Migration Patterns

Unusual and quite nice vinyl LP of sound art credited to JesterN and released on Domenico Sciajno’s record label in Italy. Le Retour Des Oiseaux (BOWINDO BW16) involves sounds played by Flavio Zauttini on his Flugelhorn, manipulated and processed by Alberto Novello who calls himself JesterN. It’s intended as a serious electro-acoustic composition, was realised at the Hague Institute of Sonology, and exists in two multi-channel versions; I know there are some composers in this area who prefer this “immersive” platform for full enjoyment of their ambitious sound works, some of which have been represented on the empreintes DIGITALes label from a time when that enterprise used to publish DVDs offering 5.1 surround sound to audiences with the right playback equipment. This vinyl edition represents a stereo mixdown of Le Retour Des Oiseaux, but judging from the end results I feel no quality has been sacrificed by this small compromise, and the mastering (by Erik Nystrom) is exceptionally crisp.

Further, the work has a conceptual dimension…you might think it’s directly connected with the life of birds, given the album title and the powerful sleeve images which feature photographs of impossible bird formations, created I believe by Dennis Hlynsky at the Film and Animation studio of Rhode Island School of Design, perhaps using time-lapse photography; the human eye has never actually seen these complex formations of lines and traces of flight in the sky. In fact it seems Novello intends the work as a tribute to Messiaen, who famously (though not explicitly stated here) attempted to notate birdsong as one of his ongoing musical projects. Le Retour Des Oiseaux “began as a philological investigation into the French composer’s aesthetics”, we are told, suggesting that the work is a language-based exploration of some sort. Through the work, we may eventually get to an observation about bird song or birds, but the message is filtered through at least two layers of reading and philosophical rumination, and the idea will have been refracted through the Messiaen prism at some point.

However, no intellectual baggage remains on the record, nor are any decoding skills other than a pair of ears needed to proceed with enjoyment. Me, I’ve got a soft spot for records where the sound of a horn is treated by electronic processing, for instance Pipedream on Ogun Records with Mark Charig; or Anthony Braxton performing with Richard Teitelbaum; or any Stockhausen records where he passes such instruments through a ring modulator or filter. The first side of this album is a delight, rich in ideas and episodic nuggets of processed sound that never linger around for too long; it almost forms a narrative of some sort, transcending its abstractions and remaining surprising, inventive. The work is genuinely collaborative and you can feel a healthy dialogue going on between the two composer-musicians, each gently leading the train of thought on their respective preferred pathway. The second side disappointed me at first, as it seemed to be too heavily informed by contemporary techno beats and avant-glitch tactics; and is generally lacking in the surprising dynamics of the A side. But even so this “disco remix” version has its charms, and could be successfully aligned with some of the 1970s experiments of Conrad Schnitzler, for instance.

In all, this is worth investigating despite its air of self-importance, which doesn’t seem entirely earned or justified by the vague intellectual pretensions of the content. Limited to 300 copies in this vinyl edition, arrived 17th August 2015.