The variety of tracks on each CD reflect the diversity of the composers’ languages and the consistent quality of their output. — Computer Music Journal, USA
… cutting-edge electroacoustic music… — Vital, Netherlands
Works which are sometimes looking at the structure of sound (assessing sound for what it is), sometimes looking at the story behind the sound (assessing it for what it tells). Two ways to look at sound, two different ways to listen.
- Label: empreintes DIGITALes
- IMED 0052 / 2000
- UCC 771028005222
- Total duration: 73:33
- 125 mm × 125 mm × 10 mm
- 50 g
- Label: empreintes DIGITALes
- IMED 0052_NUM / 2000
- UCC 771028005284
- Total duration: 73:33
My acousmatic journey seems to take me down a wide road. One side of the street has a sign saying ‘rue Schaeffer’ — here the preoccupation is with abstracting musical data from sound objects (‘objets sonores’), without reference to their provenance in any anecdotal way. Activity on this side of the road springs from reduced listening and is primarily concerned with a spectromorphological exploration of sound qualities in order to discover (and, ultimately, to release) the latent structural properties of the material. This betrays a specifically ‘musical’ mind set, in which articulation of material and of structure dominates. The name on the other side of the road is hard to read, but I am sure that ‘Schafer Street’ — where natural sound is used precisely ‘because’ of its provenance, and where signification does not reside in the ‘purely’ musical (whatever that is) — cannot be more than a block away.*
I wander along this broad avenue in a reverie of discovery, often without a definite goal in mind, frequently stopping without warning to examine (at length!) some wonderful sound which presents itself along the way. To the outside observer, I must appear to weave a fairly drunken path, colliding with a lamp post on one side only to bounce across and graze my shins on the curb opposite. Most of the time I seem to be in a somewhat uncertain and unstable state somewhere in the middle of the road, in danger of being run down by any passing vehicle — a busload of academics perhaps, or someone driving too fast in a postmodern convertible; the groove along which that DJ is riding could intersect with any sudden lurch I might make as I stumble on, and even the acoustic ecologist on that bicycle over there could pose a threat to this unwary composer.
The first two pieces on this CD seem to represent the two sides of this street: Klang uses sounds from casserole dishes, but the piece is not ‘about’ casserole dishes; aside from a frivolous moment when an attempt seems to be made to ‘put the lid on it’, to stop the sound escaping, there is nothing anecdotal in this essentially musical discourse. Sorties, by contrast, is referential to a degree I had never contemplated before (though this unfolds, ironically, from a more conceptual premise: that of ‘exiting’). In 1995 I had definitely wandered rather closer to the non–Schaefferian side of the street, my other pieces from that year (Hot Air and Unsound Objects) sharing many of Sorties’ preoccupations (and sounds!). In Surface Tension I had clearly ricocheted back towards a more abstracted mode, and the shock caused significant oscillations across the central reservation in both Splintering and Streams. I am happy to engage with material coming from both directions, often approaching something via a spectromorphological route, only to leave by an anecdotal or referential connection — the only criterion is that the link works at the sonic, perceptual level.
Is it music, or sound art, or something else? I am no longer really sure; nor am I sure that it really matters. The approach is the same whichever part of the street I am (temporarily) occupying before wandering off to another location. I listen; I listen inside and outside the material, seeking the sonic hook which will allow a connection to another sonic entity — then composition begins.
PS: With love and thanks to my wife Ali, my daughters Clare and Emma, my mother Nancy — and to my late father Doug, to whose memory this CD is dedicated.
* I acknowledge Canadian composer Barry Truax’s encapsulation of the Schaeffer/Schafer division in his distinction between acousmatic music and soundscape composition.
Jonty Harrison, Birmingham (England, UK) [vi-00]
Some recommended items
In the press
This is a casual listening path, an invitation to travel — not a guided tour per se, more of an itinerary, akin to Romantic-era travel literature. So this will be a listening itinerary, an invitation to discover a highly subjective selection of electroacoustic composers from a specific corner of the world. Our destination: Northern Europe.
France reigns over European electroacoustic music like a despotic queen. The persisting influence of Pierre Schaeffer’s work — even more than 50 years after the invention of what he has called “musique concrète” — and the gravitational pull of the Ina-GRM tend to hide from the rest of the world the work being accomplished elsewhere in Europe.
So let’s start our journey in one of France’s neighbors, Belgium. The country owes much of its electroacoustic activity to Annette Vande Gorne, the indefatigable animator of the Musiques & Recherches center. Her music displays a strong sense of serenity, something rare in the field of tape music. Tao, a cycle about the five base elements (air, earth, metal, fire and water), remains a classic. In it she explores every possible transformation of the sounds associated to these elements with an uncommon level of artistry and poetry. A student of Vande Gorne, Stephan Dunkelman has picked up on her grace, a grace he transmutes into movement. Often the result of a collaboration with choreographers, his works are driven by an inner force that substitutes the sensuality of movement to Vande Gorne’s philosophical — almost mystical — depth. His pieces Rituellipses and Thru, Above and Between, released on the album Rhizomes, deserve your attention.
A jump across the Northern Sea and we set foot on English ground. Birmingham has become an important creative node in electroacoustic music, thanks to the work of composer Jonty Harrsison and his Birmingham ElectroAcoustic Sound Theatre (better known as BEAST), a laboratory for experimentation and sound diffusion that has helped many talented composers in developing their art. Harrison’s music is an essential listen. His piece Klang (released on Évidence matérielle) ranks among the best-known electroacoustic works of the last 25 years. His precise sound constructions and his distinctive way of compressing sound matter into streams of energy put him up there with Pierre Henry, Francis Dhomont and Bernard Bernard Parmegiani. One can follow the traces of his techniques into the works of Adrian Moore, one of his students, especially in the latter’s fondness for putting simple sound sources (marker on a white board, tin foil) through complex transformations. Sieve, from the album Traces, uses a catchy playfulness to make this transformative process transparent.
Denis Smalley was born and raised in New Zealand, but he has been living in the UK since the mid-‘70s. His contributions to the acousmatic corpus and to the development of sound diffusion make him not only the contemporary but in a sense the acolyte of Harrison. Furthermore, the two composers share a similar interest in form and in the choreographed displacement of abstract sound objects through space and time. Wind Chimes (on Impacts intérieurs) and Base Metals (on Sources/Scènes) are good illustrations of the slightly cold yet fascinating beauty of his music. John Young, one of his students — and another New-Zealander who studied and now teaches in England), follows a similar approach, although he replaces Smalley’s elemental sound sources with more emotionally charged images. The works featured on his CD La limite du bruit offer to the listener several occasions to dive into his or her own memories, the sound of a squeaky swing or a creaky door turning into avatars of Proust’s madeleine. Time, Motion and Memory is a choice cut.
Scandinavian electroacoustic music is still too largely ignored on our side of the Atlantic, but empreintes DIGITALes’ catalog allows us to make a short stop to round up our peregrinations. Natasha Barrett has studied with Harrison and Smalley and has been involved in BEAST, but since 1998 she has elected Norway as her base camp. There, she has stepped away from the style of her teachers and has sought inspiration in the Nordic cold. Her Three Fictions, released on Isostasie, deserve many listens. And let me bring this listening path to an end with one of the key composers in electroacoustic music today, the Swedish Åke Parmerud, whose Renaissance (on Jeu d’ombres) pays tribute to the analog synthesizer without resorting to nostalgic tricks.
