Rendu visible [Rendered Visible]: Compact-compact 10

Darren Copeland

… rich aural textures… Incursion Music Review, Canada

This CD is just wonderful… Sztuka Fabryka, Belgium

  • Canada Council for the Arts

CD (IMED 9841)

  • Label: empreintes DIGITALes
  • IMED 9841
  • 1998
  • UCC 771028984121
  • Total duration: 40:26
  • Crystal case
  • 125 mm × 142 mm × 6 mm
  • 75 g

On the web

Download (IMED 9841_NUM)


Rendering the Visible—With Hesitation

The visual analogies used not only in the titles of the works on this disc, but in works by many acousmatic composers in recent years, point to an ironic fact of life. This is that the people using these analogies are people who can both see and hear. In fact, it is not hard to declare that almost every acousmatic composer — perhaps almost the entire listening audience for acousmatic art — belongs to the sighted world. Acousmaticians belong to the sighted world, because it is the eye that, for the most part, gets them to and from their studio sessions, and it is the eye that is used to substantiate the world around them.

It is difficult to find a work in my repertoire from the nineties which does not make reference either in the title or the program notes to some type of visual stimulation. In many cases, the references speak of sound restoring vision to the imagination of the listener. For example, the title of this disc is Rendu visible (Rendered Visible). Which could be interpreted to mean that a composition using real world sounds is able to re-awaken latent visual imagery in the mind of the listener, as if this disc was really an empty canvas or a fresh stock of film. This is best illustrated in Night Camera, where the three recorded soundscapes furnish the listening imagination with a magical lens for viewing invisible worlds.

But isn’t it interesting that for some people sound lifted from real-life experience has a more direct impact on their visual rather than their aural imagination. Real-world sounds can invite listeners into imaginary worlds composed from fragments of their past experiences. If a listener is sighted, then any illusions would likely be visual. But what if a listener is congenitally blind? What worlds in that person’s aural imagination would be linked to the worlds represented on this disc? What other sensations — outside of the aural — would he or she feel? Visual analogies are often made by listeners in response to my compositions, but not every listener will in the end possess an imagination that draws on sight. Therefore, I accept my dependence on these visual analogies with some hesitancy, since their presence inevitably exposes a strange contradiction. The contradiction is that a visually-oriented imagination is engaged in all facets of an art form, which, in both production and presentation, is intended to be an auditory endeavour.

There is one other cause for hesitation when it comes to framing my works with visual analogies, or perhaps with any other analogy from life experience. This concern is rooted in the fact that it is virtually impossible for me, at the present time, to stipulate what visual image or associated meaning is being evoked for any person at any particular moment on this disc. Not until credible studies are undertaken about the imagination’s ability to visualize from sonic sensory input alone can I comfortably approach composition outside of the realm of musical abstraction. Without such research, there will be no practice of phonography, or no sound art free of music’s paradigmatic and parental authority. Such research will endow the art of phonography with a dictionary from which a sonic language based on the imagistic properties of real world sound can only ever evolve. Therefore, until such a time, I remain a musician and not a phonographer, despite how unpleasant the shoes may look and feel.

Darren Copeland, Mississauga (Ontario) [x-98]

Some recommended items
In the press


François Couture, AllMusic, June 1, 2002

Rendu visible is Darren Copeland’s first solo CD as a composer. It comprises three works created between 1993 and 1996. The main piece is the three-part Night Camera. The composer describes it as a “quest for worlds existing within the territory of the ordinary.” And that is exactly what these three 8-minute Polaroids are. Each movement has been developed using a basic recording from the World Soundscape Collection of the Simon Fraser University (Hildegard Westerkamp has been known to use the same source). An environmental recording of a particular landscape was delicately modified, with added sounds and textures. The result is well-tailored, the composer’s work seamless… and the piece as uneventful as a deserted peak at 2 a.m. The listener is invited to dream up the scene; that leaves him a lot of work. Rendered visible is more satisfactory: these environmental recordings, blending a sea shore and probably something more exotic, truly come to life. A delicate melody in the low register (like a synthesized bass flute) is heard through the fog — beautiful. The more acousmatic Reaching for Tomorrow provides haunting lugubrious moments. Rendu visible makes a short (40 minutes) and uneven debut. It was released in empreintes DIGITALes’ budget-priced series “Compact-Compact.”


