DOUGLAS QUIN – Fathom

Being quite active in other lines of work (a naturalist providing recordings of environments for movies and documentaries) sound designer Douglas Quin does not publish the fruits of his research with excessive frequency (the last I recall from him was the wonderful Oropendola – we’re talking 1994 or so). But there’s no doubt about the value of the ones he decides to release, such as what’s comprised by this stunning LP.

Fathom was entirely realized by deploying and minimally treating sounds that Quin seized during Polar trips (both North and South) by immersing hydrophones below the water surface. The gathered materials include walruses, whales, seals, orcas, plus various types of moving or breaking ice, all from an underwater perspective. The superiority of the recording detail, in conjunction with a rare case of unblemished vinyl (no pops and clicks, and – curiously enough – the initial groove hiss seems attuned with a whispered pitch itself) make sure that the experience is spectacularly connecting. Not only a direct participation to the actual occurrences is convincingly approximated; we also become aware, little by little, of an impressive kind of cosmic musicality. The wailing walruses heard in the faraway distance while the forefront of the mix is taken by rhythmically percussive clacks amount to a genuine composition; the strange glissandos characterizing a sizeable part of the second side of the album may be animal in their origin, yet resemble a singular synthesizer processed by atypical marine effects.

The capacity to rivet an audience through the painstaking acoustic depiction of mere realities (even if the circumstances in which they were captured are far from easy to repeat) is what separates professionals – better if gifted with a unique sensibility – from those who just stick a mike around and throw any walk in the woods they collect on the market. No need to say where Quin belongs, and the limited edition of 300 copies should suggest what to do. Promptly.

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