There can be little doubt that the electroacoustic medium makes a major contribution to the range of styles and genres of British contemporary music. British-based electroacoustic composers enjoy considerable success in international competitions and regularly receive both commissions as well as invitations to work in foreign studios. Unlike our European neighbors, there are no major centers comparable to the Groupe de Recherches Musicales (GRM), Institut de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique/Musique (IRCAM), the Institute of Sonology, or the Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie (ZKM). However, this is not necessarily a disadvantage, as several excellent universities provide both the musical and intellectual environments in which electroacoustic music can be studied at undergraduate and postgraduate levels. It is particularly encouraging to note the many young composers who choose to travel to Britain specifically for this purpose. Britain, therefore, has a rich tradition (insofar as a new medium can have a “tradition”) of electroacoustic music. Pioneers such as Tristram Cary, Daphne Oram, Delia Derbyshire, or Maddalena Fagandini have often been overshadowed by their more illustrious counterparts in France and Germany; their activities are only now being given the serious attention they truly deserve. Despite this level of activity there is little evidence of a “school” of British electroacoustic music, and most composers can be situated without undue difficulty within the various strands of European music. Consequently, while it would be simplistic to claim that Denis Smalley, Jonty Harrison, and Adrian Moore constitute a British “school,” they do, nevertheless, accurately represent many of the preoccupations of electroacoustic composers in this country. For example, all three are committed to the public presentation of electroacoustic music — the composition of acousmatic music is central to each composer’s output. Mr. Smalley has championed the practice of diffusion as a vital aspect of electroacoustic music performance since 1976, thereby re-introducing aspects of performance practice to acousmatic concerts. Similarly, as director of BEAST (the Birmingham ElectroAcoustic Sound Theatre), Mr. Harrison has been involved in the development of a fiexible system for sound diffusion unrivalled in Britain. Mr. Moore is also actively involved in many areas of performance with technology. Lastly, each is an academic which, although not a prerequisite for electroacoustic composers, does emphasize the role played by higher education in disseminating acousmatic music in Britain.
The compositions on Denis Smalley’s Sources/scènes span 26 years (a remarkable feat in itself). His work and aesthetic falls within a broadly Schaefferian tradition and his own extensive writings deal with the materials, techniques, and aesthetics of electroacoustic music. The Schaefferian framework has been extensively elaborated and Mr. Smalley’s own concepts such as “surrogacy” and “indicative fields and networks” now provide composers, analysts, and musicologists with terminology inherently derived from the medium. This has facilitated both an understanding not only of electroacoustic music but also of its relationship to music in general. In other words: a true electroacoustic musicology. Pierre Schaeffer wrote: “It is the object which has something to say to us, if we know how to make it speak and to assemble it according to the kinship of its families and the similarity of its characteristics” (Chion/Reibel 1976, 57). I believe there are connections between French symbolism and many of Schaeffer’s theories; in Mr. Smalley’s works the sounds (whether recognizable or not) suggest correspondences as “things begin to talk amongst themselves” (Ibid., 47). The first track, Base Metals (2000), exhibits the hallmarks of Mr. Smalley’s language. His affection for attack-resonance sounds is evident (all the source sounds derive from recordings of metal sculptures by Derek Shiel) as is his ability to intervene in their resonances, to extend and develop them into objects of dynamic and spectral interest. Individual nodal components are isolated and given momentum and the energetic processes of sounds are delicately uncovered to reveal hidden textures and transformations. Initially, I found Empty Vessels (1997) the greatest challenge to my expectations. I first heard it during a concert at City University and the real-world sounds recorded from within large earthenware pots in the composer’s North London garden seemed a relatively unmediated documentation of an urban soundscape. However, thanks to this recording, I have heard the work many times and now can begin to appreciate the different acoustic environments through which the listener is taken. The subtle characteristics of the natural sounds are placed in carefully created acoustic spaces thus encouraging an interaction between the confined space of the vessels, the spaciousness of the outside environment, and large but enclosed reverberant spaces. This “play” of acoustic environments inhabited by intimate sounds produced by insects and rain, or smooth and distant ones like airplanes, is possible, of course, only in the electroacoustic medium. I hope to hear Empty Vessels again in the context of a diffused performance where the space of the venue can also participate in these relationships. It is difficult to remain oblivious to the manner in which space is articulated by sound in the real world after having heard it used in this way. This is a composition which transforms how we hear. For many enthusiasts of electroacoustic music, neither Pentes (1974) nor Tides (1984), the remaining tracks on the CD, need any introduction. Mr. Smalley’s control of fine detail and his unerring ear for directing both spectral and dynamic movement ensure that each work engages the listener. The behavior of water — both visual and aural — has long fascinated composers. There is consistency and yet constant variation. According to the composer’s liner notes, Tides was his first work in which source material was transformed by computer. There are two sections, each with distinct characteristics. The “pools” of Pools and Currents, for example, suggest connected sonic areas with individual characteristics of textural play. The water sounds acquire harmonic and gritty characteristicswhich are contrasted with “currents” propelling the music forward in fiuctuating waves of movement and rest. The final track, Pentes, is without doubt a classic of acousmatic music. The source material is mainly transformed instrumental sounds. After some minutes, the significance of the underlying drone becomes clear as a traditional melody, played on beautiful, reedy Northumbrian Pipes, makes a brief and unforgettable appearance.
