Back Garden Symphony

We heard from American composer David Dunn with the 2002 CD on Pogus Productions, Four Electroacoustic Compositions, where we learned that he had worked and studied with Harry Partch and Kenneth Gaburo. The Pogus CD showcased some of his astonishing work with computer systems, resulting in rather complex music that had a lot of unpredictable and surprising elements. At least one piece there, the 1986 work Simulation I: Sonic Mirror, gave us an indication of his ecological leanings with its combination of field recordings, electric pianos, and data captured from the Californian mountain ranges reprocessed back into sound.

Some of these themes recur in today’s release, Verdant (NEUMA RECORDS Neuma 129), a single 78:44 piece which seems to have started life as a field recording captured in his own back garden in Santa Fe. He did it on an Easter Sunday during the lockdown, meaning that the area was exceptionally quiet, and the resulting hi-res audio document is described here as a “semi-wild soundscape”. The finished work is more layered, and indeed the composer describes an additional three “streams of time” as he describes them, sitting on top of the Santa Fe recording. These are sinewave drones; two electric violins playing “moderate duration pitches”, and themselves treated with additional complex processing; and “arpeggiated sine tone melodies”, which I suppose differ from the drones as they might have involved a keyboard to play them at some stage. However, I think the process that’s relevant to Dunn is not just the large-scale management of such diverse material through ten audio channels, but the way he’s trying to position the microphone as a musical instrument, or sound-generating device, in its own right – gesturing towards Stockhausen’s Mikrophonie as one benchmark.

This seems fitting, given Dunn’s apparently tireless quest to build a better mousetrap in his search for a more sympathetic document of the environment; he has devised his own invented mics to record beetles, bats, and marine life. Chris Watson in the UK has likewise shown such a dedication to the faithful rendition of wildlife sounds. In Dunn’s case, it reflects his “interdisciplinary” status, sitting between music and science; and his lifelong interest in such matters as bioacoustics and finding ways for diverse species to communicate. There’s a benign side to his work, that not only promotes care of the environment but contributes to the well-being of our own species too, and all this positive energy is embodied in the “healing” qualities of Verdant. From 24th March 2021.

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