Medina Vibrations is a diverse collection of sound works that include an exhibition, an installation, a live piece and a studio work. Together they paint a sonic picture of an active listener with an avid mind. From field recordings to mystique concréte, Tom White never fails to fascinate.
The tape’s full title is Medina Vibrations & Other Works, placing all the attention on the opening piece. Just prior to lockdown, White’s housing block was covered with scaffolding, draped with “translucent white netting.” The sounds of hammering, chirping and electromagnetic waves permeate the recording, which may remind some of Daniela Fromberg & Stefan Reign’s Unfamiliar Home from last year. White’s composition is more of a soundscape, conveying not only the actual sounds but the feeling of having one’s home shrouded and being a passive recipient of unwanted noises. One thinks of the sheets one placed over one’s head as a child, pretending to hide or preparing to scare; but those sheets were removed at one’s leisure. The motors and hums of “Medina Vibrations” might have been soothing had they been controllable, but the residents of the complex were at the mercy of their invaders. The spectral sounds of the center even sound like disturbed spirits; but by creating loops, White exercises a modicum of control.
The most recent piece, “Energiser,” is a study of perception, especially as it pertains to the thin line between organic and electronic sound. White records dead flowers, a metal tube, an electric fence; he then dares listeners to decipher the origin of his sounds. The water in which the tube is dipped seems obvious, but the accompanying high-pitched hums are not. In the technological era, we’ve become so acclimated to artificial sound that it can be as accepted as the plastic embedded in our bodies. Given the disorienting context, when a mourning dove coos, the listener is not sure that it is a mourning dove, while the wind may be coming from a turbine.
“Hooligan” gives tongue-in-cheek attention to the drunken football fan, and again White controls the volume, modulation and loops. The inebriated fan believes he has some form of dominance; White wrestles it back, proving that his own manner of feedback is louder than the fan’s. In the end, he makes the fan sound like a monkey. Who is the hooligan now?
The closing “Pebbledash Piece” begins with amplified gravel passing between a pair of cones, but ends with motors that roll across the floor toward the audience. In this live performance, White seems to be saying that listening is not just a passive act; we move toward or away from certain sounds, while others, especially those in the animal kingdom, move toward or away from us. We may not recoil from refrigerator hum, but we do from jackhammers and drunks. The challenge is to strike a balance, described in Garret Keizer’s The Unwanted Sound of Everything We Want, and demonstrated succinctly in this album of sound art. (Richard Allen)