Review: Stephan Barrett + Sylvia Hallett – River . Pathway . Static


Side A of this record, coming courtesy of Sylvia Hallett and Stephan Barrett (with contributions from Helen Frosi and Wes Freeman-Smith), centres on the “hidden details of worlds we miss in the everyday”: experiences that are in opposition to those anomalous and large-scale events that we, broadly speaking, deem most worthy of remark. The proposition raised throughout these pieces – centred on field recordings with instruments woven into them – is that this “remarkability” might not reside within the events themselves, but within the depth of attention applied to them. Elements such as keyboard, clarinet, mbira and bowed bicycle wheel emerge like shadows and shimmers, animating the spaces from the inside like dappled light or pattering rain, gently adherent to the surges in activity that bristle organically within them.

At one moment, strings harmonies crest in unison with wind and traffic noise, with the instruments heeding the change without smothering the charm of environmental happenstance. Yet this is a rare moment of “activity” on a collection of much idler spaces: footsteps idling through the park, birdsong nudged above rustling leaves and peripheral voices. Even as the tinkle of instruments start to drape the scene on “River Exits” – starting out like buttons glinting on the ruffled coat of the walker, rising to a waterfall of swaying chimes and voices – the instruments of Hallett and Barrett remain in service to the scene that offers them refuge. The notebook readings of Freeman-Smith, which appear fleetingly at the start of each piece, also deserve a mention: cryptically unpicking myth and possibility from within streetlight glow and unravelled pavements, channelling the simplicity of walking the streets while reaching wistfully beyond it. Hallett and Barrett’s work comes aptly accompanied by Nick Murray’s side B, which is an audio interpretation of H O M E: a project in which the work of 10 poets is interpreted by five graphic artists. Again, it speaks to the allure of the “in-between”. The project resides not wholly within any individual medium – the word, the image, the sound – and neither in the culmination of all three. We should turn also to the margins, and to the meanings lost in the act of transposition.

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