I’ve never been to the jungle but from what I gather, it’s not a very quiet or peaceful place. You don’t often see game show contestants winning all-expense-paid trips for relaxing jungle getaways. And I’d imagine “Ocean Waves” tends to beat out “Parrot Squawks” when the average Spotify-perusing insomniac is trying to get a good night’s sleep. As Herzog says, the jungle is “fornication and asphyxiation and choking and fighting for survival.”
Whether this perception of the jungle is factually true or, as I suspect, an exaggeration heavily colored by Western fear and prejudice, it has made a powerful dent on the popular imagination. It certainly made a dent on composers of exotica in the ‘50s and ‘60s, whose music is a “constant reference point and inspiration” for Berlin-based sound artist Andrew Pekler. On Tristes Tropiques, Pekler delves deep into the sonic-psychic space of the jungle.
Tristes Tropiques is, above all else, a textural experience. The sounds of rainfall, birdsong, gurgling water, and machinery that Pekler renders– sometimes with actual field recordings, sometimes synthesized– are felt as much as heard. The heat of the jungle is even there– despite the weather outside, you’ll feel the humidity seeping from your headphones (this is a headphone album, if there ever was one).
The highlight track for me is “A Savage Topography,” where a rhythmic crackling of electricity and other percussive sounds slowly coalesce into something like anxious, disorienting club music. Tristes Tropiques is a dense but rewarding listen.