Tagged: sound art

Off Site

Test/Tone Documents (DRONE SWEET DRONE DSD018) is a new release from sound artist Thomas Tilly, whose work keeps growing on us here at TSP HQ. We normally associate him with field recordings as the starting point, but his work also mixes up such recordings with electronic music, and in places the whole Tilly career shades into some form of research, or investigation. On Le Cébron / Statics and Sowers, he did it with fields of broken ice at a lake in France, while on Script Geometry his starting point was the wildlife teeming in a rainforest environment. On Test/Tone Documents, his “subject” is a building in Reims, the modern arts centre La Cartonnerie, where he made this collection in 2007.

The aim appears to have been to document various sound events happening in the building, and – like many who have created similar statements – Tilly believes he has discovered the “central nervous system” of the building when he finds the electronic network that powers it, by which I suppose he covers everything from computers to lighting, lifts, air conditioning etc. We have encountered similar explorations by Francisco López (Buildings New York) and more recently Hannah Thompson and her work in Senate House, University of London. Tilly is evidently trying to make some statement about architecture and the use made of the building; he alludes to something rather intangible, suggesting that these sounds are merely traces of former activities, or “residual matter” as he would have it, and that in some way the four walls have “eroded” the sound made by these activities. This is shading into the metaphysical; I always reach for Nigel Kneale’s The Stone Tape as a comparison at this point, and want to ask the sound artist in question “is this what you mean?”. Kneale’s proposition was that the four walls of a building could actually record history by “capturing” the intense emotions of past violent events in the very fabric of its bricks and mortar; when these “records” of the events were replayed, we would see ghosts. It certainly terrified me as a teenager when I saw it on the telly in 1972.

Tilly’s investigations are thankfully more benign, and I found Test/Tone Documents to be a compelling listen, fascinated at the variety of textures on offer and listening with rapt attention as the building moves through its paces, like a friendly machine. If you’ve ever found yourself paying attention to an old fridge motor doing its stuff, you’ll understand why this might be of interest. Not only is it a vaguely reassuring sound, it even seems to tell a story (in an extremely abstract, bare-bones manner). The record thus succeeds in its aim to create a “listening space”; there is enough room here to wander around in, and breathe. López, in his work, made the New York building seem claustrophobic and alien; you are in no danger of that happening here. If you buy the full package (I only received a music CD and a one-sheet press handout) you get a set of documents printed on acetate (?), a poster, and a black sleeve hand-made by Jonathan Gowthorpe. From 10th August 2016.

The Payoff

Pierre-Yves Martel
Estinto
CANADA E-TRON REC ETRC025 CD (2016)

Estinto is an interesting title for this disc, as it means “extinct” or “(a debt) paid off”. However, what or whom Pierre-Yves Martel is paying off with this single 54 minute piece of music is not acknowledged. Treble viol and harmonica played simultaneously by Monsieur Martel, in a room, while sitting on a chair, probably; whilst being recorded by Ross Murray. It’s kind of like a pulsing sub-Wandelweiser silence-followed-by-signal-followed-by-silence piece; so if you imagine a guy sat there on his chair playing harmonica and treble viol simultaneously for 54 minutes. More like durational performance art, which arguably you might prefer to experience on dvd.

If you look at his website he is presenting himself more as an artist – it’s that ubiquitous term: “sound artist”, rather than “musician” although he does say that “he also works outside of instrumental music altogether, using a variety of objects rife with new sonic possibilities, from contact-mics and speakers to motors, wheels, surfaces and textures.” Like the label, he is Canadian; from Montréal I believe? The label is based not far away, in Hull, Québec. It is a piece of work that has a little trouble with its own existence outside of the artist’s head… I hesitate to use the word “conceptual” because there isn’t really much of a concept here. Clearly he’s playing with silence – the idea of using silence as a compositional tool which as I said before, is an idea I think he may have seen used by members of the Wandelweiser collective – although its equally possible that he came to this way of working in his own logical or logistical process of development – it is interesting to me (for reasons that admittedly have nothing to do with this disc before me) that Wandelweiser have gained or encouraged a reputation for using silence or quietness when quite a lot of their output is undeniably maximalist; Michael Pisaro’s A Wave And Waves for example – you couldn’t get much more maximalist than that, or at least this is the Greg Stuart rendering of it that I’m thinking of.

