Merzouga – 52 46’ North 13 29’ East – Music for Wax-Cylinders (CD Gruenrekorder)
The coordinates in the title are referring to the precise location of Berlins Ethnologisches Museum Dahlem. This place stores over 16000 wax cylinders, a lot of them collected by Erich Moritz von Hornbostel, an Austrian 19th century born ethnomusicologist, who was collecting sounds from all corners of the world that came to him via pre-colonisation explorations from scientists discovering unknown places.
There’s a number of things one can expect after having read the liner notes; recovering sound from old wax cylinders with the purpose to make an archival recording (this is actually being done by the museum, lots of these works have been digitalized over the last 15 years) with the aim to preserve it, but it of course also opens up possibilities to interpret those historical snippets and morph them into new abstractions. It is maybe not surprising that this approach is taken on this Gruenrekorder release. Some of the sounds on this Gruenrekorder release are more than a century old, and represent some of mankind’s first attempts to record and document music. A field recording collection of more than 100 years ago to which Janko Hanushevsky and Eva Pöpplein (duo Merzouga, earlier reviewed for this site with their Mekong Morning Glory) were granted access to in order to use wax recordings to create a patchwork of old and new sounds, interwoven in an inventive way in which this music of long forgotten times get framed into a new context, creating an atmosphere not unlike the way archaic fetishist and NWW collaborator Andrew Liles was doing in some of his earlier work. In the same mesmerizing way, it is not always easy to distinct between what is old and what’s new and amplified by the hiss and cracks, time begins to play tricks itself. Opening up a 39 minute window on forgotten times, revealing a history most of us are not aware of. These aural images reminded me of those black and white short movies where movement never seems to be right ; it’s either too fast or too slow, and it has an almost alienating sense of drama, as if we are watching found footage of strange worlds disappeared into oblivion.
In the same metaphysical way their Mekong journey report was a captivating snapshot of hidden geographies this is an intriguing recording, as they succeed this time in unlocking beauty from unknown history primarily rather than remote places. PvdG.