Robert Dow – “Precipitation within sight” & “White Water (airflow)”

Often, I receive promotional copies of an artist’s work that are not intended for general distribution: live sets dubbed as a single track on CDR, pre-mastered works in-progess, or compilations of selected works that could be broadcast but are not necessarily to be considered a proper album.

A while back, I was sent such a compilation by Robert Dow, director of the Soundings... festival of electroacoustic music and a researcher in the area of electroacoustic composition and performance with the University of Edinburgh. Although Dow’s knowledge of electroacoustic works far exceeds my own, I still thought it would be nice to write about one of the pieces for you– consider it half introduction, and half review.

“Precipitation within sight” is an interesting composition; generally, due to Dow’s willingness to allow natural sounds to remain unobscured by processing; and personally, as it ties closely with Miya Masaoka’s “For Birds, Planes, & Cello” which I have been enjoying recently.

Like Masaoka, Dow chooses natural sounds as both a focal point and a springboard for studio performance, constructing complimentary percussive sounds which often conjure the spacial properties of this work’s center– Smoo Cave in Durness, Scotland. Generous field recordings taken at Smoo Cave feature throughout, with indoor and outside events in evidence. Of particular beauty are Dow’s recordings of splashing water and children, appearing just prior to a bursting noise of some sort, rather like stones thrown upon a metal surface. I’m not sure what to make of the electronic whinnying that proceeds thereafter, underscored by a low rushing sound, and gradually taking aural focus… perhaps Dow is suggesting the feel of coming to the surface of water?

In his program notes, Dow states that he is interested in the “strong associative pull of such real world sounds and their tendency to create specific contexts,” which seems to be thought of as a problem among many electroacoustic artists in their rush to manipulate and obscure every source recording. Taken in this light, a reading of “Precipitation within sight” might include themes of motion as both physical movement and de/constructive energy, many of the associated emotions conjured by a journey through water, and possibly even our lingering human connection to formative natural spaces such as caves. There’s a lot to consider, so I won’t attempt to offer a conclusive summation here. Rather, I intend to whet your appetite– Dow has a release pending on the fine Russian label, Electroshock, so this might be a good time to become more acquainted with the composer.

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3 Responses to “Robert Dow – “Precipitation within sight” & “White Water (airflow)””

  1. Justin Snow Says:

    I’m kinda on the fence about field recordings. Generally speaking, it bugs me if it’s either too much or not enough. Sometimes I have a hard time listening to straight up field recordings, sans manipulation. The way you described the part with the water and children doesn’t really sound like my cup of tea, but I’d always like to give a try, of course. Especially when you call Dow an electro-acoustic artist. I tend to like that stuff.

  2. startlingmoniker Says:

    I wonder if I didn’t describe it more accurately– this is definitely more composition that straight field recording, however, the difference is that Dow seems to avoid something I dislike in so many electroacoustic works– where they make recordings, only to mangle them into something purely electronic that should have just been done digitally to begin with. I think the recording source should be respected to some extent, or else avoid it completely. To me, it’s the same as when someone will work for days perfecting a piano sound with a synth– use a damn piano, and better yet, allow the synth to develop its own unique voice!

  3. Justin Snow Says:

    Nonono, you definitely described it well enough. I was just going off on field recordings in general. I agree with what you said about the recording sources. Unless of course, for example in the piano/synth case, the artist might be attempting to push the boundaries or purposefully make one instrument/source sound like another. That happens a lot and I think it can be done very well. But I do know what you’re saying.

    I liked that bit you sent me from Dow, thanks. It was a little hard to get ahold of not having heard his music, but I’m sure it would make perfect sense once I pick up something of his.

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