Christopher Campbell may be a composer first and foremost, but years of film training at Sarah Lawrence clearly had an impact on his work. The young Minnesotan's debut album, Sound the All-Clear, guides the listener through a 12-movement adventure that demands to be imagined as much as heard.
This album of travel begins, fittingly, with leaving home. Above a crackly bed of popping vinyl, a choir chants farewell: 'Foreign pipes play so lowly and sad, home is miles away. All through the night the rain falls down; the sound of silver waves.' A sparrow colony, recorded in a bush near Campbell's house, twitters. Elsewhere, an array of guitars, chimes, strings, harp and more is whimsically transformed into wind howling down icy streets, a breezy bean field in Iowa, insects in South Dakota. Terse accompanying texts function as a kind of I Ching guidebook. ('Parts of this music is what a cicada the size of a Ford truck would make,' the composer writes in the booklet.)
Campbell's modern sound experimentation oscillates between the comforting and the exotic, with occasional creepy moments. A calm pastoral scene is set, and suddenly you're thrown into a room with bells strewn across the floor. Sounds leap from the stereo, as the composer's abstract orchestration seems more intent on audiophilic sculpture than melody. But this mini adventure has its rewards. By the time the warm textures of 'Home' roll around, you feel renewed and ready for another trek. --Time Out Chicago, Mia Clarke
Christopher Campbell s Sound the All-Clear starts off with an amusing trompe l'oeil effect for the ear - a choral folksong seemingly taken from a beat-up LP complete with surface noise and even a needle stuck in the groove. Next comes a droning squeeze-box overlaid with noisy mechanical squeaking and twitters, then a tessellation of jangling strings, long-held chimes, boinking glissandos, low sustained piano notes, and one lonely human cry marooned above the aboriginal landscape.
And on it goes, like an aural Quay Brothers movie or a Guy Maddin soundtrack--one jerry-built mechanism or electronic birdsong or tribal ceremony after another, meandering along, sometimes by itself and sometimes cunningly layered, until gradually, or suddenly, replaced by another. Annotator (and Campbell's teacher) George Tsontakis describes the work as a movie-like sequence of sound poems distilled from blended essences , which is probably a fancy way of saying it s a sonic collage. Collage, however well it mimics the play of mind and memory, isn't the kind of thing I usually enjoy. I m not sure it even fits my definition of music. It seems too arbitrary, too easy, too detached, at once too silly and too arty. But dang if Campbell (who is also a film-maker) doesn't somehow manage to keep the proceedings not only interesting, but suspenseful. What will come next, the listener keeps wondering, and what does come next is, miraculously, never disappointing.
Sound sources--some modified into drones, some rattling along as looped ostinatos, some distorted or cut-and-pasted--include voices, piano, electric piano, music boxes, sheng, prepared koto, strings, electric guitar, PVC flutes, balloon bassoons, Aeolian harps, toys, and lithophones (whatever they are), and who knows what else. Each is presented with exceptional clarity; even the more involved sections seem uncluttered and airy. And despite so much timbral variety the mood is sustained and consistent: droll, cheery, gentle, wistful. As the title suggests: the danger is past. Let's take a stroll, whether down memory lane or across the meadow. The whole world beckons, and we're free to ramble as we will.
Innova's sonics are flat-out spectacular. The release is available both as a CD and as a three-sided, two-disc LP set. I played the LPs at the home of an audiophile friend with a quarter-million-dollar stereo system and the result was absolutely holographic in its immediacy and presence. It sounded great on my much more modest record player, too. Among its other attractions, Sound the All-Clear is destined to become an audiophile demonstration-disc classic. --American Record Guide, Mark Lehman