The period of Jonty Harrison’s work is only slightly shorter than Mr. Smalley’s, stretching over 17 years. Mr. Harrison’s musical languages range from one based on abstracting features from sound objects to the use of sounds whose origins are often obvious and which inevitably imply cultural (and personal) meanings. As he remarks in the liner notes, his work includes the approaches of (Pierre) Schaeffer and (R Murray) Schafer. Klang (1982), like Pentes, has justifiably acquired the status of a classic acousmatic work. The discovery of the resonant properties of two earthenware casserole dishes owned by Mr. Smalley is the point of departure for the work (a detailed knowledge of a fellow composer’s kitchen-ware is one advantage of living in a relatively small country!). As the composer writes, “Klang… is the German for ‘sound’.” In addition to the onomatopoeic characteristics of the word in English it is worth adding that “Klang” in the original German usually implies some harmonic content and musical intention. It was also one of the basic elements of the Cologne studio and can be translated as “note” to differentiate it from the word “Ton.” (Along with “Schall” and “Geraüsch,” German seems to have a richer vocabulary in its number of words relating to “sound” than English does.) However, harmonic qualities are not the only ones exploited by Mr. Harrison. There are also brittle, fricative sound objects which possess their own energetic momentum. As a result, the resonant characteristics of an apparently mundane utensil are promoted to elements of a musical composition. Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote that poetry “strips the veil of familiarity from the world.” In a similar way, Klang alerts us to the fragile beauty of everyday sounds and their transformations. A common, and natural, progression for electroacoustic composers is to provide sound for installations. Track 3, Sorties (1995), originates in such a work. It contains abstract sounds as well as those heard in urban environments. Footsteps or the sounds of modes of transport such as trains and traffic suggest movement from one place to another but with little sense of arrival or repose. The action of travel is chronicled but we are left as temporary visitors to these sonic landscapes. The occasional presence of more abstract sounds, which are not developed for their own intrinsic properties, does little to stabilize the sense of unease. We hear rain and storms, footsteps on loose gravel (hardly a material for surreptitious arrival or departure), and despite a calming “pastoral” interlude with buzzing insects, birds, and what sounds like children playing, a feeling of gloomy restlessness prevails. Surface Tension (1996) exploits a dry, fricative sound vocabulary. The sources are sounds from packing materials, and in such unprepossessing physical objects Mr. Harrison once again encourages us to listen so that his sound objects “reveal ‘beauty’ in what is normally thrown away.” Often monophonic and sparsely textured, the fractured energies burst into individual trajectories. The sounds seem to express the frantic behavior of capitalist frenzy: buy a product, tear away the packing, and don’t consider where it came from or where it goes. Like the constant deferral of arrival in Sorties, it is in the process of unpacking and manipulating material that music is discovered. (This is, of course, a personal and highly speculative, if not fanciful, interpretation!) The fourth track, Splintering (1997), also reveals an equally carefully constructed series of transparent textures. However, the source materials in this track are the more resonant sounds of wood. As Mr. Harrison asserts, wood is “organic, ” and the sounds often retain that quality. The composer also plays on the concept of the “wood” as the place deep in our imagination where mysterious things can happen. Thus, he uses the sound metonymically to represent and evoke a whole range of connections — mythical, social, and environmental — with this one sonic symbol. The final work on this CD, Streams (1999), is a stereo version of a composition originally in 8-channel format. Once again, the vocabulary extends beyond the immediate musical contexts and natural processes of “evaporation, clouds and rainfall.” Individual lines merge and divide and water becomes inseparable from its spatial setting—enclosed and resonant, or open with spacious acoustic properties.
Adrian Moore’s works stem from 1994 to 1997. He is the youngest of the three and generously acknowledges his debt to the preceding composers. His first encounter with electroacoustic music was at a concert given by Mr. Smalley and as a postgraduate student he studied with Mr. Harrison and also worked with BEAST. Junky (1996), is described by the composer in the liner notes as “electroacoustic ambient,” although I feel the description of the work as “ambient” is somewhat disingenuous. The opening and closing sections contain slowly evolving harmonies but the variety of interjecting sound objects ensure the piece never descends into New Age navel-gazing. The second track, Dreamarena (1996), makes use of similar sound material, but the rhythmic patterns of Junky are replaced by a more amorphous structure punctuated by gestures which are either dry or reverberant. The third composition is, for me, the most successful. Study in Ink (1997) is a virtuosic demonstration of a sound whose potential is discovered by accident but is then exploited by a carefully controlled series of gestures and juxtapositions. This aesthetic is, of course, a recognizably French attitude toward acousmatic music (in the early 1990s Mr. Moore spent time in Lyon, France). The squeaking of a marker pen on a white board (the sole source for the composition) is extended and magnified with arching melodic profiles to build a repository of sound objects. Short sections of erratic movements trace complex trajectories through pitch-space. With track 4 we move from the single sound source to multiple sources (though precise identification is neither needed nor intended). Foil-Counterfoil (1997) employs closely recorded tin foil, bottles, and balloons. As in the previous work these source sounds are transformed into restless chains of objects, harmonic in content, grainy, fractured—they ensure we are rarely left in repose as our ears constantly seek for connections. The final work is Sieve (1994– 1995), the earliest on the CD. Sieve (a “radiogenic” work, according to the composer) uses electronically manipulated natural sounds. Mr. Moore asserts that by removing certain sections of the sound precise identification can be compromised. The listener begins actively to seek for recognition and occasionally realizes that only when sufficient time is allowed can any accurate recognition be attempted. Even then security is not assured and the sound object slips from our mental grasp and veers off to assume a new identity.
These three discs are excellent examples of the current state of electroacoustic composition in Great Britain and are welcome additions to the catalog of the empreintes DIGITALes label. The variety of tracks on each CD reflect the diversity of the composers’ languages and the consistent quality of their output. I recommend them highly.
The compositions on this CD are very delicate. Within each track a different sound source is used to create a composition. In track no. 1 for example earthenware casseroles from the kitchen, cow-bells, metal rods, are used as instrument. In the beginning of the track you hear the natural sound of the casseroles when used as an instrument. Moving forward in the track the natural sounds are combined with electronic generated sounds. These intrusions within the nature of the sound highlight the nature of the material very fine. In all other tracks this is also applied, in no. 2 for example we hear recorded sounds of streets, nature and human activity as base for the composition. These sound sources are also slightly electronic adapted and added with electronic sounds. These electronic sounds appears undecided within the recorded sound source as it might happens daily on the streets and nature. These sounds adds and extra dimension and the composition would be wonderful as sound track for a movie. In track 3 foam is used as material. The several possibilities how you can handle this material is recorded and added with electronic generated sounds from the material. The composition is also stressful which highlights the typical sound that this package makes usually. Also in the latest 2 tracks the natural sounds of the used material is highlighted in the composition using this time wood and water.
Jonty Harrison is another British electroacoustic composer and his CD may be the most accessible of three recent DiM [empreintes DIGITALes] releases (Sources/scènes, Traces, and Évidence matérielle). This CD contains five compositions spanning the past ten years. The first piece, Klang, uses the sounds of two earthenware casseroles to which Jonty adds the ingredients of cow-bells, metal rods, and aluminum bars to prepare an eerie meal of reverberating tones. Sorties is about fleeing an interior space for an exterior one, only to find that you are mysteriously trapped in a much larger interior space, like being inside one of those Russian dolls. The sonic sources are recognizable (cars, trucks, trains, walking shoes, children at play) and only add to the dark and brooding atmosphere of the composition. Surface Tension is constructed literally from the dry brittle sounds of packing material (Styrofoam and cardboard) that, after processing, have a somewhat organic texture as the material is put under greater and greater stress. Shifting now to wood and its varied sounds as it is twisted, tapped, burned, and otherwise strained is the subject matter for Splintering. Clocking in at almost 20 minutes, it might be overlong. The final piece is Streams with the obvious water reference. Water can be so melodic and Jonty wrings out all of its nuances in Streams. If you are interested in cutting-edge electroacoustic music, check out the DiM [empreintes DIGITALes] label and, especially, Jonty Harrison.
There’s a very blurred area at the edge of musique-concrete, where the ‘music’ element is almost lost in what is really pure sonic art. Metamkine call this sort of thing ‘Cinema For The Ears’ as it is really more like being inside some sound environment (or at least as an onlooker) witnessing all this sonic commotion, clanking metal, snapping wood, and the likes. Really, for much of the time this could be a collage constructed from the sounds in a mill or foundry. Actually, sometimes we seem to be trapped in a wooden box, which is being carted around really clumsily, then we end up inside a water tank! I guess you get the idea! It’s all put together rather well, and there’s good use of effects and processing, all amounting to pure art.
