Emeka Ogboh - Beyond The Yellow Haze (A-TON, 2021)
On a Series of soundscapes that merge the atmospheres of Lagos with the electronic sensibilities of Berlin, Sound and Instillation artist Emeka Ogboh crafts and nurtures a beautiful set of reflective sequences that channel all the interactivity and bustle of the city.
Using the environments around us to fuel the music we make has always led to wonderful results, no matter where in the world we might draw influence from. Experiencing a city, its smells, its noises and its people, can leave powerful imprints in our memories and visions, crafting our own interpretations and experiences that arrive to us through walking, living and breathing it all in. Our daily routines, or our passing fancies, lead us to noticing and perceiving the built form around us through eyes that pick up on changes and transitions, particularly on our hometowns or the places we call home, as buildings and spaces come and go with an ever increasing rapidity. We feel the energies arise from places where people gather, where events happen, where activity is concentrated, a sense of community and vitality that sparks something within us, a connection to the living breathing world that persists all around us. Music can be an intense medium when connecting us to certain places and spaces, and for many musicians throughout time it has been an ambition to craft a deep and profound connection to their roots and their pasts and presents. The resulting experiences are deeply moving as a result, providing a window into a world that remains intrinsic to the artist, allowing us to see through into scenes and situations which they saw unfurl with their own eyes, a personal trip through vivid memories and feelings which come across so intently within the music. It might be a grand and scaled vista, the twilight over a pristine view, or the dimming bright lights of the urban metropolis, the music begins to reflect the interactivity of it all, be it energetic, subdued or passive. We feel the spaces between the rhythms, the reflective wavelengths that jump and rebound off the city streets as we traverse the imagined spaces presented before us, ones that bleed through the headphones and fill the room we find ourselves within, fantasising over the people we could meet, the interactions that skip across the peripheries. Its no surprise that these kinds of records take up special places in people's hearts, as they speak to our own interpretations of walking and experiencing places we know on an intrinsic level, with the sounds presented to us reminiscent of our own wonderings through places we remember from before and always wish to come back to. Its music with feeling, with context and meaning, adding weight to every single drum and key, keeping us involved in the continual presentation of environment and mood, a cavernous experience that keeps moving with the times to provide us with feelings that flux and morph each time depending on our mood heading into the listening session. A window into worlds imagined and lived through another's eyes, presented to us as an audial and visual narrative that spreads itself out as far and wide as possible, linking us to their environmental memories that are as enriching and involving as possible, continually adding further to our sonic wonderings as we traverse through our own memories of place and context. Its a powerful tool indeed, and as a music experience it has all the substance and depth you could ask for, an environmental story conveyed through mood, emotion and rhythms which place us firmly within the centre of it all, eager to see the sights, sounds and the people who inhabit this plain.
"What actually got me interested in sound, its ability to take you to places, it transports you to places you aren't physically present"
Conveying a powerful and audial narrative as one sinuous piece of artistic expressionism is something that very much falls within the parameters outlined in the intro, and it is something that Nigerian artist and sound engineer Emeka Ogboh has perfected in both the gallery context and also in the form of recorded music. Ogboh is engaged with how sound effects listeners through its broader feel, with intricate investigations of crafted soundscapes helping to reveal and unravel to those who find themselves deeply immersed within the music the people and the urban form that inhabit his pieces. His work is primarily concerned with representing the character and atmosphere of cities, utilising sound both recorded in the field and designed along with video pieces in order to craft visual and audial narratives. The emphasis of the field recordings aspect in particular is to capture the aural infrastructure and history of these cities, with the city of Lagos acting as a prominent source of inspiration in his works. He has exhibited instillation works at numerous galleries around the world, such as the 2017 'The Way Heavenly Things are Going' instillation that was originally set up in Athens as a reflection of the global Financial Crisis which combined a traditional Greek lamentation song with live export indexes from the stock exchange, and the 2016 'Market Symphony' sound instillation at the Smithsonian National Museum Of African Art in Washington D.C, which focused on the sights and urban ambience of Lagos. His relocation to Berlin 6 years ago led to further explorations of combining the Nigerian City's audial textures and atmospheres with the German city's musical identity, with the resulting instillations being exhibited at his 2018 exhibition 'No Condition Is Permanent', that was held at the Galerie Imane Farès and was originally released as a limited run vinyl in that year. Ogboh also collaborated with Finnish producer Ilpo in 2016 on the release 'LOS-HEL: Possible Cities', which saw the Ilpo pair Ogboh's sound recordings with delicate rhythms and repeating