Bryan Eubanks from the cistern

[Gruenrekorder; 2014]

Rating: 4.5/5

Styles: site-specific document, sine language
Others: Blooming Grove grain silo, Zamek Kmitów i Lubomirskich

In 2010, Bryan Eubanks started work on a project at the Fort Worden State Park cistern in Port Townsend, Washington. By studying the dynamics of the space — a circular cement structure originally built to store water for military purposes — and exploring it as a unique acoustic site, he began to compose pieces that would show his appreciation of the underground environment and the intricate sound reverberation that the area holds. The individual works that make up Eubanks’s project are separated here across three tracks, which present an insight into the artist’s devoted relationship with a physical construction while allowing his audience to access a rich sonic catalog specific to its location.

Eubanks’s respect for the cylindrical cement structure is abundant in the liner notes, where he discusses the exact measurements of the building and the consequence this has on reverberation, decay, diffraction, refraction, and reflection phenomena. He also expands on each composition in detail, which has the potential to isolate the listener from his recordings. The location is apparently manipulated by Eubanks’s own compositional preferences and his sonic palette; whatever he chose to do in the hills overlooking the Straight of Juan de Fuca is going to differ wildly from any other interpreter. The fact that there is zero post-processing and that there are unedited arrangements in real-time makes his aesthetic partiality more significant than it might in any other instance.

But instead of creating a barrier, Eubanks opens up a world that would have otherwise remained out of reach; the pace and the organization of these recordings throughout the album are crisp, delicate, and fascinating. This is in part due to the differing nature of each track and the level of patience required to endure its entire length in a single sitting. Although the length does act as an indicator for how cavernous and eerie the space is, the limit to its complexity is seemingly boundless.

I tried to envisage myself simultaneously in and out of the structure as a way of absorbing the sound — I was left imagining what the cistern might look like, what the temperature might be, how much light there is, and what it might feel like to emerge on the hills above. All this while dwelling on the concise and almost alien compositions that have been lifted from the site, only to emerge in another form. The variances that occur within the throbbing resonance of “Five Tuned Tubes” provide a sense of character about the space, for example. The way that the pitch heightens at various points and seems to sink at others is amplified at around the 20-minute mark, when the sequences seem to overlap.

“Sine Series” even comes with a set of playback instructions, which take into account that the piece “moves in and out of audibility, subsuming and being subsumed by the listening environment.” The 78-minute recording consists of movements in and out of a singular sinetone that wavers in frequency and in volume from beginning to end; even when it sinks into silence to demarcate the groups, its presence can still be felt. The animated pulses that ripple out of sync with the tone are the result of their grouping, which adds to the dimensions of this stunning free-fall drone composition. The sound embodies a level of harshness that conflicts with the openness of “Five Tuned Tubes;” it elaborates on the detail and the curiosity of the space, but also gives it an entirely separate acoustic breadth.

These divergences are stark, particularly when compared to the pitch fluctuation on “Pulses.” The latter track is constant and imposing, coming with a stunning degree of intensity that isn’t present anywhere else. Although the high-pitched pulses are what shape the track and its direction, they are counterbalanced with a deep and shuddering bow, which permits a brief moment of calm. Once again, this transforms the listener’s interpretation of the site, where it assumes a place for contemplation, for shelter, for agricultural use, or even for torture.

The site dimensions and resulting acoustics allow for such transformations just as much as the arrangement and processing of the recordings do. The structure morphs and changes shape as each movement casts new light on it, and the artist responsible commits to presenting his experiences and his admiration in a cold, naked form. That almost no post-processing was applied only bolsters his determination to exhibit each composition as a mere channel for showcasing the most essential component here: the beauty of the structure itself.

Links: Bryan Eubanks - Gruenrekorder


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