L’oreille voit [The Ear Sees]: Compact-compact 4

Randall Smith

… approches the art form with innocence and the intention to have fun. AllMusic, USA

Smith’s work is an electroacoustic wonder. Incursion Music Review, Canada

CD (IMED 9416)

  • Label: empreintes DIGITALes
  • IMED 9416
  • 1994
  • UCC 771028941629
  • Total duration: 55:44
  • Crystal case
  • 125 mm × 142 mm × 6 mm
  • 80 g

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Download (IMED 9416_NUM)


The Ears Sees, the Disc

The imagination is not, as its etymology suggests, the faculty for forming images of reality; it is the faculty for forming images which go beyond reality, which ‘sing’ reality.

Gaston Bachelard, Water and Dreams

Special acknowledgement to my brother Chuck for introducing me to the world of electroacoustic music at the right age, and to Bernard Parmegiani for his great music.

Randall Smith, Toronto [iv-94]

On Hearing and Seeing Randall Smith’s Music

In Randall Smith’s music I hear mini-histories of sound, personal histories which resonate with the force of an archetype and the subtlety of a sound pun for an ear tuned to the thick and seemingly chaotic sonic environment around him… I hear music unfolding in a soundscape of dynamic dialectics of power and sensitivity, the delicate and the explosive, often building strong rhythms, mixing polyrhythmically, erupting them into the tinkle of tiny sound particles… I’m plunged into a seductive sound meditation, like a chant, only to be electronically zapped or cut into a new reality, a disjuncture that puts my senses on edge, makes me question what I’ve just experienced and makes me question notions of predictability, even while I know I’m in a tightly constructed world of sound… I’m moved through a constantly changing soundscape, never returning to the same place, but through recontextualizations and transformations of the sounds my imagination guides me through a place it’s been before… the place of the chant… the chant of voices, mainly the voices of things, like the chant of curled metal springs, lightbulbs and other objects… as if chanting a song about their own existence, put to work in a new way, to be enjoyed for attributes not put into the service of our needs but of our pleasures, and to draw attention to a new critical listening of their beauty and power… for instance, in The Face of the Waters sound metaphors trace trajectories from metaphysical to physical as a light bulb revolves circularly creating for me an image of an orb of light swirling wavelengths of energy, a spiritual ecstatic chant that then transforms to the step of a human rhythm… or the closing door symphony of metal clangs of the latch and frame vibrations near the end of The Black Museum which is both metaphor for leading in/out and opening/closing (in this case leading out of the piece and into the world of our own sound), but also an opening of my aural and visual senses to a sound image of a door, or doorness, that I don’t experience in visual representations… in fact I see a lot when I hear Randall’s music… he creates a space for my imagination where sound relations inspire visual relations, where humor derives from both sound and image… the rush of a train flushing into the toilet of sound oblivion… the roar of jets and war across a landscape… the bells of hope and history… the elements — fire, water, earth and air — twisting, flanging, bending in fantastic shapes and rhythms like dancing bodies in a hall of mirrors… or the more meditative feeling one gets when staring into a fire where the imagination takes over the senses and finds patterns, codes and messages… I also see juxtapositions that rattle my senses… like roaring rockets and singing birds, like a barefoot walker moving over the crackling bare ends of electronic glass, then zapped into space to hear from far away the history of all music… I take off with this walker, drawing my ear to see the aura around sounds and their relations… in fact to see a set of relations that become social in a meeting of technology and natural environment created metaphorically through the sound of imagination… where my body is implicated, his music affecting me viscerally, striking the body, sculpting it with sound waves, sculpting the store house of images and sounds I already carry, into a temporary ordered choreography set beside the chaotic and fascinating sound environment that exists all around us… as if in discourse… I also feel the curious mind of this choreographer, Randall Smith, a sound spirit wandering through the sound possibilities he’s constructed… someone in love with sound, showing and sharing with me a way to love sound.

Gary Popovich, Toronto [x-93]

Some recommended items
In the press


François Couture, AllMusic, September 13, 2001

L’oreille voit (“The Ear Sees”) was Randall Smith’s first CD. Released in 1994, it gathers works created between 1988 and 1994. His constructions include a lot of movement, something that translates into the titles of works like La volière (“The Aviary”), Ruptures (“Breaks”), and Counterblast. This sense of movement gives life to the compositions in a way similar to what can be found in Francis Dhomont’s works: ample, calculated gestures of swirls and crescendos that lead somewhere (as opposed to Gilles Gobeil’s escalators that stop in their tracks). L’oreille voit begins with the composer’s recently finished La volière, where the human voice is used to simulate bird sounds. The wide dynamics and intriguing sources make for a fascinating listening experience. Then we gradually move back in time down to the 1988 The Face of the Waters, which paradoxically contains anything but water sounds. Very playful, it imitates water or conveys the idea of it by using a sonic vocabulary reminiscent of the candor that marked the early days of musique concrète (Pierre Henry’s early pieces, particularly): bedsprings, glasses, light bulbs, squeaky doors, etc. Smith’s subsequent works, especially the ones for tape and instrument, will tend to be denser and more satisfying, but this first crop reveals a composer who, although remaining firmly anchored in academic electroacoustics, eschews its too frequent pretentiousness and approches the art form with innocence and the intention to have fun.

