularly accompanied by a sharp stop not unlike the release of a finger from the key of a wind instrument. Whilst these effects are subtle, it is the interlinked nature of them that makes for such a fascinating listen – no one effect occurs without bearing some relationship to several of the others, magnifying again the sheer scope of the instrument.  And an instrument it is – describing this as tree ‘music’ is not hyperbolic, for it is far closer, despite the lack of a composer, to being music than it is to being any form of field-recording. 

Inumaki Ezuzaki’ demands, first and foremost, that you buy into its concept. If the idea of listening to a tree for an hour seems perhaps pretentious or silly, then there is every chance that this is not a recording for your particular tastes. However, the strength of the album lies in its ability to so successfully articulate the inherent sonic interest in this sort of practice, and allows its listener to not only explore this particular source, but the very notion of subtle, microscopic variance in a manner that might just as easily be applied to other domains of the arts.

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