- Wren Kitz, Natural History vol. 1
(Another Earth, cassette, digital)
It was pouring rain the day I met Wren Kitz. As I interviewed the artist, whose work at the time focused on blending whispered folk with analog tape recordings bent and manipulated in imaginative ways, the soft shhhh of the steady, soaking storm outside his Burlington home perfectly complemented his personal energy. Ditto the work we listened to as he described it.
Nature field recordings have always been a part of the Kitz canon, and it was good luck for me that I met him on a day when nature was showing off what it could do with sound and texture. If I hadn't been interviewing him, perhaps he would have set up his vintage Nagra III reel-to-reel tape recorder to capture the rain for his stockpile.
Kitz often infuses his songwriting with lush atmospherics plucked from his sound library. But on his new album, Natural History vol. 1, he centers the natural music of harbors, ponds, swamps and the creatures that inhabit them entirely, eschewing his own songwriting altogether. It's a bit like the soundtracks he's created for the analog nature films his partner, Abbey Meaker, makes. The two artists' creations pair beautifully.
Natural History vol 1 is split into two tracks, each taking up a whole side of the cassette version of the album (issued by Another Earth, a publishing company founded by Meaker and artists Cristian Ordóñez and Estefania Puerta). The tracks are divided into sections that Kitz introduces with prosaic narration reminiscent of the audio tracks that accompanied mid-20th-century educational filmstrips. Putting on a slight vocal affectation and exaggerating his words, he becomes a sort of stodgy narrator character, a bookish tour guide through his work.
"Recorded in and around northern New England, unless otherwise noted, come the sounds of Natural History," Kitz says at the beginning of side A.
After a murder of crows flies in, he continues: "We begin in autumn, with the sound of crows traveling overhead toward their roost in the hemlock forest of southern Burlington, Vermont."
The album focuses on the music of the Earth: a choir of spring peepers contrasted with the gurgle of leopard frogs; Lake Champlain ice chunks bonking together and reverberating like a marimba; the pure shrillness of crickets en masse; the impossibly deep bass sounds that emanate from a hovering hummingbird's wings.
Kitz is a quality craftsman, whether he's writing complex avant-folk tunes or finding the extravagant sounds of the region. Natural History vol. 1 imagines a world without the clamor of people, one that was here before the advent of civilization — and maybe one that comes after.
Natural History, vol. 1 is available at wrenkitz.bandcamp.com.