Release Date: February 1, 2014
Cover Art: Tiffany Lin, Steve Barsotti
Buy LP, at the Seattle Phonographers Union Site
- Building 27
Perri Howard, Steve Peters, Toby Paddock, Doug Haire, Jonathan Way, Dale Loyd, Pete Comley, Christopher DeLaurenti and Steve Barsotti.
Live Recordings: Steve Barsotti
Mastering: Nyberg Mastering
“On this LP, the SPU improvises inside Building 27 and WNP-5; these two remarkable acoustic environments not only transformed our field recordings, but guided these live, unedited improvisations. A decommissioned aircraft hangar at the former Sand Point Naval Air Station, Building 27 melds our sounds with audience footsteps and murmuring, along with, in quieter moments, birds, and nearby water. The unusual skittering slapback echo heard in WNP-5, part of an unfinished nuclear power station, results from gradually narrowing walls and tile-like surfaces inside the cooling tower; sound spirals upwards to the sky.” – Taken from the liner notes, by Christopher DeLaurenti
The Seattle Phonographers Union convenes to explore the ways of recognizing, differentiating, mapping and navigating sonic environments. They move beyond habitual experience of sound and uncover what is foreign in the familiar and familiar about the foreign; to explore what they hear and relearn what they know. Some sounds will be familiar; others less so. Both novel and familiar sounds will be juxtaposed in ways unique to each event. They investigate and enrich both their intuitive and analytical relationships with sound. The goal is not to excite, confuse or entertain per se, but to attend to the world, which is much more detailed and diverse than any one person’s perception of it.
Gapplegate Classical-Modern Music Review:
Perhaps many miles away from yesterday’s Bach Masses is the Seattle Phonographers Union and their Building 27 WNP-5 (Prefecture 009). And yet they are both part of a continuum in their own way, from the “staunchly classic” to the frankly experimental.
The Seattle Phonographers Union is a group of folks each with a laptop filled with field recordings. They perform in organically ambient enclosures, in this case two man-made buildings. One, Building 27, is a decommissioned aircraft hanger. The other, WNP-5, is a partially completed cooling tower for a nuclear power plant. Each has very distinctive, contrasting reverberation characteristics.
Each gets its own side on this resonant LP. The field recordings are chosen and EQ’d for playback in these marvelously ambient spaces. It is improvisational in that the players choose spontaneously what they see fit for the performance, in a way similar to Cage’s Variations IV where Cage and Tudor chose records in an improvisatory way to excerpt in real time for playback in the performance space. In the Seattle Phonographers case though the ambient environment at hand alters the sounds–be they those of cicadas, a steam hammer, or what have you, so that they are recognizable in various degrees, sometimes virtually impossible to pinpoint as to source with the transformations and combinations.
The results are fascinating, more noise that tone but all vaguely or even uneasily “natural” sounding as the sound sculptures evolve.
Is this music? Well by now that’s readily apparent for those immersed in avant guard doings over the years. Then, is it any good? Yes! As long as you don’t try to pin it down as to whether these are a group of budding Bachs or more ingenuous aural engineering compatriots. They are no doubt somewhere in between.
No matter how you scratch it (and since this is an LP, you try not to scratch it at all), the album makes for a study in exotic sound mixed in with the very familiar, which might include the footsteps of the audience in the space or birds flying overhead.
It fits in nicely with previous Prefecture releases, all of which in one way or another are concerned with “organic ambiance”. A blindfold test might well confuse and delight your adventurous friends. Others may not revel in it quite as much. It depends on what you know and how much you want to stretch your ears, I guess. I found it very stimulating.
A fourth album for The Seattle Phonographers Union, a group of sound artists specialized in the art of field recording. This LP (gorgeous gatefold sleeve) features two side-long improvisations performed in disused industrial sites with peculiar acoustics. What we hear is excerpts from the performers’ personal collections of field recordings played back in a spaces that would make great subjects for field recordings. This twin point of view adds richness to the performance. And the performers (among them Steve Peters, Dale Llyod and Christopher DeLaurenti) know when to let their recordings – and silence – speak. “Building 27” is a marvel.
The Vital Weekly:
Just like the release by the Namblard brothers, reviewed elsewhere, the LP by The Seattle Phonographers Union looks great: gatefold sleeve. And perhaps exactly why I say I like music on CD. Upon the first playing, one hear crackles on the vinyl, certainly with the more delicate nature of this kind of music. The Seattle Phonographers Union are a group of field recording activists, who gather around a table and do improvisations with their field recordings. A floating membership, I’d say, but I think it helps being from Seattle, or passing through. Here we find on Side A, Perri Howard, Steve Peters, Toby Paddock, Doug Haire, Jonathan Way, Dale Lloyd, Christopher DeLaurentini and Steve Barsotti, while on side B ‘just’ Lloyd, DeLaurentini, Barsotti and Pete Comley. Both sides were recorded in cavernous spaces, Building 27 (a decommissioned aircraft hangar at the former Sand Point Naval Air Station) and WNP-5 (part of an unfinished nuclear power station). Especially the latter sounds like a massive, empty space. The group has a few do’s and don’ts. No loops, edits or process, but EQ-ing is allowed. What the audience hears is what they hear – no monitors. Everybody brings recordings to the table and they are played and mixed together, just as an improvisation ensemble would do. ‘WNP 5′ is a particular dark beast. Most of the times hovering close to the ground, with a low end bass rumble, and occasionally some cicadas, all of which resonating in this big space. In ‘Building 27′ we start with some wind sounds close to the microphone, adding a chilly effect to a cold December morning here, but then slowly goes down into a no-mans-land, more bass rumble and more cicadas, but ends on a higher note than ‘WPN 5′. There is less natural reverb in this piece than on the other, which makes up a fine contrast between both pieces. I think I liked the ‘Building 27′ over the ‘WPN 5′ piece, moving through a bunch of textures, rather than staying in one place, which is what ‘WPN 5′ seemed to do more. Fine record!
The Stash Dauber:
The Seattle Phonographers Union is a cooperative ensemble that uses field recordings — either treated or raw — which are juxtaposed in live, unedited improvisation and affected by the spaces where the performances took place (in this case, a decommissioned aircraft hangar and an unfinished nuclear power station). The sounds they produced in Building 27 & WNP-5 reverberate and interact with the sounds of audiences and environments, building to crescendoes and receding to near-silence. The players are respectful of the spaces and each other, and the sounds they create ultimately take on a life of their own.
Read an interview with the artists here