Can human-made music become part of the natural soundscape? That is the essential question being asked by the 21-piece Splinter Orchestra on this three-album set, and to these ears they come up with an emphatic affirmative, especially on the first disc.
En route to Adelaide from Sydney the band stopped in the Mungo National Park in the far west of New South Wales, and recorded on a dry lake bed. The two improvisations on the first disc, Sunrise, were recorded at dawn by two fixed stereo microphones, around which the players moved continuously, so their instruments come in and out of focus, while the sound of footfalls, birds and insects intersect with the sparse, almost unobtrusive instrumental sounds.
For the second disc, Sunset, the modus operandi reversed, to become one of the orchestra being stationary (in a vast 1869 woolshed) with two “microphonists” moving among them, thereby making aesthetic decisions about which sounds to pull into the foreground. The music is slightly denser, yet also more abstract, while the final disc, Midnight, was recorded on a dirt airstrip, with the players responding to a pulsing bicycle light in the desert blackness.
This is not large-scale improvisation as a free-for-all, but as a taut, disciplined exercise in restraint. It is also a response to the immediate environment, while still allowing fairly unfettered creativity and interaction. Avoiding self-conscious contributions to the soundscape is crucial, and these players (who include such exceptional improvisers as Jim Denley, Laura Altman, Peter Farrar, and Cor Fuhler) mostly succeed on that score. The music’s very minimalism may alienate some listeners, but those who fully engage will be transported, not just in a spatial and environmental sense, but almost into another way of listening.