Stephan Dunkelman

Eine absolute Empfehlung. Skug, Austria

… obviously 21st Century music, with a sparkling sound and clarity. Audion, UK

Rituellipses: Prix Ars Electronica 1995 — Mention

Belgian composer Stephan Dunkelman is inspired by “the spirit of the dance and the need for silence” for the seven acousmatic pieces included on Rhizomes, a collection spanning ten years (1991-2000). Studies on seemingly ill-matched sound universes in Metharcana, rotation of sound and silence in Rituellipses, search for the points of contact between the real and the unreal in Dreamlike Shudder in an Airstream Part 1Dunkelman recombines sounds in a way which rewards listener involvement. An experience akin to a jigsaw puzzle with meanings. [dt]

  • Ministère de la Communauté française de la Belgique

CD (IMED 0263)

  • Label: empreintes DIGITALes
  • IMED 0263
  • 2002
  • UCC 771028026326
  • Total duration: 59:23
  • OGpak
  • 125 mm × 125 mm × 10 mm
  • 50 g

On the web

Download (IMED 0263_NUM)


About Rhizomes

My work unites living Time and Space.

On the one hand, it develops expressions of space for music. It then integrates them into already existing expressions of time or, better still, designs them during the very process of creation, as new expressions of time are revealed.

On the other hand, it modulates sound patterns (chosen for their morphological or imaginal qualities) by highlighting their roots in ways that energize them. Playing with the mental images that are suggested thus makes it possible to perceive the nature of the living phenomena that arise from the process.

The spirit of the dance and the need for silence are the emitters/transmitters that I have chosen to guide me.

During the composition phase, their presence assert themselves and then wane, leaving the spirit to guide the senses.

And so, between Heaven and Earth, listening is vertical.

I would like to thank Annette Vande Gorne for the many days I spent in the studios of the association founded by her, Musiques & Recherches. I also acknowledge the support I received from the Ministère de la Communauté française and Lionel Larue throughout the realization of this project.


Some recommended items
In the press


Alan Freeman, Audion, no. 49, March 1, 2004

There tends to be a lot of electroacoustic albums around these days inhabiting the realm of sonic creation invented by the likes of François Bayle and Pierre Henry, sometimes so much so (as in the case of this release) that you tend to “train-spot” those mentors well-known techniques. Mr. Dunkelman, however, doesn’t filch all his ideas from elsewhere and he does through in some very bizarre quirks and diversions. You can tell he’s also delved into the “plunderphonics” field, and his use of abrupt splicing and serious “clunks” can be a mite unnerving. A lot of environmental, street sounds and cityscapes also feature. It’s one to absorb with many listens, each yielding a new experience as one grows familiar with it.

An Itinerary Through Northern Europe

François Couture, electrocd.com, February 9, 2004

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.


Tobias Bolt, Skug, no. 54, June 14, 2003

Der, zumeist im geologischen Zusammenhang verwendete, und einen Gleichgewichtszustand beschreibende Begriff der»Isostasie«ist der Titel von Natasha Barrets drittem Album, auf dem die Komponistin und Sound-Ökologin verschiedene lokale Naturphänomene, wie die Mitternachtssonne oder »Roten Schnee« mittels elektroakustischer Klangforschungen abstrakt umreißt. Die zehn glasklaren, kalten Impressionen aus ihrer Wahlheimat Norwegen, durchwegs spannend und mit einer ausgeprägten Liebe zum Detail gestaltet, fegen wie ein eisiger Nordwind aus den Boxen und kristallisieren zu glitzernden Klangskulpuren voll gespenstischer Schönheit.

