Track-by-Track: Arthur King’s “Changing Landscapes (Zompopa)”

Continuing the thematic explorations of Changing Landscapes (Mina Las Pintadas) with the latest entry, Changing Landscapes (Zompopa), Arthur King find inspiration in an unlikely place. I won’t give it away and will let Peter Walker’s breakdown dig into the magic. These sonic landscapes are mesmerizing with their familiar ingredients presented in novel expressions. The ensemble on this album is Walker, Mia Doi Todd, and David Ralicke, and the musical language they create is otherworldly. Changing Landscapes (Zompopa) is a marvel, leaving me mesmerized and emotionally invested in the new pathways it carves out and the memories it builds from the unseen cosmos.

Changing Landscapes (Zompopa) is out now on AKP Recordings. Grab it HERE.

A quick primer: equipped with audio and video recording devices, I went to a Costa Rican rainforest in search of a leafcutter ant colony, the zompopa, in order to observe and document them and their surroundings. The purpose of the exercise was to gather information to be used in an improvisational recording session, to try and creatively make sense of their world.

La Reina

This was actually the very first thing we did when the session started. We’re kind of getting our instruments going, taking it very gingerly and leaving a lot of space for whatever mood and melody might want to unfold. I was trying to follow Mia’s lead as much as possible, but I suppose we’re all following each other’s leads throughout, as there was nothing pre-meditated about the session. The emotional weight and contemplative nature of this track relates to my experience of watching and learning about the queen zompopa. She is a magnificent species who is both ruler and slave to the colony, tasked with the perpetual job of laying eggs to ensure the balance and survival of her subjects.

March Into Colony

A lot of what came out of this session was initially edited to accompany the short film of the same title. This track was part of a sequence that took the viewer underground for the first time, seeing the ants in their own realm—dark, active, and alien. We were watching footage of the ants in the studio while tracking, so were able to feed off of their energy and movements. David’s bass clarinet seems to fit the feeling of being one of many inside the colony, with the mass of ants and their chaotically-coordinated movements as they attend to their business. 

Microfungal Expansion

This was a rewarding sequence for me, where tension had built up to the point of release, with Mia and David playing off of each other as the track progressed. The ants have a specific and unique species of fungus that they share a symbiotic relationship with. It’s the only place in the world the fungus can be found—inside their colonies—and the ants both produce it (using the leaves they gather), harvest it, and rely on it as their food source. It looks like a sort of otherworldly, light-colored coral structure. To me, it highlights the almost unfathomable diversity of life, and relationships between life, in the natural world. The track ends with a simple field recording of rain in the Costa Rican jungle.

Photo by Brian Overend

Atta Cephalotes

This sequence begins with David and I getting into more overt sample manipulation, using the recordings of the ants and the jungle itself to create a chaotic digital soundscape. It then reverts to the simple, untouched sound of the jungle, and from there builds into a more contemplative take on the sonic environment. When using the field recordings in the studio, we allow them to set the tone for melodic and rhythmic development. They become a player to listen and react to.

Red Water

We’re deep inside the ant brain on this one. This was just about the last thing we recorded that day, at the very end of our session.

Funeral De Zompopa

The first three minutes and forty-five seconds of this track is the final audio piece in the film. The remaining seven or so minutes, one of the more concise, approachable movements of the day from a listening point of view, didn’t make the film, which I find to be sort of funny and interesting. This is the three of us, that day, in full stride.

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