Deep Listening Institute
This binaural recording alternates between tracks of sound scapes from various international cities (Berlin, Rome, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Montréal, Chicago, Belgrave, and Marl) and music tracks which are predominantly the composer improvising on soprano sax. The technical notes of the CD are of equal length as the musical notes and I think that is a telling aspect of this particular disc. There are two things to listen two: the music and the technology.
On the technology side, the CD sounds great. The soundscapes are vibrant and rich, each city sounding very different from the one before. The traffic noises in Rome are downright oppressive. Hong Kong sparkles with coins dropping into slots (and on the floor) of what sounds like an arcade. Montréal is a rhythmic jackhammer and little else. Chicago’s traffic sounds very much like Rome, only with bigger vehicles and more people (and bucket drummers). The only sounds that resist mankind are the ones from Belgrave, Australia (lots o’ birds) and Marl, Germany (again with the birds). I find that there is a subtle dramatic shape in Mr. Braasch’s selection of sound scapes (man to nature) but I do wonder if that trajectory couldn’t have been more direct. In other words, I’m not convinced that Mr. Braasch intended for that shape or if I am making it all up. There is a constant hum in the background which does NOT change from city to city and is only slightly lessened in nature. I found that more intriguing than the sound scapes themselves.
I did get an odd sense if binaural vertigo in Montréal. Suddenly things shifted to my right ear and made me desperately want to pop my left ear. A very irritating sensation which took me out of the sound scape and into my headphones.
A brief word about binaural recordings. I find them both fascinating and irritating. On the one hand, when listening to them in headphones, they really sound great. Much better than a speaker experience. On the other hand, you have to wear headphones and really pay attention to the sound. That meant I couldn’t multi-task while reviewing the CD. I HAD to sit and just listen. An extremely appropriate statement from the Deep Listening Project, yes? This CD has to be taken in by itself.
The musical portions of the disc leave me wanting. The tracks that are just solo soprano sax are kind of interesting but tend to grow stale after a minute or two (most are much longer than that). The interplay of the sax in the room is kind of interesting but I think it would be more effective if the room had changed between recordings. While the sound scapes change cities, the same hall was used for all the improv pieces. The effect is similar to having multiple recordings of I am sitting in a room all done in the same place by the same person. At the very least, changing saxes would have been a welcome sound. I could listen to the bari sax do damned near ANYTHING for 9 minutes…
A handful of the music tracks use the ambient sound scapes as a backing band, often converting them to a rhythm section. I still get a soprano sax overload, especially in my headphones, and I wonder how much more interesting these tracks would have been without the sax. The textures of A Night in Battambang, for example, are quite striking by themselves and do not need a sax obbligato.
Technically this CD is very well made. Musically I feel that some different choices would have benefitted the whole nature of the CD. I feel that Mr. Braasch’s integration of the technology and music is heading in an interesting direction and I’m curious to see where it goes.