Noch ein wenig abstrakter kommt das Album des belgischen Komponisten Stephan Dunkelman daher. Seine nicht nur für Konzerte, sondern auch für Ausstellungen und Tanzaufführungen komponierten Stücke spielen gekonnt mit Musik im Raum/Zeit-Kontext, sowie laut/leise-Kontrasten. Die zu Beginn etwas diffus anmutenden Soundscapes geraten mit zunehmender Spieldauer zu einem durchaus hörenswerten Ganzen, in dem sich die verschiedenen Geräusche tatsächlich wie»Rhizome«(dieser ursprünglich aus der Botanik stammende Begriff wurde von Deleuze und Guattari als Metapher für Hypertextualität verwendet) von den Spitzen weg in verschiedenste Richtungen fortpflanzen.

Der Titel von Arturo Parras Album wiederum weist ganz konkret auf seine Entstehungsweise hin: fünf »acousmatische« Stücke für Tape, von Parra an ebenso viele verschiedene Komponisten in Auftrag gegeben, werden auf»Parr(A)cousmatique«von dem kolumbianischen Gitarristen mit seinem expressiven Spiel auf der akustischen Gitarre konterkariert. Ein atmosphärisch unglaublich dicht geratenes Album, in dem sich ruhige, einfühlsame Passagen mit explosiven Fingerpickings und stakkatoartigen Rhythmusattacken abwechseln. Das in Parras Spiel omnipräsente lebensfreudige Flamencofeeling paart sich hier auf ganz wunderbare, ungewöhnliche Weise mit der Musique Concrète der Tape-Kompositionen. Eine absolute Empfehlung. Alle drei Veröffentlichungen beinhalten in den äußerst ansprechend gestalteten Pappkarton-Schubern umfangreiches Informationsmaterial, darunter Biographien, Details zum Release sowie Kommentare der Künstler zu den einzelnen Stücken in englischer und französischer Sprache.

Eine absolute Empfehlung.


Alan Freeman, Audion, no. 48, June 1, 2003

All pure concrete this one, a storming melange of sonics and environments, that writhe and shatter. It’s engrossing and perplexing, in that it always seems to be going somewhere, yet the clues are vague and you’re always left guessing. As sounds clunk and (again) shatter, they regroup in strange cacophonies, and I’m often reminded of late-1960’s works of Pierre Henry and Francois Bayle, yet it’s obviously 21st Century music, with a sparkling sound and clarity.

… obviously 21st Century music, with a sparkling sound and clarity.

Off the Spine

Dwight Loop, e/i magazine, no. 1, March 31, 2003

Belgum-born Dunkelman’s first release on empreintes DIGITALes is the work of an acousmatic composer whose sound sculptures are sought after by many other artists for performance and installation. His music has been utilized in dance (Michele Noiret), sculpture (Charlotte Marchal), painting (Axel Miret), and fashion design (Azniv Afsar). These collaborations have opened up Dunkelman’s repertoire in that they’ve brought into play the ‘space’ that interpretive music demands. In all seven compositions on Rhizomes, he displays a true understanding of the use of silence in elaborate constructions. Time and again, the resonance of the spaces between the sounds give breathing room to Dunkelman’s creative interplay. Nowhere is this more evident than on the disc’s opening track, Metharcana, where the sound is choreographed to sudden rhythmic shifts. One could easily imagine a dancer’s fluid movements to each carefully crahed sound cluster; likewise on Rituellipses, with its halting staccato patterns, where envelopes quickly appear and disappear on a minimalistic aural canvas. The most mysterious and intriguing selection on the disc is the finale, Thru, Above, and Between, Dunkelman’s first ever work composed specifically for radio and sees him realizing his wish of: “wanting to present a resolutely musical alternative for an electroacoustic genre too often influenced by literary thinking. The city… is presented as an imploding dream. Brussels, too dependent on the dreams of others, must constantly look elsewhere to rediscover its own.” The sounds of Brussels—voices, footsteps, rain, trains and automobiles—are used as stitched patterns over echoed drones created from reverberations of the past, present, and future: Dunkelman delivers a record well worth its duration.

… he displays a true understanding of the use of silence in elaborate constructions.