Pierre-Yves Martel’s work here is aimless, lacks the thrust of development and is somewhat repetitive. There are only two major changes that happen; although as an architectural tool compositionally this strategy works well. Overall, perhaps it could occupy the function of background music for an art gallery, say, were it not for the fact that sonically, it is so strident. This is a challenging piece. Do I applaud the artist’s decision to produce this piece of work? Yes. Yes, I do. Will I listen to it again at home for pleasure? I’ll let you know.

Four Walls Recorded

Here is the latest release from Crustacés Tapes, sent to us from Montreal – an art-tape label whose understated releases usually arrive with a printed card that’s been hand-decorated and the minimal text has been applied on with a John Bull printing set. Ryoko Akama is a new name to these pages, but she’s a well-respected composer and sound artist who runs a label of her own, Melange Edition, and also co-edits a publication with the foreboding name of Reductive Journal. She’s extremely minimal; proud of her “almost nothing” aesthetic, her plan is to create small sound events which I suppose are taking place on the fringes of human perception, often using small everyday objects (toys, balloons, bottles) to trigger them.

In the case of Hako To Oto (CRUSTACÉS #8), the small object in question is a music box. If you spin the tape, you might hear the occasional note issuing from said box within the confines of the “rural hotel room” in Portugal where it was recorded. Mostly though, you’ll hear a lot of silence, a lot of room tone…this is also part of Akama’s plan, creating “situations that magnify temporal/spatial experience with silence, time and space.” I found this release very testing, with nothing in the way of aesthetic enjoyment to reward one’s patience. But I expect I’m approaching it all wrong. It’s very clear she has virtually no interest in the music played by that music box, and wants the sound to break up the silence, or to punctuate the silence in some way. Maybe she intends this punctuation to take place on a grand scale, as though drawing a map of the hotel room, using sound as callipers.

In a way I have to admire Ryoko Akama’s determination to refuse conventional “beauty” in this work, and it obstinately declines to become anything more than just a tiny music box making occasional sounds in a silent room; no existentialist “meaning”, no transcendence through repetition, no deep listening, not even an appreciation of the silence, which Francisco López might once have insisted on. If any of this is near the mark, then it’s possible that Ryoko Akama is setting out a new benchmark for what minimalism might mean in the area of sound art. For more of her compositions, text-scores, installation pieces and so forth, see her site; she has performed Alvin Lucier’s Music on a Long Thin Wire, but that composition seems positively eventful compared to this. Arrived 29 July 2016.

Fixation Pulse

Sound artist John Chantler, ex-pat Australian living in Stockholm, impressed us to no small degree with his 2015 album Still Light, Outside which I think was made during his residency in London, where he curated shows at Cafe Oto and had access to a church organ at St John’s Hackney. “A terrifyingly oppressive, fluid piece of distorted organ manipulation,” noted Paul K. Morgan at the time. His latest offering is Which Way To Leave? (RM463), released on fellow Australian’s Lawrence English’s Room 40 label (the two have worked together, as it happens). It’s a compelling album of strange electronic music, that often moves beyond simple “droning” and doesn’t just tinker with unusual digital sounds for their own sake. To put it another way, Chantler has very clear ideas about what he intends to accomplish. This record, as title indicates, may have been influence by his recent travels, and settling back in Sweden after his lengthy UK trip.