Ian Whalley, Array Online, November 9, 2000

Darren Copeland’s compositional output for tape medium draws entirely on environmental sounds. His teachers have included Barry Truax (Simon Fraser University) and Jonty Harrison (University of Birmingham). Theatre soundtrack composition is a continuing influence on his thinking about music, and his most recent work crosses the boundaries between acousmatic art, radio art and theatre.

CD notes by the composer outline his perspective on the relationship between associative sound and visual imagery, a theme reflected in the titles that appear on this CD. His theoretical approach is explored in a recent article for The Journal of Electroacoustic Music (SANS) entitled ‘Indifference or Ambiguity’. Here, the composer argues for the need to centralize the associative properties of environmental sounds in acousmatic music practice.

There are three tracks on the CD: Rendered Visible; Reaching for Tomorrow; and Night Camera, made up of Maritime Vision, Prairie Dream and Vanishing at Sea. A wide palette of sonic material is drawn on throughout, and the overall production is outstanding.

The danger of the theoretical stance taken here is that in practice it runs the risk of degenerating into new age, ambient and environmental pap. On this CD, the skill and talent in layering and manipulating the material selected results in subtle and complex textures that are anything but trite. It is a fine balancing act superbly controlled for the most part, the results being often internally ambiguous and certainly poetic.

Rendered Visible quotes various natural sources that are combined with unfamiliar sounds. A refreshing aspect is the way the flux of the work is referenced to seemingly contradictory natural events. A sense of the dramatic carries this finely paced work forward.

The second track, Reaching for Tomorrow, again uses the technique of controlling tension and relaxation through the layering material. The sonic references are wider here, and include surrogate instrumental gestures. This creates a slowly evolving texture, brooding, sparse and foreboding.

The longest piece is Night Camera. The composer notes that ‘night camera’ is ‘an imaginary listening aid that like an infrared scanner allowing one to probe regions lying beyond the common, everyday frame of experience’. The analogy sets the frame of reference well, allowing one to enter a cinematic paradigm.

The three tracks that make up Night Camera each deal with a different type of environment within the general theme. Source material includes environmental and city sound references. Each work is powerfully evocative and the dynamic shape is carefully controlled throughout to keep the listener engaged.

The strength of this CD is its rich referencing to known/associative sound balanced and juxtaposed with unfamiliar material, and the manipulation of gestures and textures that are both familiar and exotic. A greater variety of generative methods may help to broaden the approach taken, adding to its versatility.

Combining notions of the theatrical and film scoring with acousmatic music overcomes many of the semiotic limitations of a purely acousmatic approach. It also has the potential to attract more than an academic audience for acousmatic art. The works presented here explore one way the two approaches may be synthesized.


Linas Vyliaudas, Tango, no. 8, August 1, 2000


Richard di Santo, Incursion Music Review, no. 006, July 2, 2000

If Bernhard Günter’s time, dreaming itself struck me as having an acutely visual effect on me as a listener, then Darren Copeland’s Rendu visible takes this theme and makes it his most explicit concern. Drawn from entirely environmental sounds, the pieces presented on this disc are rich aural textures suggesting a most intricate visual environment. Sounds of rushing water, the wind, clusters of birds, voices, cars, and a host of other mysterious and visually suggestive sounds populate the three works on this disc, composed between 1993 to 1996. For all their aural wonder, these recordings remind us that even if we are standing in the apparent ‘quiet’ of a desolate wooded area, if you start to pay attention you realise that what you perceived as quiet is actually full of life and sound.

In the liner notes to the disc, Copeland describes his theory that “a composition using real world sounds is able to re-awaken latent visual imagery in the mind of the listener, as if this disc was really an empty canvas or a fresh stock of film, [where] soundscapes furnish the listening imagination with a magical lens for viewing invisible worlds.” Indeed. And this accounts, says Copeland, for the ubiquitous visual analogies used by so many acousmatic composers in the titles or program notes for their works. Copeland takes this notion one step further, though. He seems to have an implicit desire to stimulate specific visual images and meaning through his works, though he admits his limitations:

It is virtually impossible for me, at the present time, to stipulate what visual image or associated meaning is being evoked for any person at any particular moment on this disc. Not until credible studies are undertaken about the imagination’s ability to visualize from sonic sensory input alone can I comfortably approach composition outside the realm of musical abstraction.