Pierre Durr, Revue & Corrigée, no. 55, March 1, 2003

Électroacousticien belge, Stephan Dunkelman réalise ici, et à travers sept pièces, l’idée même de musique pour l’oreille. Point n’est besoin de s’attarder sur les techniques utilisées, un environnement électronique mettant en rapport des sons réels et des sons transformés. L’auditeur, certes déjà averti et curieux d’espaces acousmatiques renouvelés, se laisse glisser dans la matière sonore — conçue souvent pour des spectacles chorégraphiques ou théâtraux. Les rythmes l’y amènent et il devient le captif consentant d’une mise en œuvre qui se distingue par la richesse des sons déferlants, leur expressivité, leur dynamique.

… l’idée même de musique pour l’oreille.


Igun Shakor, everMusic, February 5, 2003
Brussels dances. With all its architectural extravagances, the voices of its children, the euphoria of broken glass, of the rumble of a distant train, the white noise of rain, the dichotomy of the concrete folds of its flesh.


Philippe Robert, Les Inrockuptibles, February 1, 2003

Électroacoustique pour chorégraphies par un dingue de cinéma. Dans les premières pièces, de longs bruissements évoquent ce que l’on imaginerait volontiers être le son de la banquise qui se fissure, d’agréables clapottis générent des ambiances aquatiques et l’ensemble a quelque chose de littéralement organique. Si les compositions acousmatiques de Stephan Dunkelman sont souvent destinées à des concerts, quasiment toutes celles qui ont été retenues ici ont été créées pour des chorégraphies. Les sons, constamment en mouvement, y appellent cependant des images mentales bein au-delà de la seule danse. Avant que cet opus ne s’achève, cet ancien élève d’Annette Vande Gorne qui se dit inspiré par Tarkovsky et les Taviani place sa pièce la plus convaincante, résultat de son premier essai de création radiophonique sous forme de portrait d’une ville qu’il connaît bien: Bruxelles. Véritable dédale de sons de toutes sortes, cette composition enchaîne concret et instrumental selon des trajectoires où l’on prendra plaisir à flâner ou se perdre.

… enchaîne concret et instrumental selon des trajectoires où l’on prendra plaisir à flâner ou se perdre.


Ios Smolders, Vital, no. 357, January 30, 2003

Stephan Dunkelman’s Rhizomes plays heavily with sound and speed. His sounds seem to flee away from the speakers turned acoustically into large halls (through loads of reverb). Only seldomly does a sound remain at its place. Dunkelman must be a restless person. The acousmatic aspect of his music is according to the book (I think; there must be a book of some sort… I always hear the same sounds and techniques applied to edit them.) but it fails to keep my attention. The soundsources, the treatments, the structure… it’s all too much of the same.


Rigobert Dittmann, Bad Alchemy, January 17, 2003

Der 1956 geborene Belgier Stephan Dunkelman hat bei Annette Vande Gorne studiert. Obwohl er seine Arbeiten gern auch kontextualisiert mit Kunstausstellungen, Modeschauen oder Tanztheater, geht von den auf Rhizomes (IMED 0263) versammelten Werken Signallures (1991), Rituellipses (1993-96), Aquaéra 1 (1996), Hanna’ Duet (1998), Metharcana (1998), Thru, Above and Between (1998) und Dreamlike Shudder in an Airstream Part 1: for a crumpled woman (2000) eher etwas Intimes, Hermetisches und Verträumt-Vergeistigtes aus. Subtile Klänge schweben und tanzen zwischen Bewegung und Stille, Raum und Zeit, Essenz und Existenz, Realität und Irrealität. “Listening is vertical” ist nur vordergründig ein klares Statement in Dunkelmans fremdwortreicher Selbstvermarktung, die aber ganz dem rabulistischen Tenor der Kunstkopffraktion unter den Bruitisten entspricht. Das stereophone Rollin’ & Tumblin’ seiner morpho-dynamischen Wischer, Zuckungen und rumpelnden Vibrationen folgt bestechend präzisen Choreographien, die ihnen konfrontale Antagonismen oder zentrifugales Gehusche als ‘Schritt’-Wirbel diktieren.


