Eric La Casa and Tarab – Sounds of magnified beauty.

I’m very fortunate to have made a great friend in Patrick Farmer over the last week. What is fast turning into a  creative conversation, started from an introduction to the wonderful Compost and Height Split Series. The series is completely sold out now, but the downloads are still available cheaply, and I am indulging in each of them this week. So enjoy the posts.  The sounds and music is really something to be thrilled by.


(Sample of Eric La Casa’s work)


Eric La Casa – Les vibrations dans la masse de son roulement

“une masse qui ne se détruit pas, une seule masse compacte, un qui se tient ensemble, un ensemble, une vibration dans la masse, un moteur, qui ne s’effiloche pas, qui ne disparaît pas, une masse tenue, le déroulement tenu, le roulement, la masse est en roulement…” C.Tarkos, “Anachronisme”

Children are often told tales of horror to convince them to behave. Because Children trust completely and can’t process through the filter of maturity (life experience) they tend to magnify an idea inside, so that it disproportionately takes hold. While the meaning may not change in terms of definition, it will be structurally altered in terms of response.

I experienced this phenomena at the foot of an escalator. I was completely mobile at this time, ready for the dramatic transition between being picked up under the arms and swept onto the flat platform that would mysteriously morph into steps, and swept up equally as dramatically at the flatlined top of the mountain, to holding the adult guiding hand and making my own exaggerated st… st… st… st… step onto that flat platform of wooden slats, hoping to all things merciful that I wasn’t standing on the divide between steps when they miraculously revealed themselves.

I was readying myself for this all important transition – both figurative and literal – the escalators looming terribly large before me, a very tiny little girl, when the adult with me (interestingly I can’t remember which adult it was – father, mother, grandparent or aunt) took me to one side and informed me, in some detail, of the severed body parts my uncle (who worked for Otis) regularly had to extract from escalators.

“Be careful now. The teeth at the top are sharp.  If you fall, it could catch your arm and rip the skin off it.”

After this warning, the adult felt I was now sufficiently prepared to take the journey. I, however had a fresh image of a small child hoping off the escalator with one flesh arms and the other, nothing more than blood dripping skeleton.

Needless to say, I doubt that this information helped me to become a safer escalator rider. I was struck with a new kind of terror that had never occurred to me and never properly left me since. To this day I catch myself on escalators deep in the meditation of how children’s arms can get caught, why there are no signs, and how could something this dangerous be this useful. I use escalators happily, but the neural pathways swing me back to that moment every time I ride.

Eric La Casa has had a powerful response to escalators as well. A trained listener, he hears for the sound quality of a machine such as these and explores the hidden depths, so often buried under our own chatter, repetitive thought patterns or (in my case) obsessive buried terror. Here are his notes from the recording:
Landing platforms, truss, tracks, steps, handrail, … the complexity of this mechanism is a real opportunity for any listener. Even though the original components (wood…) are progressively replaced with modern ones, like the elevator this machinery still sounds like a heroic invention from the Industrial Revolution (second half of the XIX th century). And while the technology evolves, the idea remains the same.
When I first started listening to these systems, 10 years ago, I paid attention to the concept: mechanical transport of one’s body through the city. Opposite to the compound like elevator (a closed space), escalators provide you with open space. Moving in one direction, like traveling through a movie (a cinematic vision), your body is carried slowly into a specific city location. For this short time (from few seconds to several minutes) you are completely devoted “to slide” through the city. Suddenly, your body moves from the static ground… you escalate.

In the listening, is the idea of ‘people moving’. In order to give us this music, La Casa has layered his different recordings he made of escalators and their surrounds. Escalators move in a circular pattern. They are their own system, and when we “ride” them, we enjoy only part of their perpetual journey, hopping on and hopping off when it has fulfilled a function for us of which it is blissfully unaware. In listening to this music, I had the experience of being superfluous, as if the escalator had a function to perform that I was only a small part of – as if it might exist without my need to move to another level. It rolls around, over and under me, reducing me to a ‘thing’ that is ‘moved’. My ride on its great back is only part of its great migratory cycle.

There are patterns here, but they come and go, like the stairs of the escalator itself. I almost recognise myself, am almost dragged (or rather escalated) into a kind of awareness  – based in recognition – then I am tossed back into the meat mince of machinery, the distant, discordant human voices secondary to the great beasts belly rumbles. It’s the way La Casa combines and un (de) – combines the sounds that give this great machine a life of its own and a song to sing.  At one point, a woman speaking in French sounds as though she is singing along to the machines hum.

tarab: utility (2009)

The other recording on this marvellous download is called Utility and is by Tarab.

This remarkable piece of music is made up of sounds from the holes in the ground in the northern suburbs of Melbourne. Here is what Tarab has to say on the disc notes:

Compiled from a series of recordings collected on wanderings through the northern suburbs of Melbourne. The city heard through holes in the ground. Various sized utility holes. Rather than generating a sound of their own, most of the holes I came across act as a trap or filter for the sounds of the city. Their locations, what time I found them and their particular sound qualities dictated what sounds I heard, or in many cases did not hear.

If Les vibrations dans la masse de son roulement brings a beast to life through their song, then Utility sings of what is missing. When a musician is recording what is going on in the fluid systems under the pulsating city, I didn’t expect to feel as distanced as I do from the source. The muted hush over everything has me exist as immersed in the blurry depths, but the sound is of a city concealed, rather than a new perspective highlighted. There are sounds of restless lost breezes, bursts of harsh belching air, and muted city sounds of human movement. Contact?  Not quite, but they are up there, while I am down here, in the tunnels, in the chambers, in the city’s slimy systems. At one point a far away carnival sound reaches me, oiled and rancid by the time it meets my ears.

Both of these recordings have a touch of the mystery to them.  Both are very close-up sound images of ‘places’ or ‘things’ we don’t want to get too close too. Both could gobble me up.  At least the child inside the woman feels that threat; a feeling that laces the woman’s listening experience with the thrill of the dark subversive ride.