… approches the art form with innocence and the intention to have fun.


Richard di Santo, Incursion Music Review, no. 019, January 21, 2001

Five compositions by the electroacoustics wizard Randall Smith, composed and recorded between 1988-1994. As with Sondes (also on empreintes DIGITALes), a follow-up collection of Smith’s works from 1995-1999, this record is teeming with activity and intensity. It’s title, L’oreille voit, translates as “the ear sees,” and as such these compositions can largely be seen as attempts to visualise sound — to create sound sculptures which present themselves visibly to the senses. True enough, Smith’s palette contains many tangible sounds (or “sound objects” as he calls them) that are quite concrete and seem to manifest themselves physically. The first composition, La volière (the aviary), investigates the theme of flight and the gestures of birds. As Smith explains in the liner notes, “their movements of flight are retraced according to the dictates of a machine universe, which aligns them into orders of understanding, geometries of the visible.” This composition, and the rest that follow it, are remarkable for their wealth of detail. A stunning world of sound and visibility where our senses are sharpened and our experiences of microscopic and “minor” events are intensified. Academic compositions are matched by more reactionary ones: Ruptures, realised in 1991, documents Smith’s angst regarding “worldwide unrest and instability” given a sudden influx of rapid social and political change in the world (i.e., the end of the cold war, etc.). The disc concludes with The Face of the Waters, which is also its earliest composition. Realised in 1988, it takes a close look at the sounds of water in a whole range of situations (a babbling brook, crashing waves, etc.). Arranged in four movements which build gradually in intensity, this piece is remarkable for how it transforms and amplifies these sounds, arranged on an unconventional and multifarious canvas. Randall Smith’s work is an electroacoustic wonder.

Smith’s work is an electroacoustic wonder.


Esteban Lago, Hurly Burly, no. 12, January 1, 2000

Noises arising from the elements situated as supporting canes in imprecise and disquieting situations. Other less identflable sound clusters survive the mechanical explosions which crumble and are recycled into a new timbric feature or a simple self-echoing.

At a Glance Reviews

Noah Wane, Splendid E-Zine, November 16, 1998

In the acousmatic tradition, Randall Smith’s music consists of sonic “symbols” intended to be “seen” by the listener’s mind. This is perhaps the most visual music you’ll ever hear (see?). I’ll warn you right away, the proper effect is not achieved by putting this music on in the background. You need to give it your full attention. A darkened room will help, as will closing your eyes and imagining the sounds emanating from behind a closed curtain. If you’re doing it correctly you’ll be drawn into a whole sonic world, full of bizarre people, places and things. The ear sees (L’oreille voit)! For further details, please aurally ogle Ruptures.

… you’ll be drawn into a whole sonic world…


RK, Odradek, no. 3, January 3, 1998

Randall Smith entdeckte die elektroakustische Musik für sich, als er auf die Arbeit der französischen GRM (Groupe de recherches musicales) aufmerksam wurde. Im Zusammenspiel seiner eigenen musikalischen Experimente mit etwa experimentellem Film und Tanz entwickelte er Kompositionstechniken, mittels derer er visuelle und akustische Elemente in einer Klangsprache vereinte. Was über das Ohr vermittelt wird, läDt im Kopf einen imaginären Film entstehen. So auch der Titel dieser CD L’oreille voit, übersetzt Das Ohr sieht. Smith’s Musik sind filigrane Klanggeschichten, differenziert und vielschichtig gewoben, technisch hervorragend realisiert, und dabei sehr persönlich, kraftvoll und sensibel zugleich, souverän im Zugriff und immer spannend und flüssig erzählt. Hier hat ein Künstler gearbeitet, der den Klang selbst — egal welcher Art, an sich und in jedem denkbaren Kontext — wirklich liebt, und der darüber hinaus ein Meister seines Handwerks ist, der sein Material genau kennt und mit sicherem Gespür beherrscht, aber niemals vergewaltigt, und der sich mit aller Selbstverständlichkeit im Spektrum zwischen Naturgeräuschen und moderner Elektronik mühelos bewegt. Ich vernehme in diesen Klangfantasien “Gesänge” unserer Zeit, Maschinenstimmen als eine eigene Art von Natur.

