Pocket-Sized / Planar Shapes

American composer James Caldwell has been producing his home-grown brand of musique concrète since 1998, electing to work exclusively with small objects as the sound sources. It stems from his habit of being a self-confessed “hoarder”, carrying too much stuff around in his pockets. One day he fished out the contents and started to make recordings from loose coins, keys, even a paperback book. Over time he broadened his horizons a little and started to use nearby objects grabbed from his desk, like pencils and stapler, and domestic objects around the house; then looked outside his window and started to wonder about using stones in the garden and cicadas as well. At all times he remained true to the “pocket” ethos, hence the title of Pocket Music (NEUMA RECORDS NEUMA 135), subtitled Concrète Miniatures. While he does provide a long list of composers and musicians who have inspired him, he doesn’t once mention Pierre Schaeffer or the GRMC. This may be deliberate, as his aesthetic goal isn’t exclusively composerly or even very high-minded; he would simply like the listener to take more delight in commonplace objects. While the resulting music and sounds are highly abstract and radically changed, somehow everything is still recognisable and vaguely familiar, operating on a small scale that tends to make the listener feel comfortable. The work was realised in Western Illinois University EMS, and at his home. (08/02/2021)

From same label, we have the Spanish composer Juan J.G. Escudero, with a collection called Shapes Of Inner Timespaces (NEUMA RECORDS NEUMA 134). Four compositions on offer here, along with the four-part sequence ‘Shapes Of Inner Timespaces’. I suppose this is largely modern electronic music – at least one piece was recorded at the LIEM-CDMC in Madrid – but the main point of interest is the method of composition, which makes extensive use of advanced mathematical concepts. Escudero explains in his annotations how concepts derived from geometry, physics, and algebraic integers have been used to determine elements of the composition, especially duration and sequencing. When he speaks of “complex Calabi-Yau threefolds” and “14-fold symmetry planar substitution tilings”, I admit I am completely out of my depth, but Escudero understands these fields very well – he has published his research in algebra, geometry and astronomy, and is probably also very conversant with new technology to generate music along the lines he intends, following the contours of these scientific notions. It’s complex; the press notes try and make the proposition more palatable by connecting us back to Ancient Greek theories of the connections between numbers and the harmonic series, but I’m finding most of Inner Timespaces too abstruse and remote for my liking; not enough of a human dimension for one to connect to. While I have no reason to doubt that these exercises demonstrate some deep truth about higher mathematics, I sense that not enough attention is paid to aesthetics or beauty in the finished work. (08/02/2021)

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