Paris Winter Spring
Paris Winter Spring is a tape of nine tracks by Sydneyite multi-instrumentalist and field recording luminary Kate Carr, otherwise known as running the Flaming Pines label and curating the well-regarded Birds Of A Feather Ambient series of different artists who all dedicate one song to a specific bird, be it an exotic parrot or ordinary freeloader. However, the tape is not released on Carr’s own label but handed in to Matthew Barlow’s headquarters in Asheville, North Carolina and hence released on Twin Springs Tapes in April 2014. The initial batch of 25 tapes is sold out, but the album itself can still be streamed and purchased at Bandcamp. The tape shows Kate Carr’s unapologetic love for high-plasticity field recordings. It is these prolonged artifacts that tell the actual story, emit the magic of the moment, are the truthful truth. With anything else than an acoustic guitar that is occasionally used and awash with contentment, Kate Carr transplants the recording of two days in Paris into the listener’s cochlea. Only the last day of winter and first day of spring are part of the recording, but if Carr presents the material in a sequential or arbitrary order is hard to distinguish. Paris in 2014 seems to be a warm place anyway, and I’m not even talking about the Hollywood-pestered clichés one applies to the city. A recording of the Louvre is on board alright, but everything else is few and far between, accidental, incidental, adrift.
I remember how I approached Kate Carr’s tape for the first time. I had this review in mind, knew that it would be included in the Winter Ambient Review Cycle eight months later or so, but was curious how the opener would establish the endemic aura. And while I’m wrong one too many times, here I was right for a change: my expectation of a clear-cut field recording-only Ambient diorama turned out to be true. The listener is greeted by the self-explanatory Walking, and the artist does not waste any time, establishes the wind gust-underlined vibe of Paris. It is not William Holden’s and Audrey Hepburn’s Paris, but an unvarnished look onto pedestrians, graveled paths, busy ganders and chirping birds, the last two an all too easy but ubiquitous pointer to Kate Carr’s exotic Birds Of A Feather series. The siren of an ambulance – or is it le gendarmerie? – rounds off the autochthonous walk. The seven minute allure of Insides is eminently music-based and equally crowded. Capturing the bubbling fascination inside the Louvre, Kate Carr juxtaposes reverberated hubbub with the immediate melancholy of an acoustic guitar. The amplified sine tones, cautious moments of polyphony and rufescent colors are left all by themselves before another street-related outdoor field recording of cheeky birds, mellow murmurs and pristine crackles rounds off the bucolic winter atmosphere.
The Venus de Milo meanwhile receives the extra treatment with another bustling field recording that is presented »as is« for approximately two minutes, whereas Le Seine is the first truly glacial piece of the tape. Emerald-green sine tones and cavernous breezes – or heavily processed voices – are entangled with wonderful Middle Eastern globs of stringed warmth. Kate Carr’s strumming sounds astonishingly beautiful. Not only is it a saffron-colored counterpoint to the hibernal temperature range, but also a conglomerate of antimatter near the Seine itself. The effect is truly psychedelic, neither humid nor icy; the simultaneity alienates as much as it seduces. Winter is farther away than ever… and still nearby. While Fountains delivers another look au naturel at a refreshingly aqueous place, Rooms And Rooms Of Stolen Treasure could delineate another corridor of the Louvre: the reverberation and pontificating omnium gatherum give hints. These pieces could have admittedly run quite a bit longer, but the multi-instrumentalist from Sydney chooses to aurally depict a patchwork of situations in lieu of a solemnly elasticized incident.
The Last Day Of Winter follows, and it is noteworthy for being the centerpiece of the tape, clocking in at almost nine minutes. The title freely adheres to transparency, but even if the track were named entirely differently, one can sense an aeriform facileness, a scent of syringa. Laid-back guitar chords and energetic field recordings are once more the hydrazine of the soundscape. And these contrapuntal constituents go well together. One might beg for the acoustic guitar’s isolation so that its decay and sustain phases can be perfectly absorbed and studied, but since the experience of Paris is so overwhelming and omnipresent, it naturally needs to be retrojected onto every song. During the centerpiece’s apex, the guitar is strangely dun-colored and convoluted, but becomes awash with colors at a later point, then emanating a faux-mountainous freshness that seems to mock the plasticizing field recording. Or is it vice versa after all? Le Premier Jour Du Printemps, while being placed after The Last Day Of Winter, seems to resurrect the cold season yet another time, but displays the encapsulation process of the first day of spring. Hazily gurgling water, whitewashed fog banks, muffled birds: spring is a mellow affair from Kate Carr’s viewpoint, with the finale New Crowds opening the silky veil in order to let the full wideness of the field recording in as the city kisses the Sydneyite and the listener goodbye.
The sequence of words already tells the importance of the respective forces: Kate Carr’s Paris Winter Spring is first and foremost about the exhilarative sceneries the city has to offer, or to be more precise: the real aural look onto the streets, parks and art galleries. It is a laid-back but encompassing view, an observation “as is,” devoid of lachrymose rose-tinted schmaltz. In the middle of said sequence is old friend Winter, and he (or she?) sure enough alters the perception from time to time, making the listener’s attention shift away from the birds, children and high heels walking on the trottoirs in order to fathom the wind. Even if i tis just a mere breeze, it encapsulates rough edges and exudes the grim power of a season that Europeans historically describe as antagonistic, deadly even. The joyous – albeit expected – revelation/resurrection follows with the appearance of Spring, even though it was there all along, as the birds seem to be strikingly happy and the acoustic guitar reticulation a mellow addendum. No surprise, since only two days are part of the release: the last day of winter and first day of spring. Whether one feels that the field recordings are in the spotlight or prefers the moiré of plucked strings, Paris Winter Spring is a seemingly minimal tape instrument-wise, but is all the more aglow qua Kate Carr’s recording technique.
Ambient Review 398: Kate Carr – Paris Winter Spring (2014). Originally published on Dec. 10, 2014 at AmbientExotica.com.