Oceans, lakes and streams get all the glory, but Action Pyramid & Jack Greenhalgh are interested in ponds: specifically, the ways in which ponds offer their own take on the dawn and dusk chorus. In Mardle: Daily Rhythms of a Pond, hydrophones capture sounds that are normally unheard, while amplifications expose surprisingly conversational plant life. The disc comes with liner notes and a poster, which delve deeper into the subject of acoustic freshwater ecology.
The album jumps right in, beginning on a loud note before recessing, like the shock of cold water on bare skin. “Submersion” offers the sounds we normally hear: birds and insects, the splashes we create with hands and sticks; but midway, the hydrophone is plunged, offering a reflection of the same sounds as heard from below, enhanced by aquatic activity. Those who have held their breath underwater may have heard a few such sources, albeit in a briefer time frame. The piece folds directly into “Daylight / Plant Photosynthesis,” which offers some surprising sounds; photosynthesis can seem similar to distant lawnmowers, air being let out of balloons, and other less natural sounds, but can also sound like busy bees gathering nectar in the heart of the day or tiny sticks playing tiny bongos. The midsection of the piece sounds like the approach of a flying saucer in a sci-fi film, prompting the label to suggest synthesizers. The plants make hay while the sun shines; we leave it up to the listener to decide if the thought of a plant “workday” is revelatory or discouraging.
Again this piece folds directly into the next, day turning into “Night-time / insects,” although these are “aquatic insect choruses,” something one rarely if ever hears in regular life. The submerged world imitates the terrestrial world with avid calls and clicks, some species sleeping while others emerge. Might these insects be talking about the large intruder holding what looks like a fishing pole over their ecosystem? When the rain begins to fall, the subject changes; the pond is shifting acidity, the water levels are rising, and the air above seems more like the water below.
Mardle is a reminder that humanity is not the only civilization, nor is it one of the oldest; others preceded us, and will endure after we are gone. Such realizations may spark a new appreciation for humble habitats like the freshwater pond: worlds within worlds, vital and teeming with life. (Richard Allen)