Près d’une génération sépare ces deux compositeurs britanniques de musiques électroacoustiques. Adrian Moore fut d’ailleurs l’éléve du premier. Tous deux œuvrent toutefois dans la tradition du GRM, travaillent la matière sonore à partir de sources diverses et concrétes: le bois, les casseroles en terre, l’élément aquatique ou gazeux, déchets divers pour le premier, le crayon-feutre sur un tableau, la feuille d’étain, les verres, les ballons… pour le second. Les approches n’en sont toutefois pas identiques, malgré les points de rencontre. Jonty Harrison semble privilégier une approche plus narrative des sons, plus expressive dans son traitement du son originel. Il introduit en fait un élément de composition plus nettement repérable pour l’auditeur profane, d’autant plus qu’il travaille sur des sons du quotidien auxquels en général on ne préte que peu d’attention, telle la symphonie cuisinière de Klang.
Ein Quell der ungewöhnlichen Sounderlebnisse ist das kanadische Label empreintes DIGITALes, welches fernab reißerischer Methoden in fast wissenschaftlicher Akribie eine Serie mit elektroakustischer Musik von preisgekrönten Komponisten herausgibt. Alle vier CDs stammen von relativ jungen, in der Grauzone zwischen freier Improvisation und akademischer Komposition operierenden Künstlern. Die Klänge sind oft nach kompositorischen Gesichtspunkten einander einverlebt, bleiben aber wild und jederzeit überraschend. So kann man sich hier bedienen nach Herzenslust. Vielleicht etwas schnöde klingt Traces von Adrian Moore. Hier hört man zu oft die surrenden, schmachtenden Sauglaute eines Computers, der die reale Welt in sich aufnimmt und „Musik” herausspuckt. Clonky, aber eben auf ernste Weise; können auch Matthew Ostrowsti und andere. Grandios ist das Werk von Jonty Harrison, dem Leiter des elektroakustischen Instituts in Birmingham. Seine Sammlung von Stükken (fast alle um die 15 Minuten lang) verbindet befremdliche Geräusche mit Klängen derAußenwelt, ohne letztere als reine Projektionsfläche zu verwenden. Die Töne aus den verschiedenen Sphären interagieren und treten in eine Kommunikation. Stark! Die klanglichen Extreme in diesem Viererpack stammen von Denis Smalley. Er bricht mit den Konventionen der Akademika, wonach Töne zwar schräg und abstrakt ausstaffiert sein dürfen, aber bitteschön nicht stören sollen. Sein Werk scheut sich nicht vor häßlichen Momenten, harschen Brüchen und fast industriellem Lärm. Dabei bleibt alles dunkel wie das geheimnisvolle Cover der CD. Louis Dufort wirkt in seinen Stücken wie jemand, der die Regeln des Genres kennt und sie mit genauem Gehör exekutieren will, um hinter ihnen liegendes Potential zu erhellen. Die gelingt ihm am trefflichsten in der Komposition Zénith, die mit pochenden Tönen arbeitet, die sich gegen schrille aber auch flirrend-weichzeichnende Atmosphären behaupten müssen.
Jonty Harrisson, directeur du BEAST, groupe de compositeurs Anglosaxon se plait à définir son album comme une flânerie sensorielle, déambulation libre le long d’une avenue idéalisée où les magasins sont autant de tonalités électroniques sur l’asphalte «concret». Une casserolle, des déchets de consommation courante, tiges de métal, bruits de forêt, autant de sons bruts, d’objets usuels et d’environements fréquentés qui prennent une tournure onirique et abstraite dans les mains de cet anglais de génie. Plus intimiste et académique cet album calme et riche reste éblouissant de maîtrise.
Jonty Harrison, directeur du BEAST, groupe de compositeurs anglo-saxon se plait à définir son album comme une flânerie sensorielle, déambulation libre le long d’une avenue idéalisée où les magasins sont autant de tonalités électroniques sur l’asphalte «concret». Une casserole, des déchets de consommation courante, tiges de métal, bruits de forêt, autant de sons bruts, d’objets usuels et d’environnements fréquentés qui prennent une tournure onirique et abstraite dans les mains de cet anglais de génie. Plus intimiste et académique, cet album calme et riche reste éblouissant de maîtrise.
Father of British acousmatic music, Jonty Harrison’s art runs deep and allies technique, poetry and a strong sense of sound spatialization. The works included on Évidence matérielle make no exception to this rule. The album begins with Klang, the oldest piece of this set and maybe Harrison’s best known work (it was released on two previous occasions and was awarded a Bourges Awards Euphonie d’Or in 1992). It is a beautiful, captivating electroacoustic concerto using sounds derived from two pots and electronically-produced sounds. Sorties (“Exits”) blends environmental recordings to musique concrète techniques to evoke the escaping, the fleeing of indoors for the outdoors. Surface Tension is the most acousmatical work, presenting sound for sound’s sake, a good example of the composer’s sense of drama. The two last pieces, Splintering and Streams, use prime materials, wood and water respectively. Here sounds retain part of their signification, but this technique results in less powerful works. They bring to mind Annette Vande Gorne’s Tao cycle. Some people will prefer these less abstract pieces. Anyway, Évidence matérielle is somehow more appealing than the dryer Articles indéfinis, Harrison’s previous release on empreintes DIGITALes.
Évidence materielle comes in one of the nicest card sleeves I’ve seen in some time, an outer slip sleeve with folded inlays. One inlay holds the CD nestled within the other one, which unfolds to reveal notes for each of the tracks included here in both French and English. There being 5 tracks all over 9 minutes in length, tending towards a 16 minute average — the pieces for the most part being sound works, summing up the artist’s acousmatic journey.
Klang starts with chiming bell tones, a scrape of metal surface. Very tonal sound, but also in its construction playing +ve sound (strike) against -ve (stop). In some ways this becomes more pronounced as it expands into an exploration of chromatic percussion. Hints of electronic click and moment start to creep in, pulsing contrast to what has gone before, taking on a more synthetic form in the process. At times also more clangorous, though returning to chiming with a long exhalation — teasing out conclusion.
With Sorties, voices echo in the gallery space, mixing with the constant motion of visitors. Dull echo of distant voices and struggling children. Clacks build into a more train like sound, the perceived gallery perhaps a large and busy train station. Emphasis changes as we follow our audio narrator — the progress along corridors, through doors and outside. Across gravel and pitter-patter of xylophone accompaniment. Sound disorients so that we have motion that suggests the interior of a car, but environmental impressions of something else. Arriving there is a chapping of a door, back step glance — is anyone home anyway? Chap again and electronic simulation opens the door, creak and the real door opens. Just in time as the rain comes from nowhere and thunder rumbles. Impressions continue, mixing with the hints of electronics and chimes that have an almost background role. The environmental weight of these pieces reminds me of Bexar Bexar, the last composition I heard along the same lines. Concluding in more of a sound extract.