Although the record opens with ‘Falling Forward’, an alarming piece of near-noise that seems to seethe with the chaos of untamed atoms and quarks, it turns out to be uncharacteristic of the remainder. What I’m digging on today’s spin is a mysterious journey through extremely abstract areas and terrains, where it seems that every detail of the surface beneath our feet is deemed worthy of intense examination. I’m not sure if we’re amoebas squirming under the microscope, or birds drifting in slow motion over a natural landscape, checking out the geography for clues. The perplexing journey continues right up to ‘All Visible Signs’. It’s a mesmerising experience, one I’m reluctant to wake up from.

There follows another unsettling and vaguely chaotic stretch of jangling noise-music which he calls ‘First December’. If you bought the vinyl version, this monster opens side B. This has so much swarming energy at its core that I’m tempted to recall stretches of Metal Machine Music, to which it bears a slight resemblance, only it’s a far less aggressive version and with most of the extraneous layers surgically removed. It’s also like experiencing the complete works of Terry Riley piled up in a car crash, conducted by an unknown John Cage acolyte. Imagine that if you can. Personally, I’m aghast. But there’s a lot of stark and shocking beauty to be derived from this swirling morass of power. From 26 July 2016.

Alternative Angles

Nigel Samways has passed this way a couple of times, first with his Nuclear Beach record in 2014, and then with Temple Of The Swine in 2015. Both were elusive records, characterised by a very diffuse cloud of sound and much overlapping of unidentifiable sound sources. His written explanations on these only served to deepen the mystery, of course. What I have always enjoyed is the beauty and the mystery of his work; fragile atmospheres, somehow captured successfully on a recording medium, without any pretensions or over-elaborated ideas. We’re getting much the same vibe from today’s record, a collaboration with Foss Moigne called Sanyo 07.1 / Sanyo 07.2 remixes (INEVERTHINKOFYOU INTOY4). Apparently it’s derived from a set of field recordings made in Japan using a minicasette dictaphone recorder; there are two remixes which give us “two new views of the same material”, and beyond some allusion to “similar structural elements”, we’re not told very much. The choice of lo-fi recording hardware no doubt accounts for much of the surface noise, but the actual sound events captured have an uncanny air; a root drone somehow floating in the air, lots of air and space, and the distant wail of female voices singing. It’s like a vision from the past, somehow captured and made whole. It’s a short 3-inch CDR, but you will wish these 20 minutes of divine sound could go on forever. From 20 July 2016.

Will Not Split

Two more cassettes from Kassettkultur are by Maja Ratkje and Bjørn Hatterud, both made at the same time and only ever sold together as a pair; “will not split” is the familiar rallying cry of antique dealers who hold a fine pair of ancient jugs. With the jury’s permission, we will mention them here together.

The first of these, Focus Foucault Foccaci (KULT 014), is not much more than a cassingle, and contains two tunes at five mins apiece. On one side the duo – appearing here as Solveig Kjelstrup & Maskinanlegg – appear to be adopting a quasi-ethnic stance with a performance based on percussion and a shenai-like reed instrument, to produce something Sun City Girls might have belched up as an interlude on one of their earlier ethnic forgery LPs. Or maybe it’s intended to remind us of Don Cherry and his bamboo flutes when he played with Ed Blackwell in 1969. At any rate it’s recognisable as music, which is more than you can say for the puzzling flip side. A nightmarish take on a patriotic song from the 1930s that was never written, or a national anthem for the smallest non-existent country in Europe, is put through the tape-processing treatment until it acquires a nasty and vaguely disturbing patina. The singing voice especially is something that creeps up your spine like a jellyfish. Not that the singer sounds especially menacing, but you don’t want him hanging around your house for long. Limited edition of 30 copies for this surreal slice of pie. Maja Solveig Kjelstrup Ratkje, to use her full name, is a genius composer, improviser and noise maker who never ceases to surprise me with the ease, expertise, and commitment with which she takes on each new and wholly unexpected project. Bjørn Hatterud should be notorious to all as a member of the Norwegian collective Origami Republika, a sprawling project of weirdness whose aim was to overthrow the known world through subversive, absurdist antics; it’s impossible to tell how many records they made, as they kept changing their name, and so evaded the confining boundaries of officialdom, keeping everything fuzzy around the edges. It’s a strategy that always pays off.

