Life of a Potato
Released by Cronica
The potato has travelled a long way from its native lands in South America. The starchy tuber, brought to Europe by the Spanish in the late 1600s, slowly settled to become a key ingredient in most European traditional diets. As with many other vegetables, plants, and spices from elsewhere, we forgot the origins of the potato. We made them our own because food is an inherent expression of social identity. It tells stories, and evokes nostalgia, belonging, and wellbeing. Yet, the food system of the current times is desperately unsustainable. Like the potato, many other fruits, vegetables, plants, and animals travel far and wide daily, blurring territories, and playing an accidental part in the immeasurable impact of the politics of food production. The potato is an incredibly resilient element whose history traverses time and location, and its historical traces have very different socio-political nuances in the places I call home: Portugal, Ireland, and now England. It also grows seasonally in our gardens and is a tasty tuber, part of a rich sonic ecosystem. This seemed like a good starting point for a new project.
Life of a Potato uses a series of field recordings to unveil varied sonic perspectives of a garden near Pewsey in the Southwest of England. Here potatoes grow seasonally alongside other vegetables, plants and flowers. The field recordings include vibrations of the soil underground, potato stems as well as the stems of other vegetables, reeds, vibrations picked up through the rake, the garden in the sun and rain. The recordings were made between April and August 2021 as the tubers grew into potatoes and then were shared at the table. Side A explores the various sounds around the garden and sounds of the repetitive, yet enjoyable, task of roasting the potatoes: cutting them in small pieces, massaging them with olive oil, salt, pepper, thyme and paprika. Side B is slightly more abstract. It explores various sounds of energy used to cook the potatoes, the potatoes’ crackling sounds as they come out of the oven and sounds of the garden in an early evening, in October, when the potato season is finished.Purchase
Heard on the radio
Radio 3 - RAI
NTS Radio, Early bird show
CiTR 101.9FM Vancouver
BBC Radio 3
Freies Radio Neumünster
The Wire / Richard Thomas
Lcrewed by economic uncertainty, a Brexit born labour shortage, a supply chain crisis, higher fuel cost of distribution, the pandemic, climate change (flooding drought, temperature fluctuation), crop disease, the chips are down for potato growers in the UK. In May 2021 the FarmingUK website reported that at the end of March 2021 1.2 million tones of potatoes remained with with growers; that's 22 per cent of UK potatoes going to rot.
Sound artist Matilde Meireles doesn't engage with this reality but via a two-part series of electroacoustic vignettes she charts the lifespan of the potato from birth to death, soil to oven. and the habitat in which the potato came into being, in this case a garden in Pewsey, England. The first part "Roughly 53 Steps" opens with a subterranean encounter with the potato, an awesome low frequency rumble.
In the accompanying press blurb Meireles mentions making recordings of vibrations of the soil in which potatoes grow and also subterranean sounds transmuted by the rake. It is unclear if this rumble manages from the potato growth of some tectonic shift pitched up by the rake. Other sounds soon entre this hollow yet turbulent sound space, birds I cannot accurately identify and birds I can accurately identify – wood pigeons – are cross-faded in as are domestic/culinary sounds, slicing and chopping, and the oscillating hum of an oven warming-up.
The second part "Or 38 Metres" is a concise and really enjoyable electroacoustic mash-up derived from the comforting out ominous 40/50 hertz throb of an oven's fan, the sound of oil agitated by heat, and then, strangely, a rhythmic chopping pattern that reminds me of Neu!. As the piece develops, very subtly and quite unexpectedly, the minimalist chop beat is bolstered by a wisp of Morse-like electronics and spartan drums that have the same crispness and minimal funk as Luc Heller's drumming on Jacques Loussier's Pulsion. Then it just stops elliptically and enigmatically – a neat touch and very poignant, but not selfconsciously so.
Matilde Meireles celebrates the surprisingly long journey of one of the world’s most beloved vegetables with “Life of a Potato”. For a field recording it is a rather stellar mixture of low-end and high-end sounds. Rather tactile every single element of the journey is magnified. No melody, no rhythm, this is a narrative that comes through with various sounds that reverberate throughout the entirety of the collection. Both songs have a sprawling, soothing aspect about them.
On the first track “Roughly 53 Steps” there is a bit of Matmos’ wry sense of humor brought in. The mixture of the domestic alongside the wild helps to give it that extra push to a degree. Starting off quiet the piece eventually comes to incorporate an entire ecosystem. Hints of the bird song in the background further give it a sense of place, one that feels ever so soothing to fully embrace. All of it works wonders in creating this peacefulness, one that focuses on reflection, on the gentle rhythms that make up a person’s day. Much more composed “or 38 Metres” features a stronger hand at play. Rather than let the sounds be, her approach is direct. While this is no dance track, no endearing melody, it does have a less abstract approach than the opener. Here the pulsing bass almost alludes to a great beyond.
“Life of a Potato” features an uncanny approach to storytelling proving Matilde Meireles to be a rather skilled sculptor of sound.
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