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Marcelo Radulovich - "(case of the missing) THUMB"

Marcelo Radulovich is a San Diego based musician, painter and sound artist, as well as a co-founder of the Trummerflora Collective, a Southern California group dedicated to experimental and improvised music (see Global Ear, The Wire 206). (case of the missing) Thumb merges 'phonographies', or field recordings, with treated tapes of analogue synthesizer music recorded on a boombox some 16 years ago. The result is not the documentary sound typical of phonography artists, but rather a fluid and impressionistic Ambient composition rich with environmental overtones. The dense swirl of sound approximates a dream that yields only clues with no referent: swirling water, footsteps, hives of voices, tangles of bells. Pendant harmonics fold in upon themselves,collapsing into blackhole drones or metallic clatter. The title, which emerges in a spoken word fragment at one point, adds to the air of mystery while the Babel of voices in Spanish, English and other indistinguishable tongues suggests a fottloose wandering. While sounds of rushing streams and birdcalls can run dangerously close to New Age cliches, under Radulovich's editing, paired with noise and unsteady melodic figures, they escape unwelcome connotations. A third of the way through, the music falls away, leaving as the only audible element an apparent explosion of fireworks, and the shouting of voices at close range. With radulovich's ear attuned to such moments, Thumb comes over like a fantastic travelogue, allusive - and elusive - in the same manner as Chris Marker's Sunless.

     - Philip Sherburne, The Wire


Chilean-born (and long time San Diego resident and Trummerflora leading light) Marcelo Radulovich's (case of the missing) THUMB presents a panorama of synthesized and natural sounds - a collection of field recordings ranging from chiming clocks and ice-cream vans to babbling brooks and children's voices - and sews the diverse threads of its source material into a seamless and rich tapestry. Though Radulovich's music has been described as ambient - a horrible word conjuring up memories of Brian Eno's "Music for Airports" and images of The Orb's Alex Patterson floating off Buddha-like into blue-room bliss - THUMB has more in common with the work of Hildegard Westerkamp and Eric La Casa than it does with the spaced-out synth doodlings of Peter Namlook. It's airy, colourful and satisfyingly laid back - in a very Californian way.

     - Dan Warburton (Signal to Noise, Fall 2001)


This is a label that likes it's fair share of bizarre musical madness and Marcello Radulovich adds to that madness with his latest album for Accretions, (Case Of The Missing)THUMB, a minimal and ambient affair that will win the ears of many new listeners looking for something new and exciting. He encompasses everyday sounds into his work. One minute your listening to a chirpy bird chorus backed by soothing atmospheric sounds the next you're in the middle of an industrial orchestra. The search for the missing thumb will no doubt get called off as you get drawn into this mesmerising album. Who wants to search for a thumb anyway? Fingers are far more effective!

     - JD 8, Wax


Radulovich is one of the group of musicians that has accreted around this San Diego label: &etc has looked at his solo release ('Two Brains' v208), appearance on the Trummerflora collection (v301) and live album (next issue), and his collaboration with Marco Fernandez ('The Whisper Chipper' v210). Listening across those disks has shown he has many moods and methods, so what have we here? In short, the soundtrack to a dream, with depths to sink drifting into. It was created from recordings made in California, Mexico, Hong Kong and Chile, and there are 6 parts which mark changes in the piece rather than separating 'songs' - the volume decreases as a component drops out, or there is a subtle change in balance.

The dreamjourney starts with a short introduction with nature sounds - birds, insects, crackling twigs - and talking layered over; light musical tones slide through; a sample of music, orchestral percussive MOR loops; overall there is a susurrus, which develops into a rain storm; a dolphin or bird calls; metallic echoes; voices and clattering develop. The elements have been laid out which will be manipulated, gathered and densely woven in the piece: nature recordings, people talking and musical samples. No instruments are credited, so I assume all 'musical' content is samples or manipulations.

The shift into the second part is signaled by the sudden removal of the music. We move into a 'pastoral' section where the natural sounds of the forest and people are prime: there is also a buzzing, and a string section starts playing behind the forest, softly at first but building momentum: metallic plings and orchestra tuning suggest a change in mood which comes towards the end with the rhythm of a pressing machine, confusion, water and echoes. The third section underscores the dreamlike mood - it shifts throughout from ringing and drones, sounds like a shopping mall, choppy music loops; water, animals and kids, a wooshing sound, tones and a fast organ swirling around; a calliope playing Popeye the Sailorman; and finally, appropriate for a dram, dark sounds. And on into the nightmare perhaps, the darkest part of the dream: a squealing noise runs throughout, with string orchestra and people again, and deep below Popeye plays briefly. A song tries to emerge, and voices and tones battle against the squeal. And win in the next section, which is quite settled and ambient - the music continues, birds chatter over human talking which cycles into a discussion, radio voices and water: then almost music of a guitar and tuned percussion, looping and swirling into a more relaxed dream state. After which a relatively short coda is very gentle and musical, soft tones and echoed water drifting us into consciousness again. The imagistic title is taken from a park sign pictured on the cover - apparently a reference to the bear's four fingered hand (See Gould's 'The Panda's Thumb') - but gains a sort of strange allusive depth when attached to a piece of art. And the plumbing of those depths is the pleasure afforded to the listener. Through pace, placement and sensitive manipulations Radulovich has treated/composed/constructed a compelling electroacoustic collage which has more than enough detail to keep you coming back, and an atmosphere that reaches out and holds you. (At Radulovich's home page there is a link to a Phonography.org, an email group who have also put out an interesting looking compilation (which &etc has shown an interest in - watch this space) http://www.phonography.org).