Massimo Ricci, Touching Extremes, January 6, 2003

Dunkelman comes from Belgium and his creations are a perfect example of inventiveness when juxtaposing real and modified sounds in an electronic environment. Mostly used for dance/theatre, art and fashion settings, Stephan’s pieces are so full of forms, ever-changing pulsations and rhythms that they literally escape any definition, trying to justify their existence in a stark contrast with silence. It’s like a mathematic relation between sound and space, only observed through unknown angles and surprising trajectories. The resulting concoction could be a little discomforting to ears not adequately trained, but surely is rewarding for open minds and for the ones who dare exiting the borders of known.

… rewarding for open minds and for the ones who dare exiting the borders of known.


Jenn Sikes, Splendid E-Zine, December 17, 2002

If you’re looking for music for your next salon gathering of MENSA members, you’ve found it in Rhizomes — music so highbrow that it’ll melt into your hairline. Despite its required accompaniment of burbles, bleeps, whistles and whines, it’s much more melodic than you might expect — as acousmatic music goes, anyway. Don’t be too surprised if the album and its creator end up becoming the focus of your conversation, rather than the background music for it.

If a George Lucas movie married a Claire Denis movie, this soundtrack would be the music for their Hitchcockish children. Metharcana sounds like its name, a children’s arcade experienced on meth, with a bunch of obscure references floating past your eyes. Sound bites of a woman whispering in French, fingers thrummed rapidly on a tight skin drum, coffee cups clanking against each other, video game noises… they’re all used to create an atmosphere of weird musical emptiness. The video game noises remind me of DJ Spooky tracks, but mostly this is the electronic type of experimentation you’d expect to find on a Schematic Records release. Rituellipses sounds like performance art — the kind of thing you’d hear while watching the Blue Man group do its thing. In fact, Dunkelman has composed for art exhibitions (Charlotte Marchal, sculptor; Axel Miret, painter), for art dance choreography (Michèle Noiret) and for fashion design (Azniv Afsar) — all of these artists, of course, members of the avant garde.

The sounds in Rituellipses could be billiard balls knocking against one another on a hard surface. You’ll wonder what the ritual is, and if the ellipse is part of the ritual or if it is the ritual, and then — if you’re like me — you’ll get a headache and sit down fast in case you get dizzy. While certain loops in this piece seem to have been repeated from an earlier movement, all of the musical ideas are pushing forward in a linear fashion; older themes are abandoned, newer ones taken up and pushed to their conclusion. As many electronic compositions of this variety focus on the idea of layering, this is a really interesting change of the format on Dunkelman’s part. And he always lives up to his name; these compositions are really dark, even when he’s experimenting with brighter tones, like a bouncing basketball and athletic shoes scraping on a gymnasium floor.

Whenever you listen to Dunkelman, you’re going to have to think hard — he’s a workout for the mind, as strenuous as solid house music is a workout for your hips. Rhizomes is definitely going to plant seeds of thought.

… a really interesting change of the format on Dunkelman’s part.


TD, Funprox, December 17, 2002

The empreintes DIGITALes label has over the years released lots of material by composers of so called “musique concrète” and “electroacoustic” music. For those unfamiliar with these genres, this sort of music originated almost half a century ago, when various “classical” composers started experimenting with the use and possibilities of studio-recording equipment for their compositions. Amongs these electronica pioneers were people like Karlheinz Stockhausen, Iannis Xenakis and Pierre Schaeffer. The result of this experimenting was that electronic equipment that was meant only for producing “classical” music became instruments themselves, and the artists could now produce music on the basis of samples and electronic equipment instead of using an entire orchestra. Thus a new genre was born. Later electronic music (like Kraftwerk) was made possible through these [r]evolutions.

