Various Artists

The Aerial: A Journal in Sound, No. 2

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The second in an ongoing series of compilations on a boutique label that's distributed like a magazine, whose prerequisites are that the selected pieces must be unreleased elsewhere, under ten minutes, and generally "artsy." Furthermore, several of the tracks here benefit from the explanatory liner notes; they add a little more substance to some otherwise muddled compositions. David Dunn's piece in particular becomes more interesting once listeners identify what they're hearing: underwater insect recordings. The result is a steady, hushed symphony of clicks, something like stir-fried beetles on a sizzling skillet of root beer for over nine minutes. The piece "Nautilus" is equally ambiguous, though the soundscape has more variety; Annea Lockwood, Art Baron, and Paul Hoskin all seem to be staggering around in a cavernous room between conch shells, whirling hoses, dijeridoo, voice, kalimba, and other percussives, and the end result is barely more interesting than playing a sound-effect CD in shuffle mode. Another hyper-atmospheric track comes from Hildegard Westerkamp, who adds some cricket noise to a backdrop of ambient drones and gurgles of wood; of the three, this at least seems to carry the most emotional content and compositional arc. Jin Hi Kim takes an unorthodox approach to "the oldest known Korean instrument" in "Komungo Permutations." Her playing of the komungo is sampled, edited, and mixed into sparse, rumbling waterdrops of plucked strings, crawling through an atmosphere of mystery and reverence. Another engaging selection is Jeff Greinke's "Road to Solo," a spacious and meditative cluster of gongs, windchimes, bells, and bowls (or at least samples of them). Elsewhere on the compilation, Sue Ann Harkey bellows forth with vocals and harp guitar in "Is This the Year of the Snake," a sort-of Greek tragedy/folk/prog/experimental poem, and "Green Song" is a loosely improvised-sounding jazz/rock think-piece that weaves repetitively in circles. As an album, The Aerial, Vol. 2 requires patience, undivided attention, and an open mind. As a platform for obscure composers it deserves more attention than it gets, even if it's a bit rough around the edges.

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