Various / Curated by Francisco López
A Tasty Swarm Of Small Signals
STÖRUNG STR008 DVD (2010)
The mathematical structure of this toothsome flock of diminutive electronic compositions is 7 (sound artists) x 13 (tracks) x 2 (minutes), amounting to 3 hours of sound art miniatures best enjoyed through ‘good speakers’ or headphones. Compiler, Francisco López answered the call of the Puertas de Castilla Cultural Centre in Barcelona, which houses the ‘Experimental Music Sound Archive’, consisting of his own vast accumulation of years’ worth of tapes, records and CDs; the goal being to promote experimental sound art more widely. It’s a noble enough cause, and ratified by a number of illustrious participants such as Lawrence English, Asmus Tietchens, Zbigniew Karkowski and notable others. Ordinarily, the nebulous designation of ‘sound art’ designates nothing to my ears so much as cold art galleries and audio wallpaper, but I’m pleased to find that the contents of this DVD – while unlikely to rank among any of the artists’ most staggering achievements – provide a solid listen from start to finish.
Expectations thrown swiftly into abeyance, work begins with the work of James Webb (hitherto unknown to me). His thirteen pieces proceed in a decidedly non-linear manner, from electro-crackling darkness to surveys of sub-oceanic pressure, and much in between. It’s like looking at a white wall, arrayed upon which one finds a cross-section of lesser-known Expressionist miniatures, which are pleasing enough to the eye, if minor in stature. Louis Dufort (also unknown to me) reprises Webb’s eclectic aural splatter approach, except with larger canvases, which are plastered with frenetic activity: sound bounces between expansive electroacoustic, organ drone and mildly abrasive noise. It’s largely stimulating, though once again, the abrupt transitions are both jarring and annoying reminder of the small servings being served.
Lawrence English delivers a baker’s dozen entitled ‘Densities in Air’, offering a more streamlined set of aural experiences, subtly penetrating: like a dentist’s drill to the eardrum. Sounds like there are a lot of natural locational recordings processed to sound more alien. Francisco López notches things up a few Hz, with near-visible aural settings that include trains grinding to a halt at space station and an filtered assortment of industrial warehouse ambiences. Nothing groundbreaking, granted (which would be out of place here), but warm, womblike throbs and gradual textural refinement should eventually bring relief to any headphone-equipped listener. Alan Courtis serves up similarly sinister scenery consisting of black sandpaper walls, skittering insectoid mechanics and hints of flickering, low (and uncomfortably high) frequency radio signals. If you lack a wide-open listening space, this might just be of help to you.
From agitated granules, Tietchens’s ‘Vektors’ snowball (or pearl) into and from earshot and distance, the resulting moments of near-silence resulting in some of the only seamless continuity on offer here; over time the atmosphere acquires the torrential texture of an underwater sandstorm: abrasive, but in a pleasantly exfoliating way. I was about to recommend close listening through headphones, but then some kind of extra-terrestrial insect invaded my ear canal. Also unconcerned with guest’s etiquette, Zbigniew Karkowski (alas, one of our more recent musical losses) zaps ostentatiously into last place with his 13 ‘Polyphases’, which range from thought-drowning lazer-fests, to trance-inducing, deep-core drilling. While Karkowski plays with a single theme, his sonic range is perhaps the greatest, and quite perceivable is his subtle frequency modulation, and near-sentient metallic shape shifting.
Track by track, there’s not a dull moment here, and while possibilities are inevitably limited (unlikely the artists sweated blood to produce this material), you get plenty for your money. With the proper sound system (which I lack), rewards will be much richer I daresay. That said, while the flaws barely require explanation, I’ll proceed anyway: the chief inconvenience with the format is evident from the outset: sound snippets too teasing at two minutes and stopping too suddenly. Ordinarily, this would mean structural development is inhibited by such a characteristic, but the brief duration is a congenital consideration, and the brief lifespan of each piece ensures that each is its own audio microenvironment. At the same time, it strikes me as odd that the effort has gone into compiling so curiously bodied a specimen as this, but perhaps Mr López (and assuming it was his say-so) fancied trying something a little more unusual (and affordable) than a more conventional multi-CD set. Perhaps it is simply intended, as stated, as ‘the beginning of a number of future projects’; the present document amounting to a sampler or a CV that will in turn lead to more substantial work. In any event, if you fancy turning your regular listening space into an installation space, then the portable (and reliable) means can now be yours for a nominal fee.