Live at Fort Process
Chocolate Monk Cd-r
Capturing sounds from a site-specific performance for physical (or digital) release may seem like a scanty sonic shadow of an event built around presence and place.
Yet as this set from the Fort Process festival shows, such recordings can also offer a new incarnation for the work, with the absence of the original site inviting listeners separated by time and geography to restage the event in their own imaginative spaces.
Slow Listener is the alias of Robin Dickinson, resident in Newhaven, East Sussex. Like many of the other performances and installations at Fort Process, Dickinson’s 2018 set responds to the architecture and history of the festival venue, the town’s 19th century fort. Built into a hill at the mouth of the river Ouse, it’s original purpose as a defence for the East Sussex port town continued through two world wars, with subsequent years of disuse followed by renovation as a museum.
Such decades of age and neglect weigh heavily on the samples taken around the site that open Slow Listener’s set. Although there’s no sense of the live ambience itself here, the lingering reverb accompanying each scrape and clank of metal against stone evokes spaces and surfaces richly charged with history. Layered and panned, the low moans and grumbles build to a pattern that Dickinson says in his sleevenotes may resemble the building’s breath, but which also echo the motion of sea waves. Yet the rhythm remains unstable and disrupted by glitchy edits, establishing a pervasive undercurrent of disquiet.
Previous Slow Listener releases summoned blurry, ambiguous imagery from murky samples and degraded tapes. Here, the pitches start to warp and rise, taking on a tremulous vocal quality, yet hovering in an undefinable zone between building and occupant. Eventually, the human realm dominates as the tones sharpen into Morse code-like pulses and the measured cadences of the BBC’s Shipping Forecast emerge. Although an almost overfamiliar reference point, sampled by everyone from The Prodigy to Manfred Mann, the forecast’s use here resonates with Newhaven fort’s location: on boundaries of land and sea, of inward protection and outward surveillance, a node of reassurance and tension, waiting and breathing.
The Wire April 2019