The drone endures.
Something within us reliably and consistently responds to a continuous periodic waveform, whether it be through the spirituality of Indian classical musics, didgeridoo, bagpipes, Japanese Gagaku, or the inevitable reworkings, reinterpretations, and resurgences of that much maligned, and predominantly digital genre, “ambient”, or “drone ambient”, or one of several sub-divided nomenclatures that stakes a claim in the name of dronal progress.
Richard Chartier’s sonic treatments have seen the artist’s career spanning an arc from early digital manipulation , through to the defiantly monochromatic near-silences of works such as Two Locations, and Of Surfaces, demarcating artistic terrain only previously explored by micro-sonic evangelist, and Chartier contemporary, Bernhard Gunther. Chartier’s most recent recordings, mainly in collaboration with the likes of Robert Curgenven, Yann Novak, and long-time compadre, William Basinski, have seen him very much at home, basking in the warm and cosy glow of lush, and layered minimalist drone workouts. These slowly evolving, enveloping tracts gently cycle and meander through tight, sweeping frequency variations, aural washes, that are the audible corrolary of the Colour Field artists of the early 1970’s. Within this territory, and through sheer tenacity, and precision craftsmanship, Chartier has inevitably become one of the genre’s acknowledged masters, which no doubt comes with it’s own baggage in terms of career development. At times, it appeared that he had, like Ryoji Ikeda, and Carsten Nicolai (a.k.a. Alva Noto) become boxed in by his trademark sound, leaving little or no room for expansion or experimentation, a slave to a characteristic sound and modus operandi that had become exclusively his. More recently, (or perhaps more obviously) Chartier has dabbled with field recording , with a foray on Australia’s Room 40 imprint, entitled, A Field For Mixing. This release saw Chartier exploring and breaking out of the taut, pared-down dronescapes that so characterised his work, and step out into daylight, sampling and treating sounds from various locations around the globe, and incorporating them into his oeuvre.
Whilst field recording has enjoyed a steady following over the last few years, it still remains very much in the margins, being championed and celebrated only by luminaries such as Chris Watson and Alan Lamb, both of whom have enjoyed success from their idiosyncratic approach to the genre. Indeed, the genre has now become somewhat overpopulated, with everyone who owns a digital hand recorder, disappearing off into the wilderness to record birdsong, mountain streams, or all manner of naturally occuring sonic ephemera. This population explosion has, to some extent hindered the genre, with a glut of artists mimicking each others’ work, transforming what was once unique and special into vapid cliché.
On Interior Field, Chartier fuses location recordings and other found sounds with drones and tone clusters, a rich textural field that is enriched both by the source of the recordings, and the stark, severely reduced cover artwork by Robert Walden. Chartier selects, (perhaps rather tellingly) the McMillan Sand Filtration Site in Washington DC as his main locus for investigation. Perhaps the fact that the site once specialised in removing sand and foreign bodies from the DC water supply to ensure it’s purity, is an obvious, symbolic manifestation of Chartier’s approach. Looking very much like the Roman cistern in Istanbul, the site is a starkly enigmatic monument to moving water. Indeed, Chartier cleverly intersects the sound of rainfall with the internal resonances and reverberations of the site itself, lending much of the work a gritty, visceral , at times violently expansive atmosphere. Tonalities and silences, light and shade are very much the order of the day here, with much of this highly reduced soundscape peppered with eerie interventions, clanks and grindings that are in some ways subtly informed by the Industrial music of the early 1990’s. This subtly “amped up” sound is a bold move for Chartier, here clearly setting out his stall for future work. The second half of the recording oscillates around the staccato pointillism of rainfall itself. Chartier shifts his recording equipment around the site, closing in, and close-miking various surfaces and ambiences, documenting the clatter of water on concrete, or it’s gentle traverses and rivulets dripping from brutalist architecture. Here, the stochastic sounds of rainfall are taken through various frequencies and EQ shifts, an exploration of colour and texture, that is indeed reminiscent of Gunther’s classic LINE masterpiece, Monochrome White. Chartier’s vision, though is less gauzy, less evanescent, and Interior Field serves to map all of the sonic nuances yielded by the filtration site, in some ways paying homage to it’s past, and it’s processes. Overall, I would hesitate to say that this is something of a transitional piece for Chartier, with all the hallmarks of quality and precision that we have come to expect from the man and his works. I look forward to the next step. Highly recommended. BGN