Philip Samartzis – Atmospheres and Disturbances

Posted: 2 April 2023 in Albums
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Room40 – 14th March 2023

Christopher Nosnibor

You might describe this as a ‘technical’ album. I certainly would. Because much as it’s constructed using field records, the methodology behind it is, quite simply, not that straightforward straightforward. It’s not a guy with a mic wandering around capturing sounds from spaces, that’s for certain.

The accompanying notes explain that ‘Atmospheres and Disturbances registers the changes in high altitude ecologies caused by increasing global temperatures. The composition is based on field work undertaken at the High-Altitude Research Station at Jungfraujoch, Switzerland where for four weeks I deployed various recording devices around the station, and in the surrounding alpine environment to register natural, anthropogenic and geophysical forces. The project provides new encounters of an endangered alpine environment to enhance the way we perceive and engage with notions of place, community, and environmental dissonance.’

This, then, isn’t simple field recording, but environmental work, and the five pieces capture different aspects of environmental and ecological conditions. You may shrug and say ‘meh, weather’, but Atmospheres and Disturbances really captures just how affecting these are on our everyday existence.

It’s a perpetual joke that it’s the favourite topic of conversation for the British, but the fact is, meteorological conditions rule human lives; all agriculture is centred around the weather, our ability to travel is dictated by it. Tell me your mood isn’t affected by it.

Atmospheres and Disturbances is, then, very much a mood album, among other things.

For the most part, the fifteen minute ‘Wind’ which opens the album is subtle and simple, a recording of gusts as they rustle and buffet. It’s a relentless turbulence, a roar like a rough ocean, and it fills your ears and crowds your mind. While a windy day can be an annoyance or a source of irritation, there is always an element – no pun intended – of threat when it comes to winds, of damage even devastation. Around nine minutes in, things are building in volume and force, and it sounds like a barrelling blast hammering at a corrugated iron roof, rain, snapping twigs, and the tension is high as a storm rages. There’s something – not unreasonably – rooted deep in our psyche that finds storms a source of fear or excitement, or a combination of thew two, like a horror movie. Listening to this track, it’s all in there.

‘Stations’ begins with a gurgling trickle of water before a low00flying plane engine sound obliterates it, and cracks and thuds and slams coalesce to create a percussive force amidst fizzing electronic crackles and pops. Metallic crashes call to mind Einstürzende Neubauten, before more dense noise begins to blast and we’re dragged into a mechanical drone, the throbbing heart of the generators and mechanics of the station itself.

The remaining tracks are shorter – less than eight minutes apiece – but are darkly dense, blurring nature and machinery into a droning discomfiture. ‘Melt’ sounds very like the beginning of ‘Stations; but with additional disruptions and disturbances, thunderous roars and torrential rain. And, of course, one can’t help but feel that this is the literal soundtrack to global climate change, and with this comes a further reminder that we are, indeed, doomed.

I don’t say this for drama or hyperbole. It does seem to be pretty much established now: it’s simply a question of how quickly Venice will be sunk and the sea will swallow half of Britain.

It’s likely not Philip Samartzis’ intention that my mood should plummet as the album progresses. There is a sense that for all of its industrial bleakness and whirring machines and roaring engines and howling precipitation, Atmospheres and Disturbances is designed primarily as a documentary work, but, in context, it’s a documentary with a message.

As gusts roar through ‘valley’ in the wake of cracking thunder and drag chanking notes in its wake, the lingering experience is one of disquiet and discomfort.



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