Now, half a century later there are a lot of composers with “schooled” backgrounds that make their compositions with electronic equipment only. Over the years some famous composers, like Francis Dhomont and Denis Smalley, have had their works released on empreintes DIGITALes which has become a sort of archive for these compositions. Now a new generation of composers is releasing their work. Among these are Natasha Barrett (a former student of Denis Smalley) and Stephan Dunkelman.

The works of these composers are both very soundtrack-like in nature, highly processed sounds form almost natural flows, like an orchestra made out of samples slowly evolving towards its climax. Just like standard classical compositions these are very dense and highly emotional, ranging from very soft sounds, to huge walls of sound. These releases are quite similar in many respects, although Barrett’s work seems to be a bit more threatening and continuous, while Dunkelman’s seems to be more abstract and changing. For those more used to listening to ambient and electronica they can be very well compared to artists like Brume or Daniel Menche or perhaps even to a less abstract version of Illusion of Safety.


Tom Schulte, Outsight, December 15, 2002

Stephan Dunkelman presents electroacoustic “acousmatic” compositions not only intended for concerts, but for art exhibitions, fashion shows and dance. As such the swaths of sound and textures imply solid shape moving through space. The sonic constructions on Rhizomes show us a tactile side giving distinct impressions to the ear as how they would feel under hand. There is a distinct visual, motive element to the music that assures this lives not only in the concert hall but walks, dances and poses with us. (4/5)


François Couture, AllMusic, November 1, 2002

Rhizomes summarizes Stephan Dunkelman’s 1990s. Most of the seven works included on this CD were already available on a number of compilation albums (Aquaéra 1 on empreintes DIGITALes’ own Miniatures concrètes). Presented together, they form an interesting solo album. The key word to describe Dunkelman’s music is “movement.” He has worked extensively with choreographers and some of these pieces stem from music for dance. There is grace and fluidity in the stereo crisscrosses, the leaps and splits of his sounds. In that regard, Rituellipses is exemplary. Ample without aiming at grandeur, it impressively coordinates the dance of a number of “characters” in a movement that draws from a certain conception of serialism and ritualism, all to great effect. Dreamlike Shudder in an Airstream Part 1: For a Crumpled Woman, encountered at half point in the course of this hour of music, brings an element of disturbance. Its title already hints at something darker or oppressive. The piece is more cluttered and looms menacingly over the listener. The closing Thru, Above and Between approaches radio work (or hörspiel) from a purely musical point of view. Consciously evacuating any possible literary thinking, Dunkelman tries to come back to the essence of “cinema for the ear,” developing a narrative that will not translate into words but makes sense to the listener nonetheless. Through these pieces, the influence of Annette Vande Gorne rarely goes away — in the choice and use of concrete sounds, in the musical flow — but is well integrated to Dunkelman’s style. Academic but warm and with many fascinating facets, this album is definitely worth your time.

… warm and with many fascinating facets, this album is definitely worth your time.


Roald Baudoux, Les Cahiers de l’ACME, no. 210, November 1, 2002

Voici le premier CD monographique de ce compositeur dont le parcours discret mérite pourtant bien qu’on s’y intéresse. En effet, des plus anciennes aux plus récentes, les compositions présentes sur ce CD sont issues d’une pensée musicale qui allie à l’utilisation intelligente du temps une utilisation non moins intelligente de l’espace. Si les matériologies sont multiples et originales, leur utilisation est toujours au service du discours musical, discours dynamique et articulé, notamment au travers d’un important travail d’écriture par montage. Est-ce des multiples collaborations du compositeur avec des chorégraphes qu’est née cette dynamique du discours ou bien est-ce cette dynamique qui a permis de telles collaborations? Peu importe puisqu’on retiendra que ces compositions ne comportent que peu de temps morts et que le geste y est omniprésent. Et cela dans un grand équilibre, sans jamais tomber dans le pathos ou l’emphase inutiles.

