David Monacchi | Eco-acoustic Compositions

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Douglas Quin Hildegard Westerkamp Peter Cusack

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EarthEar – all releases David Monacchi website

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Electronic: Soundscapes New Age: Nature Moods: Type: Experimental
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Eco-acoustic Compositions

by David Monacchi

This album presents an immersion into the finest environmental soundscape art, with five extended tracks that explore the continuum of production approaches from naturalistic pieces to studio-layered compositions and a bit of musical conversation.
Genre: Electronic: Soundscapes
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  Song Share Time Download
1. Stati D'acqua
17:04 album only
2. Echoes of a Sonic Habitat
11:12 album only
3. Nightingale
12:10 album only
4. Fading Away Whales
8:38 album only
5. Fragments of Extinction
10:06 album only


Album Notes
Eco-Acoustic Compositions is perhaps the most multi-faceted disc I’ve heard in years of exploring this field. David Monacchi takes us on a very personal journey, into both the diverse sonic world itself (with pieces focusing by turn on water, insects, birds, whales, and rainforests), and the creative possibilities available to composers inspired by these voices around us. Each track offers a clearly distinct approach to working with field recordings and studio/electronic manipulations. We hear extensive and primary use of filters and spectral envelopes in the first track, playback of very focused recordings into resonant spaces (cisterns) on track two, time-expansion so as to enter into bird song and human musical responses on track three. David then explores a simpler and to my ears most compelling approach, his reconstructions of largely naturalistic sound material on the final two tracks. Through the course of the disc, Monacchi demonstrates his mastery of an impressive range of compositional techniques, with each successive track peeling away a bit of technological filtering, delivering us in the end into the heart of the Amazonian sound-field, with a subtle echo of his studio presence lingering within an aural space that is enriched by its suggestive (if illusory) “purity” and utterly enlivened by his subtle re-interpretation of this primal rainforest soundscape.

David’s approach is manipulated, but never manipulative. While moving surely beyond a naïve or complacent reliance on the natural soundscapes “as they are,” and exploring the aural edges and depths of the material with studio extrapolations, the work never becomes obtuse or pointedly experimental for its own sake, and always retains a fundamental sense of wonder about both sound itself, and the natural voices that underlie the work. Throughout, we sense the hours and weeks David has spent in the field, experiencing these primary soundscapes from within; this depth of engagement informs the choices he makes back in the studio, and help keep the work from slipping over a treacherous edge that less grounded experimental soundscape composers can fall prey to.

Even at its most abstracted, on the opening track, States of Water, the work also exhibits diligent naturalism, the result of field research and recording that took him the length of the Tiber River in his native Italy.

Track two, Echoes of a Sonic Habitat, tickles my fancy not least for being centered on incredible insect recordings, which I’ve always found to be exceptionally alien and therefore very rewarding to immerse myself in. It’s a carefully executed reconstruction of an imaginary landscape, made all the more resonant (literally) by being recorded inside a space consisting of three concentric cisterns. Here, David’s predilection for using drones as a foundation for natural sound compositions finds its strongest expression.

The third track, Nightingale – Study II, not only examines the improvisational dexterity of these famous avian songsters, but also serves as an opportunity to explore musical interactions, with a medieval flute providing a link between the birds and, once again, a drone beneath it all, which ebbs and flows in an organic fashion.

While David’s “feet in both worlds” approach to composition is always engaging—his compositional explorations never (or only rarely) lose their rootedness in the voices of the landscape that is his source material—I responded most strongly to the final two pieces, which are freest of human sound manipulations and additions.

Fading Whales, while exceedingly simple in its approach, merely layering whale recordings at various degrees of time/frequency shift, fully and gracefully transcends the familiar expectations or rote execution of this all-too-cliché source material. By taking our ears gradually closer to the infrasonic low frequencies of actual whale song, David invites us into a sonic space that is both huge and intimate. Here again clearly delighting in the extraordinary tonal qualities of these voices, while constructing a composite soundscape that doesn’t fear straying from “natural,” the layers and diversity of sounds presented in this short eight minute track make for compelling listening.

I can only describe the final, ten-minute track Fragments of Extinction as a delicious tease! Here Monacchi presents a taste of a major global acoustic research project, in which he is exploring the acoustic ecology of the three major equatorial rainforests (the Amazon, Central Africa, and Southeast Asia), with the aim of producing a series of ambitious soundscape installations, including multi-channel 24-hour sonic reconstructions. The composition is composed primarily of unaltered and minimally processed field recordings, with subtle tonal/drone underpinnings based on pitched sounds found in the soundscapes. Here, as in other aspects of his approach, including his diligent, superlative field recording and compositional respect for the source material, Monacchi’s work evokes the same depth that Doug Quin reaches in his soundscape composition masterpieces, Oropendola and Forests. The timeless and deeply inviting aural spell of Fragments of Extinction leaves me wanting much more.

Finally, David’s thoughtful and clear track notes elucidate his compositional choices in ways that we can only hope will guide other recordists and composers with open ears and profound engagement with the natural world toward the sorts of substantial results that he has achieved here. It’s all too easy for either natural sounds or experimental composition to become trivial in their execution, or for activism and artistic expression to lose their connective threads as they try to dance together. Few have managed to bridge these important gaps with such integrity and subtlety as David Monacchi exhibits here.



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