In ‘Local Knowledge’, Dublin-based sound artist Fergus Kelly offers up nine slices of finely-textured personal psychogeography. Documenting a year of Kelly’s regular perambulations along a 4km stretch of Dublin’s Royal Canal, recorded at different times of the day via an array of different devices, it is a deep dive into a world in which the quotidian is transformed into a surreal sonic odyssey. Like a latter-day Leopold Bloom, Kelly wanders seemingly without direction, his strolls bringing him in contact with all sorts of people and phenomena: ice cream vans, birdsong, fireworks, helicopters, train conductors, the traffic, the wind, the rain. As soon becomes clear, this randomness is deceptive. Sudden cuts and shifts in emphasis deepen the atmosphere, but also reveal the artistry behind the naturalistic exterior.
Condensing 12 months’ worth of recordings into just under an hour enables Kelly to deliver a rich evocation of a specific landscape that is somewhere between city and countryside. But he’s also happy to mess with the tropes and techniques of field recording in order to move beyond the limits of the real, manipulating various sonic elements of his material into electrical fizzles, mystical chimes and extended drones, dissolving his mundane surroundings into a series of hallucinatory moments. Imagine wandering around your hometown on magic mushrooms – all of the people and places you remember are there, but the colours are running and the edges are a little … blurred. It’s most disorientating in ‘Local Knowledge Part 7’, when a babble of cheeky dialogue – presumably directed at Kelly – bursts through the hazy clouds: “Are you waiting on your cameraman? Oh you’re getting the sounds, sorry … What the fuck ya listening to?”
On ‘Local Knowledge Part 2’, this reality distortion is achieved through swift edits and careful juxtaposition. Liquidy swooshes that could be weir or rainfall, or both, swirl around their accompanying sonic elements in feats of impossible geography, occasionally threatening to subsume everything in swathes of white noise in a manner that recalls Seth Cooke’s Bristolian sloshes in his take on Stephan Thut’s ‘Aussen Raum’. But the best comes right at the end. In ‘Local Knowledge Part 9’ Kelly gives us a masterclass in bringing out hidden riches from his material, and in doing so, he moves far beyond the everyday. Here, ghostly, metallic echoes merge with construction site growls. The overlapping clanks of passing trains drive muddy, percussive notes through the gloom, accompanied by the numbing toll of an electrical alarm. It’s not not so much a sound-walk as a ghost train, descending through the underworld to some unknown final destination.