melodic lines that channelled the interactivity and vitality that abound from Ogboh's field recordings. Ogboh channels his audial influences into spaces where people become so involved, either directly or indirectly, in the world that beings to be painted around them, via a sea of vibrant sounds that echo the everyday, the interactivity, the vibrancy of urban hubs and centres that captivate the senses with their busyness and depth. When sound design and recording reaches this level of consideration, it feels as if we are being placed directly within the heart of the urban spaces being represented, greeting and conversing with the voices we hear, mentally picturing the vehicles that pass us by and the buildings which tower over us from all directions, its a capturing of environmental essence that remains so vivid and so powerful through both what we can hear and what we can potentially picture. Ogboh draws from his influences and his dedications to explore how environments can be re-crafted without the need for obvious visual imagery, instead focusing on the power of sound to pitch perfectly bring to life places we might have never experienced before. His personal creative mission is presented to us as an encapsulated journey, one that points to all manner of spaces and people in its quest to unravel the intricacies of modern life and the ever growing and complex urban centres that many call home.
So now we turn to the latest offering from the artist, 'Beyond the Yellow Haze', that arrives via the A-TON imprint. The music contained within was included as part of the 'No Condition Is Permanent' exhibition from 2018, with this release a reissue of the original 150 strong run of records that arrive that year. From the off, the relationship between melodics and sound recordings is crystal clear, as Ogboh intelligently pulls a permeable membrane over the two elements in order to morph and manipulate at his leisure, creating a series of audial environments that are highly dynamic, rhythmically pleasurable and full of vitality. The dynamism that occurs is off the chain, with swells and fluctuations occurring frequently as a result of subtle manipulations of the imagined and real worlds that are painted before our very eyes. We get lost in a sea of colour and texture that moves from the structured and into the free form with ease and meaning, reflective Ogboh's mission to recreate the feeling, emotion and experiences that are felt in our day to day urban adventures. Its a glorious piece of sound design, composition and atmosphere building, and on that note, lets take a deep dive into this absolute gem of a record.....
The opening track, ‘Lekki-Aiah Freeway’, begins things off in true field recordings fashion - the warm embrace of carefully tinkered with static. The fuzz gives way to a singular percussive element, that looks to craft a rhythm out of the haze, and after this feature has moved along through a few bars, the density of the track comes into view via the form of a repeating bell like chord that drives right through the middle. Its rhythmic quality extends well beyond its initial landing point, spreading itself out into the spaces that persist between their applications, with beautiful tones resonating in the backdrop, holding up the foundations that dwell underneath. The percussive features have multiplied in both texture and density, matching the swelling chord line with infectious enthusiasm, with subtle melodic lines swirling around in the spaces, as the polyrhythms begin to double up on each other. Around the 3:30 mark, the track introduces its first main deviation from the original structure, as a swirling key line moves within the higher ends of the cut, creating a sense that the movement as we know it is transitioning into a new dawn, with the chords allowed to drive the track onwards a little bit more before everything fades to reveal a audio sample of Lagos. The car horns and distant chatter provide an excellent respite to the deep pulses that have led us this far, and Ogboh brings it back together as the two lines of thought combine to see the track out. A reflection of the daily motions that bind us all to the worlds around us. So very forceful, this one. Up next comes ‘Danfo Mellow’, and this one begins very much within the world that Ogboh looks to reflect in his work. The sample pans from left to right and back again, showcasing a keen ear for replicating the conversations we hear on the daily as we move through urban areas, with voices from all over chattering, conversing, speaking, with the intelligence of the dynamics of the conversations making it feel so broad and vivid. The sample fades away to give over to the emerging melodic and percussive structures, that bring themselves together to form a delicate weave like structure that sees the almost sensual flowing key line work its way around a brilliantly light drumming pattern. The two sequences take the time to get to know one another, eager to learn more about what both is representing, as snippets of conversations make their way back into the equation as the drums look to respond in kind to these fluctuations in audial activity. The sonics are deliberately laid back and repetitive, giving over that impression of our wonders through the urban realm being passive to that which we see around us all the time, but here Ogboh draws so much focus to the conversations and sounds that swirl around us constantly. Its very much his vision of the city, one that is hyper aware of the little things that amount to such a complex form. Light keys begin to align themselves with the ongoing momentum, bringing another layer of subtly int the equation, as the original sequences continue to weave and wind their magic in the sub conscious, swelling and receding as waves upon waves of sound wash over our head. Such a peaceful transcendence is felt with this cut. Glorious stuff.