Hier wird Technik zu etwas durch und durch Lebendigem, Atmosphärischen, Emotionalem, Erzählendem, weit entfernt von rein Funktionalem. In diesen Klangerzählungen geschieht sehr viel, und gleichzeitig entsteht Raum für spontan sich entfaltende imaginäre Bilder im Kopf. Bizarre kleine Welt-MiniaNren / Miniatur-Welten, Natur und beseelte Maschine zugleich, lebendige SkulpNr, voller sich immerfort verändernder Polyrhythrnik. Geschichtenerzähler, Filmregisseur, Choreograph, Komponist, „Instrumentalist“, Randall Smith ist alles in Einem. Ich höre so individuelles Persönliches, gleichzeitig ein gutes Gespür für die Zeit, in der wir leben. Diese Musik ist voller Wärme, aber auch Schärfe, fantasievoll und klar. Stellenweise habe ich das Gefühl, verzückt einem Glasperlenspiel zuzusehen, erlebe das Klicken und Ticken und Rappeln der “ Murmeln” als ein akustisches Vexierspiel. Smith nennt Parmegiani als einen seiner musikalischen Väter, und das hört man auch. Und dennoch hat Smith eine deutlich eigene Klangsprache entwickelt. Seine Musik ist warm, natürlich, frisch, jugendlich, fast verspielt, humorvoll, aber dabei niemals oberflächlich. Randall Smith scheint den Gesang der dinghaften Welt hinter den Dingen und in ihnen selbst zu suchen. Das Ergebnis ist ein Glücksfall in der acousmatischen Musik.


Jeff Filla, N D - Magazine, no. 20, June 1, 1997

A bit more patient and slowly evolving than your average electroacoustic work. This gives a lot of emphasis to stimulating, grainy textures and raw imagery, without constantly interrupting you with that sterile “electronics-in-a-void” sound that can make me blase about electroacoustic work sometimes. Satisfies the same tastes that enjoy John Watermann’s “Calcutta Gas Chamber” or David Dunn’s “Chaos and the Emergent Mind of the Pond.” Pretty potent stuff, especially at high volume levels.

… It took some talented hands to shape these little tracks.…


Ralph Hopper, Contact!, no. 8:1, September 1, 1994

Acoustic sounds, synthesized sounds, sounds that seem acoustic but are not, each blending into a disc that your ears will enjoy “seeing.” This is my first experience with Randall Smith’s music and I am impressed.

There is much to recommend here but let me focus on The Black Museum. This is a work that has been highly recognized at several international music competitions. In nine sections, the work presents the amalgam of what Randall Smith has heard and absorbed through his years of listening. As curator of these diverse elements, he is now presenting an exhibition. Like walking from one room to another, the listener is exposed to diverse elements and textures which at the end reveal that his background is the aural equivalent of being “well read.”

… a disc that your ears will enjoy ‘seeing.’


Albert Durand, Revue & Corrigée, no. 20, June 1, 1994

Dans le dernier numéro de R&C, nous vous présentions 3 nouveaux CDs de empreintes DIGITALes. En voici encore sept! Cela fait maintenant une collection de 21 titres qui place empreintes DIGITALes en tête des labels d’électroacoustique, par la quantité et la qualité. Chapeau!

Avec ces nouveautés, c’est aussi le début d’une série intitulée “compact-compact”, des CDs de courte durée, environ 40 minutes, vendus à moitié prix (alors que le coût de fabrication est strictement le méme!). L’idée est de présenter le travail de compositeurs aujourd’hui plutôt que d’attendre des années qu’ils augmentent leur répertoire.

C’est le cas par exemple avec Randall Smith. Ce compositeur canadien et autodidacte a découvert l’électroacoustique avec les disques 33 tours du GRM et de Philips, et principalement avec ceux de Bernard Parmegiani à qui il fait référence dans le titre de son disque, L’oreille voit pour L’œil écoute. Né en 1960, il appartient à la nouvelle sénération de compositeurs arrivée en studio en méme temps que les techniques actuelles. Ce sont de loin les pièces récentes les plus intéressantes: La volière, évocation d’un monde volatile enfermé dans une cage et The Black Museum, musée personnel de l’auteur où il nous expose ses réflexions musicales.

… une collection […] qui place empreintes DIGITALes en tête des labels d’électroacoustique, par la quantité et la qualité.