Sunday, May 16, 2021
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Simon Šerc: CMBR

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Artist: Simon Šerc
Title: CMBR
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Silent Records / Pharmafabrik
Simon Šerc’s “CMBR” is the ‘sonification’ of data from the ESA’s Planck space telescope, studying “the coldest objects in the universe”, tracking variations in the baseline sound of the universe, “the oldest sound in the universe” and other such statements that seem like grand hyperbole but which are broadly scientifically valid, as far as a layman like myself can tell.

Of course the passage from data to sound is such an arbitrary and redefinable concept that it’s in that translation that the creative composition is found; given the same data set, other people could just as easily have transposed it into coloured noise or glitch rhythms. But Šerc’s approach is a touch more purist, in a way, offering up four fifteen-minute-long pieces of atmospheric and ambient sound design that feel like they paint different landscapes.

“Cold Care” initially comes across as a relatively typical, almost familiar-sounding sci-fi representation of what deep space might sound like if there were any sound in space. Hollow, reverberant tones give an open chamber feel. There’s a sense of distant wind. But as it proceeds, the wind gets louder and noisier, until it is a thoroughly gritty and jarring, with an abrupt end. It’s a transition effect that is repeated throughout the other three pieces as well, each beginning far more calmly than they end.

Surprisingly, “Greybody Fit” sounds like a medium-sized industrial unit, with a steady background hum that feels decidedly mechanical. Perhaps the curve of a statistical analysis became a waveform, and if so, it feels like a familiar and very human pitch, a steady vibration that anyone working in industry or manufacturing might feel very at home with. Top-end rustling sits somewhere between distortion and the digital rustling of the leaves on artificial trees.

“Flux Density” sounds like high level sonic wind, relentlessly battering and pummelling the spaceship you’re trapped in, loud and oppressive yet also somehow safe, before the gradual arrival of clicking sounds that feel more invasive. Final piece “Declination” begins with a low synthesized bass tone that feels quite soundtrack-like, reminding me unexpectedly of the “2010” movie, before again devolving into noise. The most unexpected part is the final minute, which feels, perhaps intentionally, like all the equipment suddenly breaks and the relentless whirring winds down. It’s an unusual, almost comic way to return your ears into normal space.

ChainDLK’s format options prevent me from listing the unusual array of formats that this release is available on- namely 7-and-a-half inch tape reel, Blu-ray disc, and 24-bit digital. The format options feel like the most ostentatious part of the release. There’s really nothing wrong with 16-bit stereo and the promo I listened to was comprised of compressed MP3’s, and contrary to what some audiophiles will tell you, it sounded fine! Sadly I can’t comment on the ‘responsive video’ on the Blu-ray, which would be interesting to see and could add another dimension.

It’s nicely executed if slightly indulgent as a work, an interesting way of translating publicly available data into sonics. A few more surprises or unexpected production twists might have been welcome, and by the time the sound devolves into noise for the fourth time it feels a little ‘done’, but as gritty ambiences and hums go, it’s certainly well done.


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