The second tape, featuring the same personnel, is called Malleus Maleficarum Maximum, and with its monochrome cover, gothic styled lettering, and supernatural title, it may fool some Black Metal fans into buying it. Boy, will they be in for a surprise! One side is a short fragment of ingeniously compacted music, perhaps using tape loops, that feels like a distillation of all 19th century classical music and opera that ever dared to flirt with a “heroic” theme (and thus drove its composers mad or deaf, or both). It becomes a nostalgic view of an imaginary past that never existed, now somehow transplanted into our ironic modern times for hipsters to wonder at. That’s the power of time-travel with which I credit these two deadly magicians. Part 2 is even more alarming. Voice elements are detectable here and it feels like human beings made this noise at some point, but it also feels like monsters and wild beasts were involved at some point. The ingenuity lies in the simple layering together of elements that don’t fit, and relentlessly bringing the thing in for landing against all the laws of sanity. I’m feeling unhinged just thinking about it…maybe there really is a “black magic” thing going on after all. As you all know, Malleus Maleficarum refers to “The Hammer of the Witches”, a 15th century guidebook for how to expose witches and then put them on trial, supposedly issued by the Catholic church. God alone knows what your basic witch-hunter would have made of these two musicians, if he’d been forced to endure this mind-melt of a cassette.

The Encrypted Gallbladder

Courtesy of the lovely Petter Flaten Eilertsen we received a bundle of goodies from Oslo. Included in the bag are four cassettes on the Kassettkultur label, proudly announcing their return after a “four year hiatus”. Among the releases is one oddity by Jono El Grande, a Norwegian composer who is entirely new to me. On the strength of Der Tod Der Gegenwartsmusik (KULT 016), however, we’re ready to award him the laurel wreath for madcap of the year, given his endearing zany antics on both sides of the tape. What greeted us was two short suites (circa. 11 mins apiece) of lively and demented stuff that freely mixes styles – pop, classical, jazz – with no reverence whatsoever, and a great sense of fun and discovery. In places it reminded us of Frank Zappa, back in the days when he knew how to have fun too; we say that because of Jono’s penchant for speeded-up tapes, strange voice interludes, excessively complex orchestration, and “impossible” speeds for musical performance. It’s possible perhaps that this work is mainly done by sampling and computer editing, but that matters not one whit when you’ve got such a tasty pizza with so many delectable toppings, served to you by a hilarious waiter on roller skates and dressed as a gorilla. Take a look at the cover art…also drawn by Jono El Grande…and you’ve got a strong visual equivalent of the music for your mental stomach to digest. This amiable loon seems to have spent much of his waking life forming “imaginary” bands and crazy music in his own mind, starting with The Handkerchiefs when he was aged ten, and a number of bands that only existed for one night – including The Terror Duo, Black Satan, The Pez Dispensers, and Acetaded Beat – before disappearing in the sky like so many fireworks. Be sure to seek out his earlier releases on Rune Grammofon and Rune Arkiv, if you find this polymath loopiness to your taste. From 19 July 2016.

Blowing Hot and Cold

Here is CD04 in the Alessandro Bosetti box set Stille Post (BÔ?T RECORDS BR R010 / MONOTYPE RECORDS mono100). It contains two related pieces under the combined title Campanas & Whistling Republic. On The Whistling Republic, a piece for WDR from 2003, we hear another mosaic assemblage made of fragments of recording, mostly spoken word and a strange whistling language. These elements are underpinned with an electro-acoustic droning sound which grows gradually darker over the course of some 25 minutes, leaving the listener with a highly ambiguous snapshot of something. The theme of The Whistling Republic is to do with communication, a characteristic it arguably shares with all the records in this box. La Gomera is one of the Canary islands, where people sometimes communicate in whistles. This “silbo gomero” as it’s known is described as “a whistled register of Spanish”, and has been included by UNESCO on its Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Bosetti may or may not be interested in protecting or preserving that heritage, but he’s certainly interested in it as a language. When he stayed on Gomera, he wrote down some texts – some of them diary records of his sojourn, a couple of them complete works of fiction – and then passed these texts to the locals, asking them to express his words using the “silbo”. He was apparently standing over a mile away at the time with his microphones, yet he still captured these amazing whistles on his tape deck, because one of the features of the “silbo” is its ability to carry a message over long distances. The spoken texts on the record are the attempts made by the Gomerans to decipher and translate these whistles back into the spoken word. As ever, I expect the lively cross-communication dynamic is what appeals to Bosetti in this situation which he has set up. I would interpret it as a metaphor for all human communication; we’re all acting as transmitters and receivers, sending out messages in one language and decoding them into another.

