Jana Winderen & Natasha BarrettThe World Space

Reviews 07.10.2021

One comes from sculpture, the other from acousmatics; the former is interested in exploring the inaudible phenomena of nature, the latter in the unheard phenomena of sound. Jana Winderen and Natasha Barrett have in common that they use field recording as an unparalleled storyteller.

Jana WInderen's Ocean of Sound

Originally, the Norwegian Jana Winderen (born in 1965) originally intended to devote herself to sculpture. After studying science (mathematics, chemistry, biochemistry and fish ecology) in Oslo, she left to obtain her art degree at the prestigious Goldsmiths College in London. But very quickly, she no longer wanted to create objects: concerned about minimising her carbon footprint, this daughter and granddaughter of convinced ecologists did not want to clutter up the world any more, but rather to "work with this immaterial material that is sound", as she explained last May for Forbes. Of course, she has not completely stopped producing objects: her CDs are published, like those of Chris Watson, by the British label Touch, a choice land - along with its Austrian alter ego, Editions Mego - for patent field recordists. But at least the sound travels: "One of the reasons to work with sound is that it allows you to reach a wider audience. I produce small objects, but with them I can reach many people. For me, it's important to be able to tell you the story, so that you can tell it in turn..."

The narrative dimension is essential in the way Jana Winderen composes her pieces, whether they are records or sound installations. This also brings her closer to her elder brother Chris Watson, with whom she has collaborated on several projects in the past, and with whom she has in common the fact that she has made field recording the exclusive material of her work - and "environmental" field recording in particular. Environmental, in the sense that both are mainly concerned with capturing the sounds of the biosphere, in natural environments rarely frequented by man, or even almost inaccessible.

In the case of Jana Winderen, who has been fascinated by the ocean since childhood, these spaces are first and foremost those of the ocean floor. Invisible topographies, worlds inaudible to the common ear, hidden from view. Thus the Norwegian has, by dint of criss-crossing the globe, become a master of the hydrophone, which she manages to immerse at a depth of 90 metres. Thus the story she is keen to convey is the not very happy one of the Anthropocene and the growing fragility of the marine ecosystem; the ravages caused, for example, by the noise pollution from the increasing number of boats plying the seas... But rather than denouncing, Jana Winderen's main aim is to create. After much research, study and documentation. If she trained in marine biology, it was to be able to dialogue with the scientists who would help her prepare her expeditions (expeditions which, themselves, sometimes contribute to advancing research on certain species). To the point of being able to distinguish the sound of a crab from that of a pistol shrimp - to quote two specimens of decapods, this species of crustaceans with five pairs of legs, generally scavengers, whose mysterious world inspired her first record, The Noisiest Guys Ont The Planet, released in 2009.

From the North Pole to Ghana, from the waters of the Orne to those of Panama, you can listen to the recordings on her website of the field trips she makes with the latest equipment: trips that are generally solitary, often adventurous, and which she describes as "a solitary process of intense concentration, constantly listening to what is going on and moving with what I hear". To Ed Benndorf and Tobias Fisher she referred to it as"a physical experience, climbing a glacier, being on a boat in the dark of night, awake while most people are sleeping...". Field recording has to do with waiting, the passage of time and our willingness to surrender to it.

Generally speaking, Jana Winderen is interested in hidden worlds beyond the seas. At the bottom of a crevice or an ant hill, under the ice of the ice floe or under the bark of a tree, in the mountains or in the forest, she likes to track down sounds that are beyond the reach of the ear and is fond of inaccessible places, those where, because she cannot see the origin of the sound, she records blind. Invisible but audible worlds. Listening to the way in which, in her records - let's mention the extraordinary Evaporation (2014) and Cloître (2017, a live duet with the electronic musician Thomas Köner) - or her immersive installations (it's the case to say it), she spatializes listening, arranging her field recordings in a series of layers, from the widest to the narrowest spectrum, one is reminded that Jana Winderen originally intended to devote herself to sculpture...

Natasha Barrett's space counterpoint

In contrast to Jana Winderen's work, the 'environmental' pieces by the British artist Natasha Barrett often have human presences. This does not mean, on the contrary, that one loses one's bearings less. Also living in Norway, where she settled more than 20 years ago, Natasha Barrett (born in 1972) also divides her work between composition and concerts, sound installations (sometimes monumental) and music for image, dance or theatre. However, she has a completely different background, as she comes from acousmatic music, which she studied in London and Birmingham - she was several times winner of the Bourges Electroacoustic Music Competition in the 1990s, among others. And her work extends far beyond field recording, encompassing acoustic, mixed and purely acousmatic pieces. Not to mention her work as a teacher and performer, since Natasha regularly "broadcasts" live works by other composers.

As with Jana Winderen, it's a question of place and time (the time that must be spent patiently and tirelessly recording before the miracle suddenly happens). But if the former is rather ambient, the latter would be rather... space. Natasha Barrett's work indeed explores, with rigour and a lot of finesse, all the possibilities of spatialized diffusion systems, and notably of the Ambisonic device. So much so that she has coined the notion of "spatial counterpoint"... Just as much as her colleague, on the other hand, the Briton is fond of stories. She likes to keep her listeners on the edge of their seats. Her music is just as narrative, but in a completely different vein. At once more fictional and more abstract, very cinematic. Michel Chion spoke of "sound shooting" to designate the sound recording; she often uses the term "sound exposure " to evoke her pieces. In any case, there is something of David Lynch and Stanley Kubrick in Innermost, the 20-minute piece she has just released on a shared disc with her elder sister Beatriz Ferreyra.)

Here, as is often the case with her work, it begins in a figurative, naturalistic way, with voices, the sounds of crowds or groups, often also the atmosphere of a Norwegian beach, of laughter and games. Then, little by little, the contours gradually change, expand and twist, the field recordings become malleable material, and it's as if we're entering another dimension - which is naturally amplified by the spatialization of the sound (even with headphones, the effect is striking). Natasha Barrett's music is haunted by many spirits, ghosts. By echoes of other music, and sometimes even of rhythms. Dark, eerie to the point of reminding us at times of her post-industrial compatriots Coil... Natasha Barrett's work is a very singular case of disturbing strangeness.

The same qualities - behind the quasi-gothic accents, an ultimately 'Ferrarese' poetry - can be found on disc 2 of his album Peat+Polymer (2014), entirely devoted to field recording, which presents pieces or soundwalks recorded between Peru, Norway and China :

In her fascinating Microclimates series, she starts from field recordings made during long stays in different places in western Norway, each source being simultaneously picked up by three microphones (one near, one far, the third in the middle). The landscapes are as if put in abyss, which seem to come alive, to split into two in our ears and even before our eyes... When they are not superimposed, as on Subliminal Throwback published last June, where Natasha Barrett mixes sound recordings made in winter and in summer. Like Microclimates, this work exists as both aninstallation and a sound piece. And the album itself offers three versions, including two recordings of the installation working in situ. The composer's intention is clearly stated: "to manoeuvre our 'listening' so that we can 'hear'...".

David Sanson

Photos Jana Winderen © Finnbogi Petursson
Photos Jana Winderen © Pali Nansusinha


buy twitter accounts