… un grand équilibre, sans jamais tomber dans le pathos ou l’emphase inutiles.


Ingvar Loco Nordin, Sonoloco Record Reviews, October 25, 2002

Stephan Dunkelman is a Belgian, born 1956, who composes for exhibitions (Charlotte Marchal, sculpture; Axel Miret, paintings [also represented with the cover of this issue]; Michèle Noiret, choreographies; Azniv Afsar, fashion design)

Of course the electroacoustic idiom is perfectly suited for these ends, even though this is the first time I’m aware of this art being utilized in the fashion business! However, I know that Swedish electronic music pioneer Ralph Lundsten sold his soul to the weapons industry with a piece to open the presentation ceremony of a new Swedish jet fighter, which eventually was sold to the new regime in South Africa, which one would think would have many domestic problems of poverty and education and fairness to deal with before bailing out all their money to the Swedish weapons sharks… so with that in view I certainly have no objections to this art accompanying the fashion movement, which, nonetheless, harbors sensuality and intuition too, while the weapons’ industry is 100% pure evil… no matter what Swedish double standards might say…

Dunkelman studied with legendary Annette Vande Gorne at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Mons, Belgium.

Stephan Dunkelman really is a “dunkel” man, in the German and Swedish meaning of the word; vague, obscure, mysterious… This became clear to me on spinning track one of Dunkelman’s new CD RhizomesMetharcana (1998) - under the bleak light of the laser beam. A beautifully rendered space of emerging spheres of shiny, metallic properties bring you into a state of hovering, of weightless existence in a shadow world between these soaring, tumbling spheres, of which you cannot get hold, ‘cause of their infinitely even surfaces…

Speed is appearing as an entity unto itself through the music, moving rapidly through this beautiful, but dusky and anonymous, extra-human spacescape… where sounds reminiscent of Bayle (Les Couleurs de la Nuit) or Parmegiani (La Création du Monde) artistry are scattered like sonic seeds of Christmas tree bliss… but all in the haze of a dream, a… hallucination… which appears in a world where humans have no say, where humans are not known, where the entities of existence swirl ’round cup grease, screws and bolts and anonymous machinery… and then, at 3:56, a surprise!

When I heard this the first time I was caught off guard, and instantly I was asking myself if I really heard what I thought I heard, or if I actually really was the victim of sonic hallucinations… because out of the speedily moving layers of dreamy, electroacoustic artistry a whisper rose, or rather swirled, round and around my head… and it appeared to me that it all sounded too familiar, until it suddenly dawned on me that the women who whispered spoke Swedish! I was completely unprepared for this on a Canadian CD featuring a Belgian composer, and the way in which the lingual aspect sort of rose hazily out of the rushing flow of sounds made the experience even more spectacular to the non-suspecting reviewer!

The “dunkel” aspect I mentioned initially is even more confirmed as the words and sentences uttered in this whispering female voice are not all clearly recognizable as to their content of meaning, but rather heard like loose thoughts inside someone’s head, registered on some fly-by extraterrestrial device inside one of the luxurious space ships of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy… Even more “dunkel” is Dunkelman’s way of not explaining who this Swedish whispering woman is, and what text she recites. I would like to be filled in on this! (If I am I will insert the information here!) As I look at the information on the sleeve I notice that Metharcana won first prize at the Stockholm Electronic Arts Award in 1998, so in there somewhere is a hidden explanation…

