Sound artist Tomoko Sauvage adds the gorgeous, elemental waterbowl recordings of Musique Hydromantique to a wonderful run of 2017 releases on Félicia Atkinson & Bartolomé Sanson's Shelter Press. Quite possibly the most soothing hour of music you'll experience all year
It will become hard to believe once you’ve heard it, but all sounds on the LP were improvised with acoustic technique and recording - meaning no electronics, edits or overdubs - whilst they effectively sound like the microtonal output of some unique, natural synthesiser affected by subtle variables such as temperature, architecture, humidity and human presence. If Philip Corner and Eliane Radigue ever made a record together, it may well sound like Musique Hydromantique.
Using a set-up of hydrophones (underwater mics) and porcelain bowls filled with varying amounts of water, developed by the artist over the better part of this decade, Musique Hydromantique forms a meditative, experimental study in rhythm and pitch which resonates with gamelan and ancient divination techniques as much as it does with minimalist modern electronics. The results are utterly captivating in their fluid timbres and plaintively plangent structure, rendering the elusive, ever-changing and hypnotic phenomena of moving water in three diverse states or sonic sculptures that patently demonstrate a deep, underlying and innate connection between the performer, her medium, and the listener.
Clepsydra - meaning ‘water clock’ - most closely resembles a form of gamelan practice, or, even some form of minimal electronic music. For ten minutes she renders a series of exquisitely variegated sonic glyphs gestured from her struck bowls and hands changing the quantities of water, and by extension, the pitch of each bowl. Tomoko makes a real virtue of everyday sounds, resulting in a time-dilating passage of smooth glissandi, elegantly unshackling our internal clocks from the anticipation of quantised convention.
Fortune Biscuit follows in a very different style. Here, the brownian flow yields a remarkable micro-ecology of sounds that almost mimic animals, cyborganic mechanisms and insect choruses, yet they were entirely generated by a piece of porous terra cotta (biscuit) dipped into water. The scuttling patterns are perhaps understandable in that context, but we’re utterly baffled how they also make those pealing, arcing harmonic partials. In the final, 20 minute piece, Calligraphy those techniques serve to gel and diffuse her water-based sounds in even more bewildering fashion, as she employs the 10 second reverbs of an old textile factory to render her delicate, subaquatic sounds in a play of fractious drips, haptic rubs and their resonant feedback, feeling to melt time entirely and open a tranquil space for divination of your own senses in between those perceptions of time and tone.
This is a record that seems to have been designed to promote ultimate well being, it will completely engulf and subsume your senses and keep your attention rapt from start to finish. And we'd echo Tomoko's request that you listen to it at the start or end of the day for optimal results - far healthier than a spliff or night cap and will set your mood like some kind of ancient tuning fork.