But this for me represents a darker, more autocratic side of musical expression that I prefer not to endorse. To accomplish this wish of being able to stimulate specific visual responses in the mind of the listener is to rob the listener of his autonomy, to rob him of the chief pleasure of listening, which, like reading, allows the listener to make free associations and respond to a piece on his own terms, contributing to an open ‘dialogue’ between composer, music and listener. This idea takes the concept of musical rhetoric — which, of course, is already an immensely suggestive medium, which already directs the imagination in extremely powerful ways — one serious step further. A step I’d rather not see taken. You can set up your piece in whatever manner you like, build the most contrived listening environment, feed your listeners with descriptions, images, and suggestive sounds. But let the listener explore what he is given at his own pace, and with the freedom of his own perception and sensibilities. Otherwise, what you’re left with is a row of rotting cabbages. Hardly what you’d call a listener’s utopia.

… rich aural textures…


Geert De Decker, Sztuka Fabryka, July 1, 2000

This CD is just wonderful, that is the only way how we could start this review.

Darren Copeland’s compositions are made entirely from environmental sounds. Which results in atmospheric music. Five compositions are there on the CD, sometimes you wonder to be in a somehow dark atmosphere surrounded with the sound of extincted annimals. A soon later you are in the middle of a beautifull nature with full of tranquillity. Sounds from nature comes and go combined with unknown sounds that all brings an other dimension in the atmospheric compositions.

This CD is just wonderfull, that is the only way how we can end this review.

This CD is just wonderful…


Alan Freeman, Audion, no. 42, March 1, 2000

In the “compact compact” series, we have: Darren Copeland, a young explorer working totally in the medium of tapes and environmental sound. This seems to be his debut. His sound fabrics tend to sit somewhere between The Hafler Trio and Luc Ferrari (for want of a better brief analogy) and do very little musically. His success is in his use of subtle manipulation, layering, and vague use of a melodic context.


Francis Monroe, Hurly Burly, no. 12, January 1, 2000

Intimist and narrative electronic music which presents us with a highly elaborated outcome consisting in patterns removed from their source, lightened and delicately introduced in clean faultless strips of spatial fluid. Laid back processes in which small and simulated glittering groupings absorve silence.


Paul Lemos, Under the Volcano, September 1, 1999

Darren Copeland’s Rendu visible perfectly illustrates what I’m talking about. Built entirely upon environmental sounds, this is a complex, often disorienting work of considerable richness and depth. Moving from the lush, exotic environmental textures of Rendered Visible [Rendu visible] we delve into the darker, more surreal depths of Reaching for Tomorrow and the blinding intensity of the 24 minute centerpiece, Night Camera. After the first six minutes, the listener is thrust into a world in which nothing is familiar. This one’s a brilliant recording!

This one’s a brilliant recording!


Davis Ford, Etch, no. 5:2, April 1, 1999

Copeland creates all of his music solely from tape consisting of environmental sounds. Rendu visible (rendered visible) centers around the mysterious fusion of sound and vision, and how different people may interpret sound, which then triggers visual elements (He begs an interesting question: “What if a listener is congenitally blind?”) This music is very visual, indeed. On the piece, Rendered Visible, Copeland creates landscapes of drones, and surrealistic ambient highways that sound like the roads may stretch for continents. One car may pass as expected, while another car may approach, but its timing is extended so that you may never appear to realize its passing, and it soaks back into the earth. Copeland morphs the sound of cars flitting by into the sound of waves crashing into the shore. Droning human cries of despair add to an already eerie landscape. At times, this album seems almost like a human version of some of Thomas Koner’s ambient wastelands. Those deep, dark, ice-cold drones are there, but you get human contact with elements like doors closing, people speaking in the background, and animal sounds, etc. Night Camera is a suite of three separate pieces, each in a different audio environment. Each piece acts as a sort of mechanical gadget that allows you to see in the dark (infrared?) what you otherwise would not be able to see. This is a wicked concept that works almost too well. The environments Copeland creates are downright creepy, and almost certain to contain predators, which can be heard scraping and scratching at the landscape (at least in ‘my version’ there are predators). As the wind whips through the trees with rain, I could almost feel my eyes tear up. Thunder is processed into what sounds like the metallic roar of a great metal deity. The environment is harsh enough to make you shut your eyes, but that only clears the visual slate for yet another fantastic voyage.