Surface Tension mixes a tumbling, awkward toy sound with an expansive wire swirl and a static glitch field. This allows a simpler construct than the previous piece, a narrower wavelength. But still a kinetic feel that balances in some way definitions of sound and noise. Hints of tones that suggest “music” flit through the back spaces. Again rain is present here, but only a passing in continuation.
Splintering falls somewhere between percussive clacks and the tumbles of Surface Tension. A moment we hear a buzz of bee, reminding of Sorties. Scrape and tumble dominate — feeling more active than Surface Tension in sound forms, but still as contained. Crackle, snackle, fizz, plunge and ongoing tumble. The fire continues its crackle against an electric hum, surprising us with a moment of music snatched from elsewhere. The crackle grows, the wood popping — the fire almost becomes the patter of rain. Though manipulation lies ahead as does reprise.
Blip. Gathering bubble. Plip and ripple. Fluid sounds expand in Streams, their tones offering suggestion of other sounds and perhaps of manipulation. Storm gathers, the windy lash of a jet, the flash of an oar through the choppy sea. Gravel tones lead away, departure. Then reprise the plip, adding gurgle and wallowing in tanks connected through piping. Rushing passage, and again manip. — leading to a crackle, pitter patter on the outside. Sudden over layering — ideas of sound bustling frenetically, then sliding off just as easy. Small sounds, clicks and taps, join to become familiar patterns within the context of this release.
C’est par l’étiquette de disques bien de chez nous empreintes DIGITALes que nous arrive, après celles de Wolfe, des Beatles, des punks et de l’électronica une nouvelle «invasion britannique». Électroacoustique, celle-là. Deux disques lancés en avril nous ramènent les musiques de Denis Smalley et Jonty Harrison, tandis qu’un troisième nous fait découvrir celle d’Adrian Moore. Smalley et Harrison ont des approches du son assez semblables, qui produisent pourtant des résultats bien différents. Alors que le premier utilise des sons concrets pour les agrandir et leur donner la taille d’un paysage dans lequel l’auditeur peut pénétrer, le second se tient au plus près de l’objet et nous fait voyager à sa surface. C’est le deuxième disque chez empreintes DIGITALes pour ces deux compositeurs qui sont des piliers de l’école anglaise d’acousmatique. Le disque de Harrison nous permet d’entendre sa pièce Klang, récipiendaire en 1992 d’un Euphonie d’or au Concours international de musique électroacoustique de Bourges, et dont il a été dit qu’elle était l’une des œuvres les plus marquantes de l’histoire de cette compétition.
Jonty Harrison is an artist that gets close to a fundamental isolate of sound and constructs an entire piece from it. This sound art is especially intimate, as if, as on Klang, the listener was diminished in size and experiencing first hand and on equal scale the sonic and mechanic effects of earthenware casseroles opening and closing. Elsewhere on Évidence matérielle liquids and splintering wood rise up to meet us, creating new sound worlds from the mundane physical event. (4/5)
Il faut bien que je vous parle de ce disque pour deux choses. La première s’impose: la beauté de la musique. Jonty Harrison est un très grand compositeur et cette sorte de portrait nous emmène dans tellement d’univers variés qu’on s’étonne de la puissance d’imagination dont est capable l’espèce humaine. Ici, le critique a tout dit et laisse la place à votre bon vouloir d’entendre en vous le recommandant à tout le moins chaudement, même aux rébarbatifs à l’acousmatique.
La seconde est une vraie farce, de celles qu’on ne commet qu’avec la plus complète sincérité. J’ose donc ici une sorte d’impudique confidence. En entendant Klang (œuvre magnifique), je n’ai pu m’empêcher de penser à des cloches japonaises du temple. Je maintiens: c’en est vraiment le son. Mais une amie m’a dit se retrouver dans sa cuisine et ses casseroles en entendant cela. Quelle honte: je croyais à plus de noblesse et pourtant oui: ce sont des casseroles: je fus berné et m’en confesse sans modestie.
Jamais batterie de cuisine ne fut si résonnante et riche de potentialité. Et, effectivement, la poésie sonore s’enrichit de cette vision qui trouve sa source dans le hasard du quotidien; Cage avait raison de dire que la musique, dans le fond est plus dans l’oreille de celui qui écoute que dans celle de celui la fait. Il y a toujours un impondérable quelque part que l’artiste transforme et qui — Jonty Harrison — devient révélateur. On voudrait bien des mots pour dire cela. Heureusement il y a mieux, à savoir la musique. C’est plus que suffisant.
Elektroakustik sagen die Einen, Ambient die Anderen. Schwammige Begriffe, die aber doch das Spektrum des kanadischen Labels empreintes DIGITALes gut beschreiben. Verzeiht uns die Schubladen.
Wenn ich die Gemeinsamkeiten, oder besser die Parallelen der mir vorliegenden Veröffentlichungen auf empreintes DIGITALes beschreiben müsste, so könnte das mit der Umschreibung »Walk In The Park« eventuell gelingen. Gemeint ist damit der Verweis auf Brian Enos Parkbank-Aufnahmesessions, in denen dieser nicht unbekannte Vertreter der sogenannten Ambientmusik – unter welchem Aspekt hier Ambient beleuchtet wird, sei der Unvollständigkeit halber mal ausgelassen – Ausschnitte aus dem täglichen Treiben im Central Park mit seinem Aufnahmegerät konservierte und einer nachträglichen Studie unterzog, in deren Verlauf er jeder Klangprobe einen Wiedererkennungswert abringen konnte.
Bei Louis Dufort und Denis Smalley werden Bahnhöfe, Industrieanlagen und Flugplatzeinflugschneisen in den Klangraum aufgenommen bzw. dieser um jene Komponenten erweitert. Dieses konkrete Material wird aber nicht nur in zitathaften Einsätzen einem musikalischen Prozess zugeführt, sondern aus seinem ursprünglichen Rahmen herausgerissen, um mehr oder weniger manipuliert und veredelt in die Chronologie der aufgezeichneten Geschehnisse rückgeführt zu werden. Daraus ergeben sich abgeschlossene Klangreisen mit durchaus vertrauten Spannungsbögen – man stelle sich etwa eine spätnächtliche U-Bahnfahrt vom Wiener Stephansplatz mit Linienwechsel nach Floridsdorf vor –, die ein passives Hören (Klangtapete) sehr gut abblocken können.
Kompositorisch strenger und vielleicht auch arithmetischer gehen die Labelkollegen Adrian Moore und Jonty Harrison mit ihrem elektroakustischen Hantieren vor. Der 32-jährige Moore, ehemaliger Student bei Jonty Harrison an der Universität von Birmingham, gliedert seine Werke auf»Traces«grob in drei Klassen: »those verging towards the abstract«, »those focusing upon re-hearing natural sound-objects« –»Study in Ink«ist das Ergebnis einer musikalischen Studie eines Markerstiftes auf einer Tafel und die Auswirkungen des Austrocknens dieses Stiftes auf dessen Klangverhalten – und »the radiogenic«. Letztgenannter Kategorie weist Moore sein Stück»Sieve«zu, in dem er das eingesetzte Material von Information, Sound und Bedeutung in Bezug auf den Verwendungszweck zu entkoppeln versucht. »If one forces listening at the wrong moment, the clarity of the listening experience changes and something ‘musical’ can sometimes be heard”. Auch bei Jonty Harrisons»Évidence matérielle«steht der Interpretationsfreiraum für den Hörer in einem interessanten Verhältnis zu den vom Musiker intentierten Assoziationsketten. Manche Passagen klingen nach Herumirren auf Straßen zur Rushhour, aus unterschiedlichen Positionen betrachtet. Hinter den Kulissen schöpft Harrison jedoch aus einem umfangreichen Fundus an Tools, etwa aus Holz und Metall im Spannungsfeld zu rein elektronischem Instrumentarium.
