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Pure Sounds Of Michigan Bernie Brooks , June 21st, 2019 10:32

Pure Sounds Of Michigan paints a beautiful but incomplete picture says Bernie Brooks

Every day, I wake up to the sound of five or six or seven varieties of birds. My backyard hums with bees and wasps and the occasional monarch butterfly. In the morning, when I take the dog out, I listen for the daily pok pok of the woodpecker whose hunting ground includes the nearly dead maple that looms precariously over my neighbours' small fleet of impeccably maintained automobiles.

I live in southeastern Michigan, in Metro-Detroit, and have done for thirty of my nearly forty years. I was born here. These sounds are the sounds in my bones, and are, to an extent, the bedrock of Pure Sounds Of Michigan, a new compilation of ambient music built upon field recordings taken by Blair French and Eddie Logix from ten parks scattered across the state.

Before we dive in, some facts for the unfamiliar: Michigan is the eleventh largest state in the United States, and the tenth most populous. If you were to drive from Monroe in the south to Houghton in the north, you would cover about 930 kilometres and it would take roughly nine-and-a-half hours. Michigan is comprised of two huge peninsulas (and dozens of islands) surrounded by four of the five Great Lakes, with a freshwater shoreline that totals 5,292 kilometres.

It's worth noting that "Lakes" is a misnomer here – these are enormous, extremely perilous inland seas with their own unpredictable weather patterns. In addition to one national park and many national protected areas, Michigan boasts the largest state park system in the US, with seventy-eight state parks, nineteen state recreation areas, and six state forests. It's hard to find an exact tally, but as far as I can tell, somewhere around ten million acres of land are protected at the local, state, or federal level, covering everything from marshland to sand dunes to mountainous terrain.

Pure Sounds Of Michigan sets out to convey a journey through these public lands via ten soundscapes by ten Michigan artists, including the venerated space-rock duo Windy & Carl and founding member of Slum Village turned producer Waajeed. Surprisingly, given the breadth of talent on display, the compilation maintains an impressive unity of both sound and feeling. This is due to the prominence of French and Logix's field recordings throughout, as well as the way the individual pieces are blended into one another using audio of car parks, footsteps, and people chattering and laughing.

These are the nostalgic, sometimes bittersweet sounds of half-forgotten family vacations and day trips made more potent by sustained drones, finger-picked guitar, gently cyclical strings, and the occasional piano or flute. The vibe is mostly pensive or placid until the last two numbers by Sterling Toles (featuring Rafael Statin) and Waajeed gently rock the boat. Toles's, the flute-forward 'Campfire Rituals', revels in the kind of pagan pastoralism brought to prominence by labels like Folklore Tapes, while Waajeed's 'The Rock' is an almost hauntological excursion that wouldn't be out of place on a mixtape of Ghost Box tracks. This is a beautiful, calming record. It is, as they say, good music to chill out to.

Depending on how you look at it, that might be to Pure Sounds Of Michigan's detriment. This comp, taken as a whole, is less a complete rendering of the spaces it depicts than it is a tourist-board-approved postcard. Michigan has a humid continental climate, which means we have very hot summers and cold, harsh winters. We're subjected to severe thunderstorms and tornadoes, blizzards and lake-effect snow. The weather here is frequently volatile, and the state's natural beauty is a product of that volatility, reflective of an almost ever-present tension you can feel in the air. Taking advantage of a nice, spring day feels like an imperative, because there aren't too many of them. The nature sounds we often hear, especially in our state parks, are startling and powerful: thunder, high winds, crashing whitecaps, sheets of rain violently battering whatever shelter you can find. These sounds aren't quite represented here, nor are the heightened emotions with which they are often intertwined. Waves languidly roll in, crows caw, campfires crackle, horses clip-clop along, coolers full of beer roll across pavement.

The postcard thing? It might not be too far from the truth. See that "Pure Michigan" logo? That's the slogan on our license plates. It's also the state's travel campaign, at whose behest this comp was produced. So, it's entirely possible that certain restrictions were placed on the project or that a specific range of moods was mandated. Pure Sounds Of Michigan is certainly a very on-brand representation of the Pure Michigan project, whose adverts often depict a sort of magic-hour idyll. But look at any landscape painting that attempts to capture the American sublime: What would become of their depictions of natural majesty without a heightened sense of the dramatic, which, again, is something Michigan certainly has a flair for? Of the tracks here, it might be that only Eddie Logix's 'Lake Of The Clouds' embodies something so rapturous, with its bright orchestral swells like blinding sunlight.

It's weird to listen to something this good and think that it could've been something more. There's real mastery at play. Try remaining unmoved as the warm hum and gentle melody of Windy & Carl's 'Forest Trails' wraps itself around bird calls and rainfall. Would I want more than this if I weren't from here, so invested in this place, with my own highly personal perception of it? Do I want something a project like this is inherently incapable of providing? I'm not sure I know. What I do know is that half-finished portraits can still be exquisite.