Review: Yann Novak + Robert Crouch - Fata Morgana

The term “fata morgana” refers to a mirage effect that most strikingly presents itself on the horizon of grand expanses of land or sea. Boats are contorted into rippling strips of white clinging to the water’s surface, while mountains are squashed and blurred into the sky; where the contrast between the earth and the air is usually at its most prominent when the two meet on the edge of a vast, flat plain, fata morgana renders the boundaries indistinct, creating an illusionary in-between that feels far too vast and distant to be a mere figment of perception.

This piece by Novak and Crouch (initially an installation, reconstructed here for stereo listening) embodies this perceptual ambiguity beautifully. There is a constant duet taking place between the low and high frequencies, seemingly on a panoramic scale – the deep rumbles of drifting icebergs are placed a dizzying vertical see-saw with the chilly winds bustling through the upper registers, while later in the piece, glistening slithers of electronics hover over soft drops of bass. One will gradually recede to grant the other momentary dominance, and there are several moments during which I felt consumed by a tremendous sense of vertigo, as the low frequencies dropped out completely to leave me suspended within shimmering clouds of ethereal synthesiser.

Another engrossing juxtaposition occurs between the field recordings and the ever-expanding presence of the “musical”. The piece features audio taken from the Bonneville Salt Flats and Lake Mead in the Valley of Fire State Park, and initially it’s these desolate spaces that dominate the composition. Tonality first enters like a mirage in itself, creeping between the earthly resoundings of actual places as a hazy first glimpse of musical abstraction, materialising as soft drones hidden within the natural expanses. By the time the piece reaches its closing minutes, Novak and Crouch have fully emerged as a sliding mass of tonal feedback, as though the slither of fata morgana on the horizon has expanded to eclipse reality itself, turning a mere perceptual illusion into a wondrous dreamstate.