On Campanas, Bosetti revisits Gomera some six years after he did the Whistling Republic piece. This time he took with him some of the unprocessed recordings from the earlier piece, and replayed them back into the air as he wandered around the island, looking for “acoustically interesting spots.” Sounds layered on top of other sounds. He re-recorded these sound events, and edited them into the suite we now hear on this 2009 piece. His own voice appears on the set; he speaks of returning to the island and giving something back, after he previously took something away. He writes, in his printed text, of “putting something inside a space in order to hear it”, making an observation perhaps about the nature of acoustics, but more likely an observation about the importance of context. He also draws, in yet another attempt to make himself understood, and the tentative doodles on the cover here illustrate some of the fantastic things he saw on Gomera; some of them are re-asserted by his vocal descriptions of them on the recording, and he states with some conviction that he “wasn’t dreaming” when he saw a man with two donkeys disappear into the clouds. Other magical-realist fragments emerge through the richness and wizardy of these recordings, and it’s a record that casts a compelling spell over the listener with its imaginative recasting of field recordings, forming uncanny broken narratives and rich atmospheres. Excellent.

Stille Post: Lid of box and front cover of booklet

Previous reviews:

CD01
CD02
CD03

The Smile You Send

Another segment from the Stille Post (BÔŁT RECORDS BR R010 / MONOTYPE RECORDS mono100) box set by Alessandro Bosetti. CD03 is called A Collection Of Smiles. This is another piece for WDR, dating from 2011. Listening to this one “blind”, it seems at first like a stream of rather banal chatter from the mouths of a pan-international set of middle-class people (Australian, Europeans), not saying very much of substance to each other. In fact, the reality of the event wasn’t far from that. Bosetti set up a “situation” where a group of people would meet in the studio and told to speak to each other for one hour, without any directions as to what they should talk about. Some of these people knew each other, some of them were total strangers. Since the artist was recording every speaking voice on a separate input, at the end of this social experiment he now had in his hands a collection of voice elements which he could splice and rearrange as he saw fit. This is what ends up on A Collection Of Smiles. What may start out as something resembling a document of idle restaurant chatter soon turns into a form of vocal music (the repetitions of certain phrases become evident very quickly, creating a song-like effect with verses and choruses), or a form of abstract sound poetry as the voices pile up in rapid-fire collision edits, resulting in pleasing effects of near-gibberish. Meanings are altered subtly, as unrelated sentences are glued together. Although we might stress that there’s no processing of the sounds; Bosetti isn’t out to transform these voices into monstrous groans, for instance, which could be done by time-stretching. The rapid-fire effect, I’m slowly coming to realise, may be one of Bosetti’s trademarks; he likes a rush of information delivered in a dense parcel, and he expects us to keep up with these changes.

