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Reviewed by:
  • Phonographies—Glasgow, Frankfurt, Exeter
  • Mark Wagy
John Levack Drever : Phonographies—Glasgow, Frankfurt, Exeter Compact disc, Soundmarked SM754-03CD, 2003; available from Sounding; electronic mail; Web

In Phonographies, John Levack Drever guides the listener through a sonic interpretation of three cities: Glasgow, Frankfurt, and Exeter. Mr. Drever has composed each of these soundscape pieces in a way that tells a non-linear narrative of their respective cities of origin. Instead of leading the listener on a tour and showing the features of a city consecutively, he uses the power of recording and editing to split the trip into brief impressions that all contribute to a holistic experience of a city's sounds and character that could not have been achieved with a linear narrative.

The first major piece on the recording is an exploration of the sounds of Glasgow. It starts with the white noise of car tires on pavement that seem to mimic the calming lull of ocean waves, but the illusion does not last long as the sounds of squeaking tires and sounds of street-talk, yelling and whistling, and a man speaking about Jesus Christ and the British Parliament take over, interrupted by the distant sound of amplified voices. After nearly five minutes of street noises are introduced as a meditation on recorded sound, Mr. Drever's influence is injected in a series of clearly altered or synthesized sonic events that bring the first section of the piece to a climax.

The second section takes the listener to sea with the sounds of foghorns seemingly communicating in their husky wails, only to be contrasted heavily with the altered, mechanized sounds originating from an unrecognizable machine that morphs into a departing subway. This part of the piece relies on a high metallic ring to carry the piece from one stop to the next in the aptly titled "Underground" section. Something unsettling and eerie about the texture reminds the listener of the darkness and isolation of a cave-like underground atmosphere, invoking an emotional reaction to the rich sense of ambiance that the composer so skillfully employs in all of his works.

In the next piece, Sound-Marked: Frankfurt, Mr. Drever uses binaural microphones to relay a lifelike feeling of the city of Frankfurt. Starting from the banks of the river Main, the listener is eased into the old town with various voices speaking in German over the bells of nearby churches. The sounds of bicycles, folk songs, and organs lure the listener into a true feeling of being in the center of this famed German city despite offbeat references to the "Star Spangled Banner" and Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Don't Cry For Me Argentina," to name just a few of the disjoint musical passages the listener is exposed to over the course of the piece. Sound-Marked grows from the soft lap of the Main and close intimate speech to a crescendo of sirens, bells, and the clamor of a marching band transposed on discordant singing and shouting. It is the traditional character of Frankfurt invoked by the sounds of bells and folk songs contrasted with the modern, generic sounds of sirens, cars, and techno music that could be any city that make this piece as lush as it is, capturing the true contrasts between Frankfurt's distinct traditional and contemporary features.

Mr. Drever saves the longest and most mature piece for last: Phonographies of Exeter. The listener is led into the piece with a building drone, the sounds of birds, water, and a distant plane. He takes us into civilization with barking dogs, a baby's voice, and footsteps—staying close to the aural environment of a day at the beach, only to be contradicted by the crowing of roosters and a swift change to shouting and music that is characteristic of a fair. Crowds cheering on the acceleration of a steam engine train, a sports reporter on the radio, and a marching band lead the listener into a cacophony of sound that stands in drastic contradistinction to the somber section that marked the beginning of the piece. The composer superimposes the pouring of rain with the sound...


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pp. 98-99
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