Dieses gekonnte Reduzieren auf die akustischen Ereignisse an sich und das damit einhergehende Fördern und Fordern des Hörens macht das mittlerweile elf Jahre alte Label empreintes DIGITALes zu einer wichtigen Plattform für zeitgenössische Elektroakustik.
Voilà une nouvelle réalisation du label canadien empreintes DIGITALes, spécialisé dans l’électroacoustique, qui ne va pas être aussi facile d’accès que les précedentes. Pourtant aucun des sons figurant dans cet album ne nous est inconnu. Jonty Harrison les a puisés en parcourant une rue, la rue Schaeffer, d’un côté comme de l’autre du trottoir, ou en s’installant dans une cuisine, dans une forêt, près d’une source d’eau, et a saisi au vol tous les sons qui l’intéressaient et l’intriguaient. On se plaît à reconnaître la source de cette banque sonore impressionnante, dans divers bruits très communs et banaux, auxquels on ne préte souvent pas attention, ou pas assez… Ce n’est qu’après avoir récolté tous ces sons que le travail de composition intervient, cherchant une entité sonore compatible avec l’ensemble, rendant cet amas diversifié et hétéroclite en une masse homogène et cohérente. Des paroles éparpillées, des casseroles, des freins, des voitures, des barres d’aluminium, des tiges de métal, des gouttes d’eau, etc… Tous ces sons que l’on ne pourra plus entendre de la même façon après avoir prété une oreille attentive à ce disque. Un travail impressionnant et fort intéressant!
In what is referred to collectively as the British Connection, empreintes DIGITALes recently released these three discs featuring the works of three prominent electroacoustic composers from the UK. Jonty Harrison’s Évidence matérielle is dominated by movement and concrete sounds. Never is there a standstill moment in these compositions, realised between 1982 and 1999. From the “klanging” of two earthenware casserole dishes to the sounds of wood splinters and turbulent streams of water, Harrison’s acousmatic works emphasise sounds in their pure states, assessing both sound “for what it is” as well as sound “for what it tells”. His compositions are intense and offer an exhaustive (and exhausting!) look at his particular sound sources (water, wood, earthenware pots, etc.). The only exception is on Sorties (1995), in which which he takes a step back in order to capture crowds, street scenes, urban movement. And yet still I get the sense that these are a series of aural snapshots; Harrison seems to quickly move his gear from one location to another, as if in a frantic state of mind, or as if he were chasing faeries or trying to capture something as obscure as phlogiston. His sound palette is indeed stunning (the sound engineering really shines on this release), but this particular restlessness in the compositions, the business and incessant activity of sounds, makes me a little uneasy and keeps me from embracing this record more fully.
Cet enregistrement est en fait une compilation de plusieurs œuvres de Harrison créées entre 1982 et 1999. Avec un mérite principal, celuide nous faire entrer dans deux des «branches» de l’acousmatique. En effet, les son manipulés peuvent être en quelque sorte des objets sonores, sons sans distinction de source (ça, c’est le point de vue de Schaeffer) ou des sons provenant de la nature (c’est le point de vue de Schafer). Les pièces ont des dominantes très marquées: Klang (sons métalliques, de cloches ou autres), Splintering (travail du bois), Streams (eau). Sorties, une pièce destinée à faire partie d’une installation sonore, reflète bien l’impossibilité de sortir d’une impasse sans se remettre dans un autre! Un intéressant panorama didactique. (7/10)
Tra i soundscapes di Schafer e le manipolazioni della musique concrète sta l’inglese Jonty Harrison in Évidence matérielle, che elabora un po’di più i suoi materiali base (casseruole di terracotta e metallo, legno di varie dimensioni, rifiuti e sacchetti di plastica), anche con un subliminale uso dell’elettronica.
Évidence matérielle is Jonty Harrison’s second CD on empreintes DIGITALes; the preceding one – Articles indéfinis (1996) – being very successful, and this one providing enough material evidence to forecast another electroacoustic chart-jumper!
Klang (1992) is Harrison’s first entry. Some of the base material of the piece was recorded as early as 1981. This pertains particularly to two earthenware casseroles discovered in Denis Smalley’s kitchen… (Man, these guys go back a long time…)
Suddenly, as I’m writing, my mind makes an involuntary jerky cross-reference that is completely unexpected even unto myself, but I think it holds some kind of truth of an intuitive kind: As I’m contemplating the atmosphere around this Jonty Harrison issue, as well as the other two components of The British Connection -concept that just arrived, I feel a similarity with what was happening on the British pop scene in the middle of the 1960’s, when some really sophisticated groups came along, carving out a certain niche for themselves, in a kind of intellectual and artistic splendor, which struck some of us with awe at the time, as we were completely elated with joy at the power of that which rose out of the darnest corners of the mind of the British Isles.