The effect of the voice, even if you can’t understand the language, adds even more of a dreamy, otherworldly or subconscious feel to the mix. Some of the whispers go: “Namnet på han som ritade kläderna” (“The name of the guy who drew the clothes…”, followed by “Jag tycker om att se på…” (“I like to look at…”), “…reklamen…” (…“the commercials…”), “…det gick inte, snart är jag gammal…” (…it didn’t work, soon I’ll be old…”). Ear-shattering (at least if heard through earphones) dark percussive effects pan wildly, hitting your tympanic membranes in a rage, as the whisper continues: “…tog bilder av mig; det var hans bilder, inte mina…” (“…took pictures of me; they were his, not mine…”), “…varje morgon när jag köper tidningen…” (…each morning as I buy the newspaper…”), “…namnet på han som ritade kläderna…” (“…the name of the guy who drew the clothes…”), “…jag tycker om att stå på perrongen…” (“…I like to stand on the platform…”) …and towards the conclusion the woman half whispers, half talks (for the first time), saying, again: “Jag tycker om att stå på perrongen, varje morgon när jag köper tidningen…” (“I like to stand at the platform, each morning as I buy the newspaper”), and the motion and commotion of the music is intense, to say the least.

It impresses me how good Dunkelman is at using a few elements of sound repeatedly, as sounding objects, inside the general haste of the forthwelling sound mass. Dunkelman writes in his introduction that he has used here material originally intended for a choreographic production. This piece should be played loud, like a rock n’ roll piece, so that you’re carried along in the forceful flow, while the whispers cut into your ears. Metharcana is a masterpiece!

The second work on the CD is Rituellipses (1993 – 1996). This is a work composed “by and for dance”, as Dunkelman, in his “dunkel” way puts it… he goes on to describe the piece thus:

The sonic objects, made from fragments of concrete or instrumental musical patterns, are swept along as if by [a] centrifugal force [but this description reminds the reviewer very much of the first piece too]. They follow each other in continuous rotational movements that only silence suspends. These studies of trajectory combinations are developed in short movements that are alternately lively, calm, restrained or uninhibited. […]

Stephan Dunkelman also lets on that he has had two movies in mind while he worked these sound worlds, Andrei Tarkovsky’s The Sacrifice (shot on the island of Fårö, Sweden) and Night Sun by Paolo and Vittorio Taviani. The composer points out that these movies deal with the kind of over-arching relationship that man may have with, say, a tree or a rock, in an atmosphere of reminiscences of lost wisdom, of the oneness.

The panning is formidable in the piece, right from the outset, and if you listen over earphones you will get dizzy! Little sounds are percussed (a new word, I trust!) and thrown about wildly, but in clean-cut audio, revealing much sonic beauty, flashing by, back and forth and all around, in a magic display of spatial playfulness, of a kind refined to a state which I haven’t experienced before under the looking-glass of the laser beam! The sounds that are treated in this way seem to stem from all kinds of concrete sources, like perhaps kitchen ware, pebbles and whatnot – but they are extremely percussed (second time this word has been documented in semantic and etymologic history!) and panned, and enjoyed thoroughly by this listener, this connoisseur of auditory pleasure! Some parts bring in influences from the formidable Frenchman Jean Schwarz (Suite Symphonique & Gamma Plus), but also from American citizen Morton Subotnick (The Key To Songs & Jacob’s Room).

The repetitious patterns that arise lure you into a kind of shamanistic sphere, your eardrums vibrating in brain-tickling cycles, conjuring up visions of annual rings of old oaks and strata of rock, sideways up out of the African soil. In this music Time is a vehicle; a probe in which top soar, down the slopes of thought, of dream – of unintent.

Hanna’ Duet (1998) is, says Dunkelman, “a geometric replica, a simple reproduction of a segment of choreography.” The drumming sweeps by real close, tapping both your temples, while incisive sounds – sharp, edgy - slice through space like samurai swords. Tilting planes dance about in a display of arithmetics, somewhat like the sight of South American ants carrying leaves; ah, yes, it’s a South American ant leaf dance on a branch of a tree in the rain forest! Ant choreography gone electroacoustic in Monsieur Dunkelman’s studio!

