Ombrophilia is a beautiful recording of electro-acoustic (or rather, “electro-aquatic“) music, inspired both by the minimalism of Terry Riley, and by music made on south Indian jalatarangam, porcelain water bowls played with bamboo sticks.
Ombrophilia means ‘an abnormal love of rain’, and here’s one artist’s exploration of rain’s patter-physics: Japan-born, French resident Tomoko Sauvage‘s first solo album, on which she uses water bowls to amplify and synthesise the inimitable shimmer of waterborne sound’s random motions. It was initially released in 2009 on the and/OAR label, but is newly available either as a vinyl edition on French label Aposiopèse, or as a digital download via Bandcamp.
The album’s three opening pieces meander through the gentle rippling of “Amniotic Life” to more agitated waters. Dripping sounds and a rustle of wind-chime sonorities on “Raindrop Exercise” create a rich, lustrous, and distinctively aquatic tintinabulism, a sound developed further, on the more complex “Mylapore”, as ecstatic, clangorous ritual.
Vinyl ‘Side A’ concludes with the relatively intimate, lushly multivalent “Making of a Rainbow”, comprising the amplified sounds of many small drips and drops resonating.
Sauvage takes a playfully tactile approach, gently agitating – “flicking, stirring, waving and dripping” – water held in porcelain bowls, resonating them mostly without touching their surfaces; using underwater microphones to capture sounds which she then subjects to subtle electronic processing. She does little to disguise, but rather amplifies the watery essence of her music, so that much of Ombrophilia has all the seductive, immersing intrigue of a field recording.
On “Jalatarangam Revisited”, however, individual sonorities are stretched and shifted, and layered to become a swelling, glistering cloud that dissipates almost as soon as it starts to cohere. Here, Sauvage gets more ‘hands on’, playing her waterbowls with wooden spoons and metal wire.
In further contrast to the chiming timbres dominant on ‘Side A’, a second take on “Amniotic Life” amplifies its quotient of softer, gong-like sounds, inducing in this listener a muzzy sense of torpor. Also in the mix here are subtle drones, perhaps produced by audio feedback between hydrophones and loudspeakers.
While Sauvage’s music mostly inspires wakefulness, a concluding return to “Raindrop Exercise” is likewise narcotic, an exercise in rainfall gamelan that cries out for experimentation with looping and opiates.
Sauvage imbues her music with the liquid unpredictability of her primary sound source, and renders each individual sound as a vivid sense impression. I can easily imagine that her art is extremely effective in installation settings, with unique spatial resonances and site-specific ambience exploited to the maximum; but Ombrophilia offers it in crystalline distillation, multitracked and artfully edited on hard disc.