A little over two years ago, The Arts Desk reviewed Hipnotik Tradisi, Black Merlin’s extraordinary first offering for Island of the Gods’ Island Explorer series. The idea is simple. Take an artist, invite them to Bali, let them soak up (and, crucially, record) the sounds, and see what happens when they process the results in a studio setting. As a business model for commercial growth, it’s unlikely to win The Apprentice, but as a clarion call to auteurs, it’s almost irresistible.
There’s a danger though, of course. The first hint of clumsy execution and this could look very like a land grab – claiming an aural landscape and sticking a flag in it in the name of disco drums.
Well, you’ll be pleased to hear that this is no hamfisted exercise in eco-tourism, it – as its predecessor – is very much the real deal. In fact, if anything, Fauna Mapping is even more locked into its location. Over 12 tracks and 45 minutes (on vinyl and download via Bandcamp) we are witness to something akin to documentary, but much more than field recording. The undulating waves of synth in “The Gecko That Wore Its Skin Inside Out” are counterbalanced by the pull of local sounds stretched just so. The same is true for the title track, in which the fanfare of fauna is layered so densely it becomes flora-like – phonic undergrowth perfectly setting the scene and providing a firm footing. Nash and Todd use these elemental building blocks with precision, care and an intuitive intellect, twisting them into familiar forms and, in doing so, helping us to translate the foreign landscape.
That’s certainly the prism through which to view this release. With their library of tailored tones underpinning gentle electronic washes, pieces like “Mushroom Omlette (And The Now Prevailing Cosmic Anxiety)” give us both depth and space to explore. Meanwhile, the fevered, scattershot punctuation of “Dengue” and “ No Pigeon” showcase edgier moods and a shifting, changing and multifaceted environment.
In this sense, Fauna Mapping is more like a beautifully detailed dispatch than a concept album – though, of course, it is that as well. It shows rather than tells, describes rather than declaims, and provides us with a rather wonderful document. Fauna Mapping is an exceptional soundtrack just waiting for an equally exquisite film to accompany it.