Simon Scott reviews Lewis Gilbert’s Roundstone, out now via Gruenrekorder
Roundstone, Co. Galway
The ocean, as Bernie Krauss wrote in his book Wild Soundscapes, is very difficult to record. He created his using layered sounds when he was recording ocean waves to include on the accompanying compact disc Discovering The Voice Of The Natural World. Sound recordist Lewis Gilbert, with the purpose of field recording for a short film score called Taboo in Co. Galway, has beautifully captured the Atlantic Ocean and presents its unique ambient soundscape as the opening track on Roundstone. Waves crash and hiss with a luminous flow of sound that allows small sonic fragments to emerge and pull your ear out of the low tones and rhythm of the ocean and onto the west Irish beach.
‘Cloch Na Rón’ follows and I am softly hit by an aural wave of springtime. Birdsong, a cockerel, bee wing oscillations and donkey braying transport me to where Gilbert walks. It’s cute but not so majestic as the opening track. However, as soon as we hear him move into another location, with the distant church bells ringing and the wind sound slowly diminishing the real intimacy of this piece opens up and shines. Gilbert is clearly reveling in the moment when listen so deeply that the world becomes a soundtrack to your very soul at that present time. Its sense of personal enthrallment and wonder draws the listener’s ear in to engage with this album.
The third piece ‘Howl’ starts with the distant swirl of wind sound that gradually increases in ferocity and force as we are taken out of the barn and out to the cliff top. It’s a fantastic piece of sound recording that reveals how the west Irish coastline and the hardy wildlife are ravaged by the natural elements.
The stand out piece of the album is ‘Music for wind’. I often find that the chance sound recordings are the most precious gifts, and Gilbert would have thanked his lucky stars when discovering a rusting gate that created this spectacular drone of wonder. Rusting holes of a gate behind the beach create dissonant notes as the coastal wind is blowing harmonically through them. It sounds like a trio of flutists improvising with the gulls and ocean and it’s hypnotic and inspiring.
On the final track ‘Pond Symphony’ stridulations slowly emerge with more of a gentle staccato sound as Gilbert submerges his hydrophone down into the pond to reveal what is under the surface of the water. Sonically it’s a familiar sound to those of us who have, as Chris Watson famously said “put a microphone where our ears can’t go”. Its underwater symphony is a strong finale to an astonishing album where you can feel in each piece Gilbert immersed in the sound world of Co. Galway, eager to capture this environment, his personal experience of being right there, and to share the rich sonic material he has captured with the rest of us.
Simon Scott plays Cafe Oto in London on 31 January. Tickets can be bought here.