The other major dimension to A Collection Of Smiles is the musical score. Bosetti has noted down certain cadences and changes in timbre in the way his subjects speak, and annotated them, transforming them into a musical score. This score is then played back at certain junctures by a small chamber ensemble, in which I can hear piano, guitar, and I think some woodwinds. The precision and ingenuity with which these musical passages are matched against their spoken-word sources is uncanny, yet Bosetti doesn’t even call attention to it; he does it effortlessly, and weaves the passages into the fabric of the work without us even noticing at first that it’s even happening. The first time I heard an instance of a musician doing this was Harry Partch and his Bitter Music, where he was able to document speech patterns of people he met during his hobo years in America, and recast them as musical phrases. (See the third disc of Enclosure 2, INNOVA 401, 1995)

This leaves us with the possible task of “decoding” the content or meaning of A Collection Of Smiles. But I’m not sure if there is any. On the surface, the work feels like a 50-minute musical approximation of a Twitter stream. There’s something relentlessly upbeat about the self-satisfied tone of these individuals and their jabbering that prompts this observation, and the shallowness of their observations is only increased the more it’s repeated under Bosetti’s editing knife. As directed conversations go, this is clearly of quite a different order to the stoned freaks sitting under a tarpaulin with a piano set up by Zappa for his Lumpy Gravy album. However, the record does once again display Bosetti’s remarkable talent for fashioning dense and complex statements from his source materials, and the “different and ever-changing constellations” he is able to build in mosaic fashion clearly delights him.

Amateur Chromatics

Another slice from the Stille Post (BÔŁT RECORDS BR R010 / MONOTYPE RECORDS mono100) box set by Alessandro Bosetti. CD02 is Gesualdo Translations, Bosetti’s take on the amazing music of Carlo Gesualdo. This Italian renaissance composer was famed for his bold harmonies and use of chromatics in his madrigals, and although neglected for a long time in the history of serious music, was reclaimed by Robert Craft and others and came to be regarded as a kind of forerunner of modernism; indeed I’ve even read a fascinating book called The Gesualdo Hex (by Glenn Watkins) which makes a convincing case for seeing Gesualdo as a precursor to serial and 12-tone composition.

Gesualdo also continues to fascinate a modern audience because of certain sensational details in his private life, for details of which I refer you to your own research. I’m fairly sure Bosetti knows about all this, but here he’s chosen to push the music through a daring experiment involving non-professional singers, in a sort of serendipitous crowd-sourcing action…he passed through the streets of Napoli, a place where Gesualdo is known to have lived and composed, and asked random people he met on the streets (and in cafes, churches, and markets) to participate. They would sing along as best they could to a recording of a single voice played back to them on headphones. Since the madrigals – taken in this instance from the famed fifth and sixth books of Gesualdo, regarded as his best and most experimental works – are multi-voice compositions, this clearly involved a lot of hard work by Bosetti in disaggregating the individual voice parts, and then re-assembling the parts from the taped results gathered in from his street singers.

The rich and complicated results on this record, some 45 minutes of heavily-edited suites, expand the “original chromaticism” of Gesualdo… “microtonal shadings are brought into the mix”, is Bosetti’s enthused claim, because the untrained singers, though often spirited and giving it a real go, are not really managing to hit the right notes at all. “Approximate renderings” is how he politely describes it. Additionally, further contextual field recordings from the streets are thrown in – people simply talking, chatting, bartering…along with cars, car horns, and other bits of guitar and keyboard music sourced from I know not where. All of this produces a delirious mix of sounds, assembled to a logic only Bosetti understands, and creates something new which is both familiar and strange at the same time.

A Gesualdo purist would probably be dismayed at the “bad” singing and take exception to the utterly fragmented mosaic-like approach of Bosetti’s assemblage, but taken as a whole lump of stew it’s a totally compelling experience. He calls it “a meditation on the practice of screziatura”, and screziatura is an Italian word which approximates to “mottling” or “speckling”…he may be thinking of a particular painterly effect, because I think one of the other pursuits of this genius polymath is the study of certain renaissance painting techniques, and composing or discovering musical parallels for them…how ambitious can you get? He also of course enjoys the random essence to the work, saying something about “the erratic nature of musical pitch”; and like everyone’s favourite mentor, John Cage, he is to some degree is allowing chance to guide his odyssey around the pathways of Naples and the people he met to produce these musical statements. Highly original and striking sonic coup here…