Transient Spectral Bursts

Well, now for my regular dosage of contemporary electro-acoustic from the Canada label empreintes DIGITALes. Pierre-Luc Lecours is I think a relative newcomer from Montreal, whose work in the field started to get published around 2014. His Éclats (IMED 21170) collection brings together a number of pieces composed 2014-2020, and at least four of them are related by the “colour scheme” concept that he’s imposed on his work – so here are musical works labelled as Red, Black, White and Purple. Beyond that, he doesn’t do much to explore or expand upon the idea of colour, unless you count the first piece which draws some inspiration from the work of automatic painting, and the “Purple” piece which has something to say about that colour’s position in the spectrum. Lecours’ approach is largely formal, and depends on the relations between recordings of acoustic instruments and electronic synthesis, plus the obligatory field recordings. There’s potential here for some tension and excitement, for instance in the case where he puts a cellist in competition with a modular synth, and they have to slug it out against the backdrop of field recordings from Brussels, but what emerges is a rather ordinary exercise in textures and shapes.

I found slightly more interest in ‘Blanc’, where the flute work of Julie Delisle is cut up into fragments and mixed up with recordings of timpani drums; what also appeals to me here was that it was made during a time of personal stress for the composer. That sense of upheaval is not expressed very forcefully in the finished work, but I suppose the mosaic technique does at least convey a vague idea of restlessness. As a fan of noise music, I clicked onto ‘Violet’ in the hopes of finding a bit more energy and dynamism; the composer declares he was “inspired by the aesthetics of noise music”, as he created this melange of sounds from the percussion work of Huizi Wang and his own synthesizer. The composer is mainly interested in wreaking transformations on the sound sources and editing them together to build “oppositions”; there are some nice timbral contrasts for sure, but it’s not as chaotic as he seems to think it is. Despite the professional finish to the production and sound, this is a rather tame and unadventurous set of process music.

Patrick Ascione was a French composer who studied at the Groupe de musique expérimentale de Bourges (GMEB) in the 1970s and later was drawn into the study of computer music at IRCAM. He may have done some work as a facilitating technician in the GMED institution and also taught electroacoustic music in Cherbourg. Interestingly, he’s another composer who saw the potential of electroacoustic music to realise the idea of “colour”, and in the 1970s thought of his own work as a form of sound painting, even including colours as part of his titles, for instance his “yellow lemon” piece which surfaced on Metamkine in 1995.

The pieces here on Figures De Son (IMED 21171) are not the colour pieces, but a lively survey of his works from around 1998 to 2012. A good introduction – I never heard his work before, but there’s a lot of drama and excitement. I’m personally drawn to his ‘Fantasie Diabolique’ from 2011-12, which I’m content to interpret as a typically Gallic vision of Hell populated with lively horned devils and grinning skeletons, much like those French postcards you used to get in the 19th century. Ascione conjures up a babble of treated voices cackling and jabbering in a swirling mess of tape noise, along with a lumbering disco beat – what’s not to like? It seems the composer was trying to make some point about market forces and capitalism, but I prefer my version with skulls and red capes.

Remainder of the disc is strong too, with the fast-moving chattering and timbral changes of ‘Divertissement’, and the crazy apocalyptic synth-swipes of ‘Et puis l’oubli…’, which is intended as a metaphor for the “end of all things”. I’m finding plenty of musical drama and content in the music of Patrick Ascione, even if it might stand guilty of a certain over-emphasis and swagger, like an actor strutting on the stage with many hand-gestures, exaggerated posture, and facial contortions. Which might not be wide of the mark, if we translate the French “figures” as “faces”. I’ve tried reading his explanatory notes in the package, but his artistic intentions and ideas, as expressed in words, are more or less incomprehensible to me; far better in this case just to listen to the music.

Ambrose Seddon is an English composer who studied at Goldsmiths and currently holds a chair at Bournemouth University; his academic work was supervised by Denis Smalley. He’s achieved an international reputation in his career and has worked in the areas of electronic, electroacoustic, and acousmatic music. His Espaces Éphémères (IMED 20169) presents six of his recent compositions.

Reading his notes here, which are very lucid, I’m warming to his work as it seems to be inspired by practical and everyday things, yet also allows some room for speculation about the bigger issues, such as ageing and the passing of time. Some pieces are directly inspired by his own family, his children and his parents. My favourite piece here is ‘The Nowness of Everything’, which has a connection to his parents’ house as well as the work of playwright Dennis Potter; apparently created from the sounds made by ordinary objects, very heavily treated and disguised, and what comes across is something of the mental process of Seddon, as he reflects and ruminates on aspects of mortality. I shan’t say that he’s created a direct, emotionally-laden work, but there’s an oddness to the sounds and a general mysterious aura to the music which is appealing.

In keeping with the overall title Espaces Éphémères, Seddon seems to be acutely aware of the fleeting joys of life, which seem to pass by far too quickly for all of us; this is reflected in his work, along with a reminder to keep paying attention, and remember that life is not a rehearsal.

All the three above from 21 February 2022.