Track 4 has a mighty title: Dreamlike Shudder in an Airstream Part 1: for a crumpled woman (2000). Cryptically, in a shroud of “Dunkelheit”, Dunkelman talks about the communion between the real and the unreal, and of possible venues between the two – and this piece deals with it; not a small feat! Initially immediately overpowered by a whole room of grouchy furniture falling over me I proceed cautiously through this incarnate philosophy, expressed in sound waves of utter beauty and edge. An armada of upset doorways clashes in a wooden pile just outside my ears. Intense rubbery and wooden friction mix with the squeaking of grumpy hinges cutting loose of angered door cases, while a cloud of grasshopper legs fall down as black, thin-lined precipitation from some perversion of cruelty to animals above, in some outcast dimension bordering ours in the uncertainty of quantum mechanics… Then screws and bolts that sweep past move so densely and so fast that all that remains is an acrid smell of speedy metal and a hovering trace of metal dust.

Sounds reaching out like distant, trapped human screams of horror seep out through a tormented mass of mangled iron bar sounds, but at times I think I hear the sounds of feet across the floor of a gym! The speed is – as in many of Dunkelman’s works – enormous, and there is no way you can keep up, but enjoyment is guaranteed! He has poured all and everything into his sound machines, but the result is perfectly balanced anyhow, in the grand scope of things. The conclusion of this piece is even a bit melancholy, stretching a thin line of distant strings across and beyond the sonic horizon…

Aquaéra 1 (1996) was Dunkelman’s first attempt to work with sounds sampled from the so-called real world. It’s a successful attempt, I do say, with many sounds that are readily identified as fenders squeezed between a boat and the quay, crows, distant light houses in the fog etcetera – but brilliantly woven into the commotion of sound flurries… because the typical Dunkelman spatiality is present already in this piece. The feeling is a bit desolate, lonely, forlorn… and very, very beautiful.

Signallures (1991) is Dunkelman’s earliest work on this CD. He has equipped the piece with a few imperatives, not so unlike Stockhausen’s performance instructions for Aus den sieben Tagen:

Discover all that trembles sin you. Ridicule all that eludes you. Leap, knowing you’ll fail. Come alive to yourself less cold.

The composer says he’s worked this piece with rubbing and striking and using the width and depth of the sound space to distribute the sounds. To begin with this work is more sparsely populated – sounded! – than the others before it. There is more space, more air, maybe, between the sonic objects, which appear and disappear like fragments, flakes of matter in a cold wind. It appears Dunkelman has used a zither or some other stringed instrument for some of the quirky, springy events. Already in this early piece the spatiality is important to Dunkelman, and very nicely executed as the sonic fragments, which sometimes are extended to sonic progressions, rise and sink, move away and come close. Perhaps it’s a harp that Dunkelman uses in a good part of the piece. As I travel further along the evolution of the piece is starts reminding me of works by Horacio Vaggione. This is a very nice piece of electroacoustics, a bit pointillistic, but the really amazing works in the Dunkelman oeuvre are to be found in his later output.

The last entry is Thru, Above and Between (1998), which is Dunkelman’s first work for radio. The composer says he has regarded the city (the sponsor’s subject matter for the piece) – here Brussels – as an imploding dream. Indeed there is an inward feeling to the sounds rising out of the sound magician’s hat. Rain and distant foghorns are swept in a shroud of timbrally shifting electronic drones, a whirlwind turning into a worldwind, and mighty halls or pathways or gallerias open up, wherein the simmering, shimmering sound of the crowd twinkles and glares, like a flood wave of humanity behind the walls of concrete and marble and glass. This music is like present day city life bending in on itself in a metropolic introspection and self-contemplation, in poetic arithmetics of sound waves, carrying the happy sounds of children as well as the forlorn thoughts of old-timers on the park benches, with souls like leaves swept away by the wind of fall…

Stephan Dunkelman’s electroacoustic sound world is one of the most interesting places I’ve been in contemporary art music. It’s been a true pleasure to venture through this rewarding sonic artistry.

Stephan Dunkelman’s electroacoustic sound world is one of the most interesting places I’ve been in contemporary art music.