     - Jeremy Keens, Ampersand Etcetera


Now this is a CD with withheld information. This is what Radulovich believes we should know about his music:

"(case of the missing) THUMB symbol... signifies, stands out sore and happy. walkabout in a day. such a holiday. treats summer... no burden beast sing. water. fall. flows..." He also inserts that the recordings were made in San Diego, La Butadona (Mexico), Big Sur, Hong Kong, Santiago (Chile) and San Francisco. (However, there is more info on this multi-media artist of Chilean descent on his homepage, to which I direct interested parties. The link is provided above)

To make things worse, the grammatical malfunctions (intended or not) above, are presented in a layout that makes the text almost unreadable... Frankly, the cover is extremely ugly and non-functional... if the intent wasn't to make me angry and tired of the whole thing... However, even though this probably is the most irritating piece of CD cover I've ever seen, I'll have a listen to the contents...

You're thrown right into a soundscape of hushed qualities; just the rustle of wind through leafy crowns, footsteps, distant children's voices, birds chirping and then talk show radio, perhaps in Chinese - so I suppose Radulovich has mixed the recorded locations - or maybe the order of the unnamed tracks on the CD is not analog to the order of recording locations mentioned above. The rustling of the wind stays on, but is filled out with unidentified, soft-spoken hypnotic trance music of minimalistic qualities. Seabirds scar the air with their shrill voices, and the wind through the trees comes and goes in waves of varying density.

Track 2 follows number 1 without a break, in a really ugly cut, but it must be intended, because you don't do that kind of thing otherwise. You still experience children's voices and wind, and a timbre-rich organ tone fills up your space, panning slightly, as the wind is getting louder too, carrying the chirping of back-yard birds. Perhaps the grunts of pigs in a pigsty are detected too. Like on track 1 a soft, meandering, fleeting music of synthesizers (?) rise through the environmental sounds after a while, and I begin to take a liking to this kind of thinned-out, yet in a way dense environmental-instrumental composition. It seems to be achieved with a sense of poetry and sensitivity of touch, a sensitivity of perception and a soft application of the tonal paintbrush. I'm glad the cover didn't scare me off completely... (But I'm not sayingRadulovich shouldn't change that horribly boring cover!) Even though not much is happening in this repetitious wind-voice-bird-synthesizer walk-by, I nonetheless get a distinct feeling of movement, directional movement, quite speedy, through a thin layer of existence, simply headed for an ever-receding horizon of Man. Perhaps Marcelo Radulovich is taking the un-uttered, the un-said, the withheld to new depths through these compositions which simply hint at something that seems to be perceived peripherally, through the corner of the eye, from behind the fence, in the other apartment, a second or so out of synch...

Not seamlessly, but immediately, track 3 follows track 2. A church bell tolling at midday introduces fleeting, watery, brook-like proceedings with added restaurant kitchen clatter or perhaps pebbles slipping down glacial slopes. A sense of watery caves transforms into a city street bustle with voices of people floating about like hovering and suddenly speeding dragonflies. The voices swirl around you like were you a garbage can or a newspaper stand right there on the curb. It's a strange feeling of closeness and remoteness simultaneously, and this definitely is a quality of composition not often demonstrated. Trucks gearing up appear like soft drones of varying intensities, and Radulovich takes hold of the whole ambience of the city, throwing it around in shadings and lightings of from works by Jean-Claude Risset, while this method of spraying remnants of passing conversations in a thin film across the soundscape is reminiscent of Luc Ferrari and his "Presque rien"-pieces. Water and wind and human voices are the three constituting elements of these pieces, providing a basic atmosphere of spirit as well as matter. Recognizable, simple melodies emerge at times, and it makes me wonder whether I'm not hearing the sounds of a merry-go-round in America, with the horses going up and down and all around, like in Joni Mitchell's beautiful and forcefully sad "Circle Game" or Judy Spangenthal-Nordin's field recording of a creaking merry-go-round in Central Park, N.Y.C., playing "Georgie Girl" in July of 1989. These events in Marcelo Radulovich's piece could also - why not? - be fragments of music carried on the wind from Wollman rink, as the skaters swirl about in colorful clothes and waving scarves like in some Medieval Central European oil painting...

Track 4 continues the main, underlying timbres, but more brute assignments into murmurs and the infra-domain occurs, not - as it seems - disturbing all these voicesfalling around you like drizzle. Enchanted synthesizer colors rise like soap bubbles, their spheres reflecting the light and the cityscape, the buildings appearing in the many colored fleeting surfaces of the bubbles in concave shapes... and all the constituents of the environment are ground down in Radulovich's synthesized mix, rotating, spiraling, shooting off like lava bursts out of crevasses in the crust... and falling back into the mix to be fragmented and rearranged once again, down to the molecule, yes, to the atom, yes even to the elementary particles of the web of sounds - and the birds are still chirping, evoking some kind of hope for a future, some kind of continuation, even if not in this particular body, this particular life... but still...

Towards the end of track 5 more sparse constructions of sound are being erected, with strands of tones connected to sphere-shaped joints, and a notion of geometric patterns emerge through the haze of the collected activity. There is a pulsation present throughout Radulovich's CD, even though you may not always be able to put your finger on it and define it.

Track 6 opens on a bike-spoke note, panning the scenery, and deep murmurs out of the secret infra-worlds of below rise like protruding bubbles in the cracking asphalt of downtown areas, while the voices are kept like just another source of sound, and while water is trickling down a brook at your left ear...

I'm glad I didn't let the lousy cover prevent me from listening to Marcelo Radulovich's CD. It is a very unusual and original venture into sound and environment, worthy of many re-spins.

     - Ingvar Sono Loco


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