‘Everydaywehustlin’ comes next, and this one begins with the skipping percussive features traversing their way across an imagined plateau. In the distant, a deep metallic bass line calls out to us, guiding us from our current destination along a busy Lagos street, as voices and background noises start to layer themselves upon one another on both sides of the pan, with the rhythm starting off somewhat slow and subdued before picking up significantly with the introduction of further percussive elements. From an arrangement point of view its incredibly clever, with the instrumentals reacting to this introduced buzz of activity with such eagerness that we arrive at the first climax of the cut completely immersed in all that is going on around us. For the first time Ogboh really gets creative with the manipulation of the vocals, as singular utterances and car horns become instruments in their own right, moving at a frantic pace across the top ends to provide depth in sonics and broadness in dynamics. The drums retreat slightly around the 4 minute mark, providing more space for the recordings to shine, and before long we arrive back into the density of the drumming patterns, which swell and grow and multiply throughout space and time. Amazing. Up next we have ‘Palm Groove’, and this one takes it deep into the fabric of the urban grain. Soft pulsating synths form the bedrock of the cut, as the sound of ever present rain filters through the holes in the ceiling as a singular vocal sample calls out from within the wet, slotting in perfectly on top of those sweet beautiful chords. The arrangement sings of a city waking up, one that is preparing for millions to come through and share their stories, their experiences, their loves and their ills, projected through a grey yet optimistic morning light that sees the sun cropping up on the horizon line. The sound of thunder and additional vocal lines add further to the track’s powerful intensity, as we look out from the balcony to see the city growing in interactivity and movement, people getting ready to seize the day and do something productive, meaningful and so on. As the final full length statement on the record, it really takes the listener to new spaces and places, where the rhythmic representation is left to the imagination rather than presented fully, with the keys found here at their most reflective and emotive. To wrap things up, we have ‘Outro’, and after all that exploration and deep dives into various scapes and places, the moment feels right to end on a simple field recording, one where the sounds that punctuated the previous cuts makes an uninterrupted foray into the limelight, save for a single bell sample that adds a flicker of the feeling we had from the rest of the record. Simple, effective and powerful, its the city at its most raw, its most unprocessed, just existing as it is, with limited interpretation. The perfect ender.
There aren't many on this earth who channel audio as an artistic expression, but Ogboh does it so very well indeed. Its the sign of an artist who has total conviction in their creative endeavours, who has a clear vision for what their art and music is here to represent, and the music found here does a brilliant job at showcasing the sounds and textures present in the city of Lagos an Ogboh's growing passion for Berlin's electronic foundations. The two elements are paired together with an effortlessness that sees the sequences grow and abound together, at ease in each other's company in providing an unbelievable experience that transcends listeners to many new plains of existence. Ogboh tells a story like no other, which with electronic music is always a tough ask, but his blend of field recordings and electronic sequences is simply some of the finest you will ever come across, and we can't get enough of it. Top draw, on every level.
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