Tristan Louth-Robins: The Path Described
In an introduction included within The Path Described, Australian sound artist Tristan Louth-Robins waxes nostalgic for the relative purity of the natural sounds which surrounded him when he called Normanville, a small coastal town on the western side of the Fleurieu Peninsula, South Australia, home. Field recordings made on the western and eastern coastlines of the peninsula as well as the lower lake regions adjoining Lake Alexandrina and the Coorong National Park form the core of the three long-form settings featured on the thirty-five-minute 3LEAVES release. In some ways, it’s a standard field recordings-based work in its emphasis on natural sounds of water and bird and insect species (faint traces of, in Louth-Robins’ words, “the clamour of the man-made world,” also surface now and then), but it’s also an engaging one, especially when the text and photos included with the release are factored in.
Though Louth-Robins has provided detailed text that clarifies what is happening at each stage within the tracks (and where, as GPS coordinates are also included), one obviously can choose to either listen while following along with the text or experience the three settings on purely sonic grounds (in what follows, I chose to record impressions not supplemented by Louth-Robins’ commentary). That precise locations have been provided by Louth-Robins means that, if one wished to do so, one could re-trace the various routes captured in the recording.
“Fleurieu W. (Across Two Bays)” immediately transports the listener to an outdoors setting where waves crash amidst bird cries, the seeming near proximity of the water heightening the visceral intensity of the sound material. As the water burbles so loudly that all other sounds are drowned out, some sense of disorientation sets in, making it unclear whether one is standing on the shoreline or beneath the water’s surface—until bird sounds appear to clarify that one must be above though still close to the water (even if exactly where can’t be determined as it’s equally possible that we’re in a boat as ashore). The immersive journey continues, with water always the dominant element despite the occasional re-emergence of bird and distant traffic sounds. “Fleurieu E. (Across Two Islands)” perpetuates the water-heavy focus of the first track by plunging into a part of a river that’s at first turbulent and then becalmed, so much so that one’s attention shifts to bird and crackle noises. A below-water plunge blocks out other sounds before a resurfacing brings back in faint traces of humanity and the chirp and percussive gobble of various bird types. With the quiet simmer of water in the background, aggressive caws inhabit the forefront of the listening space, suggesting that the creatures are close, perhaps uncomfortably so, to the listener. “Alexandrina Flux” begins with a violent intermixture of water and bird noises before widening the panorama to include wind sounds, near-subliminal dog barks, traffic noise, and a dense, electrified array of insect thrum and chirp—a gradual hydrology-to-entemology transition deftly executed by Louth-Robins.
As mentioned, for listeners keen on matching the sound material to specific locales and for acquiring in-depth info about the sounds recorded, the textual commentary included in the booklet offers precise details regarding where the field recordings were captured. One learns, for example, that “Fleurieu W. (Across Two Bays)” opens in the early morning on a bridge overlooking the Bungala River and that bird types heard are crows and finches, and that “Fleurieu E. (Across Two Islands)” comes to an end on a long sandbar near the Murray Mouth where gulls, pelicans, cormorants, and finches gather. On a final note, the conjunction of photography and sound also works remarkably well in this particular case.