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Well, Karel comes across as both the Gregory Bateson of EAI [Bateson was immensely popular with myself and the non-anthropology students I hung out with, his meta-koans perfect for our stoned, close attentions], and, perhaps more apposite, much like verite film documentarians who make you intimate with previously unknown worlds. In this sometimes thrumming, sometimes plangent sound world, sentience and science cross fade; animal cries and yelling humans, the mechanized rhythm of an MRI [a claustrophobia-inducing sound many of us are familiar with], the ambiences of academia. The phototonics lab [track 5] evokes the industrial drones of Eraserhead.

Then there are the animal labs. Does Karel realize this intention here? Splendidly, to my ears. There is immense serenity, dark and unsettling goings on, and the simple hum of efficiency captured in these five pieces. These are environments previously unmet, fully alive and frequently mysterious. As for Karel's editing, the shaping of these unprocessed sounds recalls Truman Capote's line, I believe more in the scissors than I do in the pencil.

Heard Laboratories is a strong statement, released by a strong label committed to documenting artists who hear music in their own, immediate spheres. But as Reading Rainbow host Levar Burton said, following every endorsement of the children's books he presented to his young audience- You don't have to take my word for it You might find a whole other set of concerns arise, including how is this music?


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Should the documentarian be neutral in those rooms? Or none of these.

And I didn't miss the trumpet once. Jesse Goin. Before we go anywhere let me say that its a disc by Ernst Karel, who recently had a release on the Cathnor label so you can all bear that in mind when you read my thoughts on it, as if that makes any difference to anything, but there you go, the usual caveats in place. While much of the work Karel is best known for is improvisation, most commonly with various forms of electronics and the occasional trumpet, the five tracks here are I guess, a form of field recording.

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He has in fact made some good quality recordings of various laboratories found in Harvard University. Holding a pair of stereo mics in his hand he has walked around from room to room capturing mostly non-human sounds, and they are then presented here without any processing. This CD raises all kinds of questions for me. First of all, it often sounds very musical. Now, when we hear field recordings of a roaring sea, or a babbling brook, or the wind in the trees full of twittering birds we naturally find the sounds beautiful, often musical. Its interesting here then that I find the sound of the laboratories, all groaning machines, humming, whistling, fizzing sounds with the odd sign of human activity, a crash of instruments, a running tap, a ringing telephone, the occasional voice, just as musically captivating.

I find myself placing these sounds into the context of instrumental parts.

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While there has been some editing of the recordings take place, and we do get the occasional abrupt cut from one room to the next what we hear is mostly just what can be heard in the laboratory, rooms that the common man does not often get to hear. What are all those strange noises? What do those machines do? Why am I connecting one sound to the next and enjoying the way they seem to bounce off of one another? The detailed notes on the sleeve do give some context to each of the recordings here, describing the particular laboratory and what is researched within. Does my translation of these sounds into music insult the work done in these laboratories?

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Why do I find this stuff interesting on this level? The questions I ask about the music are thrown into particular disarray with the middle track of the five here, which is partly recorded in the Cognitive Evolution Laboratory, a room that uses tamarin monkeys as a key part of the research. So during the track we hear the squeaks and chatter of the caged monkeys.

There is no suggestion reading the notes that the animals are actually placed under any distress in this room, but of course the sounds we hear on this track take on an extra meaning. I find myself wondering if it is right for me to be enjoying the recording as a piece of music given the sounds on the recording. Do we have a moral obligation to not enjoy these sounds as much as others? Is it right to consider these sounds in the same way as we consider the hum of a fridge or the buzz of an MRI scanner? So I find myself wondering why Ernst Karel chose this particular source of sounds to make this album.

Certainly there is a fine array of vaguely electronic sounding noises on display, and the resulting recordings do sound quite close to his improvisation. Is the choice of the laboratory a decision made on purely sonic interest grounds though? Or are we just meant to receive the recordings as examples of interesting abstracted sonic environments?

If we consider these recordings purely as a collection of found sounds then this is a thoroughly interesting CD. If though, as I am finding myself doing, we consider the source of the sounds, and those chattering monkeys in cages in particular, then a whole new set of considerations come into play regarding this disc. Richard Pinnell. I imagine we've all been in situations where the sound environment is so overtly full and rich that we pause and linger, absorbing the waves, wallowing in the mass of sound.

I recall, long before I had any notion of "field recordings", leaning against the engine housing of the Block Island ferry, imbibing the deep, complex thrum, losing myself to the vibrations felt through the metal. Generally, at least in discs that have happened my way, musicians tend toward subtler territory, sounds that tinge the aural space instead of saturating it. Not Karel. The recordings here are unprocessed, taped in various scientific and medical laboratories at Harvard, though I suspect they're often layered atop one another perhaps not!

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