Review: Arthur King ‘Changing Landscapes (Zompopa)’

Arthur King is a pretty unique group. This is the fourth album in their Changing Landscapes series that features musique concrète – real-world sounds – with a blend of 1990s science fiction and fourth-world strangeness, all centred around an ecological theme. Their latest album, Zompopa, is focused on the environment of Costa Rica.

Arthur King 'Changing Landscapes (Zompopa)'
Arthur King ‘Changing Landscapes (Zompopa)’ Artwork

The album, and the series which is well worth listening to, was created by musician and multi-disciplinary artist Peter Walker, who travelled to Costa Rica to create field recordings using ultrasonic and contact microphones. He captured the sounds of the rainforest with incredible detail, including the textures, sounds of rainfall, wildlife, and terrain, and even focused on the Zompopa Leafcutter ants to find a unique perspective for recording.

The sounds collected by Walker were then brought back to Los Angeles, where he collaborated with musicians David Ralicke and Mia Doi Todd to create the final album. Together, they transformed the sounds into different musical elements, taking them out of their original context.

What sets Zompopa apart from other experimental or avant-garde albums is its intelligent approach to the material. Sometimes avant-garde-y albums sound better in principle than in reality (read through Wire magazine if you need proof) because often you can’t actually hear the ideas or thought process that are taking place in the music. However, Walker‘s journey and the sounds he collected are used in a way that is not just raw recording but tells the story he wants to present. The album’s goal is to engage the listener with the sounds of nature without the preconceptions we often carry around with us, making the supposedly familiar unknowable again. Walker’s background in dub techo is also present if you are familiar with his work on Sandwell District.

Zompopa is an intense and humid record that will appeal to fans of dark ambient creators such as Robert Rich or Lustmord…

The opening track, La Reina, features wind instruments, electronic drones, and Mia Doi Todd‘s beautiful vocals. Alien chattering sounds gradually enter in the background, adding to the dense atmosphere. March Into Colony, featuring David Ralicke’s horn playing, begins accessibly enough before twisting and becoming brooding and menacing, giving the impression of a wander through dense rainforest. Microfungal Expansion is arguably the most conventionally ‘musical’ track, with Ralicke letting rip on the saxophone over the sounds of running water.

Red Water and Funeral De Zompopa are the most expressive tracks, creating an alien landscape that is both challenging and earthy. The textured horn sounds and droning electronic textures keep the listener feeling alienated, creating a unique opportunity to explore a world they didn’t know existed. The result is, when listening, you constantly question – what am I hearing? Is it human made, or from the rainforest? This is echoed by the artwork on the album cover, an infra-red bright blue mesh that could be a landscape or a representation of some deep data visualisation, both familiar and unfamiliar, unsettling and aesthetically impressive.

Knowing the background of the album does enrich the listening experience, but the sounds themselves take the listener to the creative place the band is working in, regardless of whether they know they are hearing Costa Rica’s rainforests. Overall, Zompopa is an intense and humid record that will appeal to fans of dark ambient creators such as Robert Rich or Lustmord.

Changing Landscapes (Zompopa) is out now through AKP Recordings.

Label: AKP Recordings
Band Links: Bandcamp

Scribed by: James Bullock