Anyhow, the similarity would be that of a certain splendor, a certain timeless creativity of a loftier, nobler kind, a certain craftsmanship way above the average state of affairs, a flair of excellence – which in turn unfolds a tradition back to the bards and the sages of olden times, and beyond that, to Stonehenge, and beyond, beyond… The atmosphere is such… I believe Harrison, Moore and Smalley would have been poets at the court of the king, and that many a dear Lady would weep at their wordings and phrasings…
Klang (1992) emerges like a glass world of gentle, brittle touches, swirling about you like the mist of a fairy’s airy dance, visible only in very rare lightings, when you’re in a serene state of mind, in and out of vision; now you see it, now you don’t! I can hear the lid being banged shut a few times in Smalley’s kitchen of 1981, but mostly it’s this hovering, circling dance of the fairies, gentle, careful, sensitive – wonderful; like the sunlight reflecting off the long hair of a beautiful long-legged female soaring down a London street (and there are four kinds of Sunsilk Shampoo; one is for you!). I’ve heard a few glass musics, like for instance Denis Dufour’s Bocalises (1977) and Annea Lockwood’s The Glass World (1970) – but this outshines the predecessor by sheer beauty, sheer breezy lightheartedness! It’s spatial, swift, candid! Soaring! Soaring like that one extended, breathtaking many-colored 1965 harmonica exhalation in Donovan Leitch’s Ballad of a Crystal Man…
Sorties (1995) gained Harrison some well-deserved international recognition back in 1996, when the piece was awarded Prix de la Musique Electroacoustique á Programme at the 23d International Electroacoustic Competition in Bourges, France, and consequently released on the double CD of the 9th edition of the releases from the competition; Cultures électroniques 9. From the title of the prize one might deduce that this is programmatic music. It was originally composed for an installation/sound sculpture, which was a collaboration between BEAST (Birmingham ElectroAcoustic Sound Theatre) and graphic artist Lorne Christie. It has to do with fleeing, escaping, from an entrapping interior to an exterior, which in turn turns out to be just another entrapping interior and so forth… (…are birds free from the chains of the skyway…? [Bob Dylan: Ballad in Plain D]). This is more of a concrete piece with original street sounds, footsteps tripping off in the gangways between supermarkets or in the subway stations, children’s voices, trains arriving and leaving, commotion, motion, cars, streets, traffic, squealing breaks, humming generators, slamming doors… and then in a sudden silence; private, close sounds, a door opened or shut… and now the electroacoustic wizardry kicks in, with minute events amply illustrating the inward thoughts of the person in flight, huddling away from one state of mind to another, inside a cab? There are two levels at play here; the interior of the mind, and the exterior through which you have to carry your body through all this weighing gravity of celestial bodies… your body and the celestial bodies and your very existence put to the test in a Russian doll type of world, where one kind of anxiety opens up into another kind of anxiety, and where the final aim can only be to find the right panic… Midway Sorties allows for some weather, and then for the shores of great waters, and birds, flies, bumble bees, voices of children carried on the wind, a single engine propeller plane passing in peace above; an illusion of domiciliary rights – but are these just the lonely sounds of homeliness reaching the thirsty ears of a destitute old-timer (ruined teeth…) on a park bench…? The electronics gradually take on a more vicious guise, and there is probably no mercy at hand… The mixture, the blending of concrete sounds, purely electronic sounds and transiting sounds – is magnificent, almost nauseating! Jonty Harrison knows his craft! He never does more than is needed, in a delicate and most tenderly application of binary film. In an all-encompassing tape-music gesture he lets the summery breeze comb through the leafy crowns of the trees of July, and you sit beneath one of the trees, your back against the trunk, a bottle of mineral water in your hand and lucid thoughts of loss in your mind, as your gaze levels out and locks in a hypnosis of horizons, as the winds blow… (… oh the winds blew high, and the trees did sway; not much from life was I asking… [Donovan Leitch: Ballad of Geraldine])
Surface Tension (1996) utilizes garbage; all sorts of waste; containers etcetera — and tries to extract some significance… and wouldn’t you know it, it succeeds splendidly, as those empty milk cartons and other throw-aways from the garbage can take up position inside a work of high art, electroacoustically composed of decomposing material for the compost! I sort of see this maniac sticking his hands down into whatnot, his microphone protruding down cracks in the shit, collecting beautiful sonic waste products out of the smelly mess… Fantastic! Even here, inside the shit itself, Jonty Harrison manages a plastic, hollow, spatial feel of curves and angles and trajectories, as the genetic codes flare up and fall down like the soot of fire-crackers all around those little boxes, in the waste damp, little boxes made of ticitac, little boxes, little boxes, little boxes, all the same…
Splintering (1997) is dedicated to Jonty Harrison’s parents. With its almost 20 minutes’ duration it is the longest work on the CD. The source material turns out to be wood. In the introductive text Harrison alleges environmental remorse, but also recognizes the deep-forest archetype of our subconscious, with weeping princesses, fire-breathing dragons and wolves disguised as grandmothers… We all share those images, don’t we? While I’m at I may as well make known my theory on the origins of the trolls, the giants and all those secret, somewhat dangerous, risky beings of the forest and the mountains. I think – without much doubt, really – that all our conceptions in that direction, about trolls and giants, are humanity’s memories of our brother race, the Neanderthals, who roamed these vast expanses up to at least 38 000 years ago, and that is almost until yesterday, in the perspective of the emergence and development of Homo Sapiens and the Neanderthals. The last remnants of them – dated to be 38 000 years old — were found in a cave in Brittany, so for endless periods we lived side-by-side with this other human race… Incredible. Now it’s just us left… However, the Neanderthals were bigger than us, sturdier, and in the memories seeping down through the millennia they have taken on the guises of trolls and giants. Remarkable but probable! They still live in the fairy-tales and the age-old legends! Certainly there must have been crossbreeds, but they in turn were probably not reproductive, which is why no Neanderthal traces can be detected in our genetic code. Harrison’s wood piece – piece of wood! – rumbles, rolls… and splinters! The music is sometimes percussive, sometimes gently cracking, always woodying! It goes from sparse brancheries to dense groves, and the naturally occurring and healthy forest fires burn through the piece too… if it isn’t Man again, burning down the forest to make space for cultivation of the land… You can hear the smallest of insects whizzing by and the faintest of creatures rustle a leaf… The nocturnal silence puts a misty damper on events, and there is time for reflection inside the composition of sounds… nose-tip introspection… long-last leg-rest of forest trekkers…
The last piece on this tremendous Jonty Harrison release is Streams (1999). Harrison’s introduction is so well formulated that I’ll quote from it: “The image evoked most immediately is, of course, that of water – turbulent, troubled, restless, at the mercy of wind and terrain, flowing onward to the sea – itself turbulent and in constant motion. Evaporation, clouds and rainfall complete the cycle, which is always renewing, always moving… […] …Streams of data, of consciousness and, most importantly, of perception – the ability to link often disparate elements together and to understand, to ‘hear’, that they are part of one line, one ‘stream of thought’, distinct from other (possibly coexisting) parallel or contrapuntal streams.” That said, it’s not much for me to add, except a respectful bow to the mastery of Jonty Harrison, revealing itself in the masterpieces of electroacoustics herein presented. Good day, Sir! It has been a pleasure!
A note on the packaging: empreintes DIGITALes’ packaging has always been inventive, and very beautiful, with an original idea for getting the CD out of the cover, among other features. Lately – as is evident with Harrison’s CD, but applying also to the two other CDs arriving in the triptych The British Connection; Adrian Moore’s Traces and Denis Smalley’s Sources/scènes (and maybe all other new CDs from the label?) – the format has shrunk somewhat, making it perfectly square, with even sides, making the whole look of the deal very neat and compact. I hold nothing against that. Earlier releases provided a booklet with the information, but now you fold out a guarded (folded) inlay made of high quality hard paper, with all the info.
Zentraler Hintergrund dieser Veröffentlichung ist Mr. Harrison’s imaginärer Spaziergang durch eine Art Stralle, auf der einen Seite «Scundobjekte» in einer «musikalischen» Weise und auf der anderen natürli,che (Altags-) Geräusche. So wandelt man mit einem immer schiefer werdendem Grinsen brav Mr.Harrison hinterher’ der mit Topfdeckeln (!) sich wohl stundenlang beschäftigen kann, allerlei überaus profanes Gesumme und Gebrumme der alltäglichen GeschäRigkeit der Menschheit dazu montiert und uns folgerichtig seine «Tonerforschungen» auf CD Format präsentiert. Nun ist Jonty Harrison kein kleiner Dummer, schließlich studierte er in Sachen Musik und Kompositionstechnik an der altehnNürdigen Universität zu York, gibt Vorlesungen in Sachen Kompositionstechnik und elektroakustischer Musik und ist gar Direktor des BEAST (Birmingharn ElectroAcustic Sound Theatre). Seine elektroakustischen tnstallationen sind sicher sehr interessant und in einem gewissen Zusammenhang genauso sicher uberaus künstlerisch wertvoll. Würde ich persönlich mir sogar durchaus einmal antun. Ohne diesen Hintergrund allerdings, horen wir rnur “seine, Soundkreationen” auf dieser CD, und das ist anstrengend, um nicht zu sagen, enervierend, sorry! Bei aller Liebe zu jeglicher Form von Kunst, bin ich nicht lange hinter ihm seine Rue Schaeffer, oder von mir aus “Schaeffer Street” hinterhergezockelt. Nach nicht zu langer Zeit tauchte nämlich auf der»organischen Straßenseite eine Kneipe auf, in diese habe ich mich verdrückt und als allererstes, Geld in die Musicbox investiert. Hat da eben schon wieder jemand «Kunstbanause» gesagt…?
If you like danceable beats or if you love screaming guitars, don’t even listen to this CD. Don’t look for melodies but experimental long tracks (Splintering is almost twenty minutes long). Évidence matérielle is for people with an interest in abstract, avantgarde music and electroacoustics. Sounds of casserole dishes are used but also street noises, rain, fire and other sounds. Is it music, sound art or something else, Jonty Harrison samples all sounds and combines them to tracks. He’s experimenting with sounds and sometimes you can hear voices. Try to discover where he gets the sounds. In Splintering many forms of wood are used to create another weird piece. The songs weren’t composed in a year’s time as most artist do, but actually bring a collection of his works. Streams, was composed in 1999 and the opening track, Klang, was composed in 1982. This album is dedicated to his late father Doug.
Jonty Harrison is director of BEAST (Birmingham ElectroAcoustic Sound Theatre) and has worked with GRM and IRCAM. His pieces appear on both sides of what he calls the “Schaeffer/Schafer division” — acousmatic music wich abstracts musical data from sound objects “without reference to their provenance in any anecdotal way” (as representd by Pierre Schaeffer) and soundscapes wich use natural sound art rather than purely musically (Canadian composer R Murray Schafer). Klang is an engaging example of the former, wich creates abstract structures with sounds from casserole dishes ground together. Sorties, in contrast, is a soundscape of door-slamming and other exits. Other pieces oscillates between the two approaches in what is a rewarding survey.
It’s not unusual to hear people talk about recordings that take you on a journey, usually in the context of sounds that are tropical, uplifting, or expansively — and expensively—produced. Jonty Harrison’s Sorties, however, doesn’t so much lead you through a sonic landscape as buridle you, blindfolded and confused, into the back of a car, destination unknown.
A series of linked soundscape vignettes, this 15-minute piece begins placidly enough, perhaps any ordinary urban street. Heels click against the pavement; cars - thrum by on what sounds like wet asphalt; children’s voices clatter from the reflective shop windows nearby; an indistinct bass line wafts from a second-floor studio. But then the mood changes: the squealing of subway brakes leads to a minor scuffle, after witch a door slams shut and the ambient noises fade to black. But the work is far from being over. Keys rattle against locks, tumblers turn, an oddly musical creak — electronically processed saxophone? — signifies the opening of another door.
In this new world, it’s raining; thunder booms, and then the downpour stops as the listener kicks along a shingle beach, waves plashing nearby, before being pulled through yet another door into a leafy garden of birdsong; in the distance, a puzzled child cries “Mommy! There’s a shoe!”
What domestic or criminal drama is being played out here remains unexplained, as the listener is quickly taken away from this pastoral scene. A buzzing fly morphs into droning industrial noise and then into a silvery synthesized chord, which in turn becomes the noise of a passing bus as the initial street reappears, this tune overlaid with a mesh of clicking and whirring. The piece continues for another minute or so until, finally, ominous low pulses signal its uneasy end.
Sorties a title intended to be read for both its English and French meanings — is taken from Évidence matérielle, Harrison’s new CD on the Montréal-based empreintes DIGITALes label, and in the liner notes the composer explains that “the dominant sound image of the work is that of leaving (exiting, escaping, fleeing) an interior space for an exterior one, only to find that one is mysteriously and inevitably trapped once again in another ‘interior’.”
Be that as it may, when one listens to this work on headphones, in a darkened room, it’s hard to detect that the listener has any hope of escape. Harrison’s sonic images have such presence that one really does seem kidnapped, swept away in the composer’s design, and although the feeling is not always-comfortable it’s as gripping as a pair of handcuffs.
Sorties is an extraordinay piece, as are most of the other works collected on Évidence matérielle. The glorious, metallic physicality of Klang; the fractured yet evocative images of Splintering the appropriately transparent liquidity of Streams: all use a supposedly cool medium — electronic music - to paint warm portraits of human experience. Only Surface Tension fails to cohere: it’s an attempt to make music by sampling and manipulating the sounds of discarded packing materials and other rubbish, but those noises are too amorphous and its structure too indistinct to be fully involving.
Harrison’s compositions are typical of those featured on empreintes DIGITALes, which with 58 titles in its catalogue is perhaps the world’s leading record label dedicated to electroacoustic music. Its productions run the gamut from “environmental” sounds made up of electronically manipulated field recordings to the purely digital concoctions of the recording studio, and its roster includes such Vancouver composers as Sergio Barroso, Paul Dolden, and Hildegard Westerkamp. Vancouver and Montréal are both hotbeds of this kind of work, but an indication of empreintes DIGITALes’ status in the world at large is that only one Canadian composer is represented in its four new releases. Accompanying Harrison’s CD are albums by his student and fellow Englishman Adrian Moore and New Zealand’s Denis Smalley, in addition to one from Montréal’s Louis Dufort.
Space precludes full reviews of these, but it’s probably fair that all four composers share a common aesthetics - although whether that is the result of a shared philosophical outlook or something forced on them by the technology they’re working with is hard to say. Whatever the case, if you’re looking for drama Dufort is your man; his dynamic range is greater and his sounds harsher than those used by his English and Kiwi counterparts. But, like them, he’s interested in building long, flowing compositions from small sound sources. By compressing, stretching, and twisting familiar noises, and by the steady aecumulation of sonic detail, all four make music that is transporting — even if, as in Harrison’s Sorties, the journey isn’t always fun.
Harrison è un compositore elettroacustico inglese di quasi cinquant’anni dhe ha già al suo attivo numerosi lavori creati su commissione di vari istituti europei di ricerca (soprattutto francesi, ma anche ungheresi e britannici). Il suo approccio al suono è ngoroso e sobno, come si può intuire dall’ascolto dei anque brani indusi in questo CD. Klang (1982) è suonata su due cassenuole di tenracotta e altn oggeti Sorties (1995) e Surface Tension (1996) indagano nspettivamente sui numon prodotti da gente e moton in movimento e sulle tensioni fra superiia di oggetti solidi, Splintering (1997) e Streams si addentrano invece nel mondo dei legni e su quello dell’acqua Harrison, sempre inquietante, nesce ad allontanarsi di diversi passi dalle secche stenli dell’accademia, cosi facendo da vita a uno dei migliori CD prodotti in quell’ambito.