Soundcheck Review

The Wire, no. 182, April 1, 1999

Canadian acousmatic composer Darren Copeland builds evocative soundscapes from environmental recordings. His manipulation of birdsong, sea sounds, and other sources appears minimal, but the three pieces here have a distinctly composed feel, nonetheless. At times the layering grows dense, but it is orchestrated to avoid clutter and conveys the same impression of spaciousness that emerges from more sparsely populated passages. Enhanced documentary for the ear.

Enhanced documentary for the ear.


Garth Cheddar, Stridernews, no. 8, April 1, 1999

Toronto-based electroacoustic artist Darren Copeland is fond of visual analogies in his work, and uses environmental sounds exclusively — a combination that could easily come off as unappealing to these ears. Mention that you just purchased a recording of ‘environmental sounds’ to most people and they instantly conjure up a serene image of baleen whales swimming in the emerald bay of some picture-postcard faraway place, to an accompaniment of ‘Yanny’-form piano tinklings or (at best) a pleasantly bland Robert Rich-Vidna Obmana electronic wash. Granted empreintes DIGITALes will probably never put out a recording affixed with a dread sticker reading ‘file under New Age,’ it is still quite easy to convince oneself the whole environmental-sound shtick is pretty well played out. Then again, its probably just my problem. The Wire may fawn over the latest Chris Watson field-recording CD as some sorta reaffirmation of the true wonder and danger of the natural world, but as for me, I think I’d rather just listen to my refrigerator. Darren Copeland avoids the trap of ‘sound representing environment’ by manipulating sounds to create completely new and unique environments that envelop rather than sedate the listener. Rendu visible is far more reminiscent of a sonic tidal wave of Aube-an proportion than the digitized wallpaper released daily on Celestial Dilettante and other like-minded labels.

The opening Rendered Visible is the obvious recommended radio cut and also the most overtly ‘nature sound’-ing piece on this collection. It begins by utilizing fairly familiar, recognizable sounds of rain, wind, and jungle animals, layered over other less-recognizable sounds, creating a large crescendo that really blows through the listener like a late afternoon hailstorm on a July day on the high plains, particularly when played at high volume. It soon subsides just as quickly, leaving a few little shore birds to pick at debris, punctuated by subtle low tones played on an African flute by a Ghanaian musician not owned by Mickey Hart. Very nice.

The remaining tracks follow a similar pattern of building up tension through adding layers, but rely more on ‘abiotic sounds’ along the lines of wind and rain and other less ‘natural’, unrecognizable drones and hums, creating a similar but less ‘busy’ effect than the first track. Reaching for Tomorrow sounds less obviously environmental sound-related than the other pieces presented here. This ever-changing ten-minute piece of background tones punctuated by nondescript incidental noises builds more gradually than Rendered Visible but is just as intense, albeit in more a darkly subtle way. Sample any few seconds of this piece and it sounds more like an excerpt from a ‘Cold Meat Industry’ promotional compilation rather than an entry in an international acousmatic composers competition, but the overall impression is much closer to the tape music of, say Vladimir Ussachevsky than to the output of some dreary Swedish goth band.

The concluding 24-minute opus Night Camera is the sparest piece, utilizing sounds from rather familiar and ‘ordinary’ sources (wind, rain, cars passing, people talking in the distance) along with others less recognizable. It too builds through increasing sound layers to a very satisfying level of intensity at several points through the three movements. The conclusion of the piece is almost terrifying, with a distressed, ghostly human voice barely comprehensible through what sounds like a hurricane. Apart from being a great listen in its own right, Night Camera conveys the sense of wonder in experiencing the ‘music’ inherent in the ordinary world around us. While the aforementioned Mr. Watson accumulates frequent flyer miles recording birds in Costa Rica or carnivores on the Serengeti, Copeland manages to create something ten times more captivating from recordings that could very well have been made from a microphone hung outside a conservatory window. I’ll admit that field recordings in and by themselves are often quite marvelous (the most incredible single thing I heard all last year was a coal train coming to a long, gradual stop in the Nebraska badlands), but its the human touch of a composer with a sympathetic ear that can really transform the sounds of the everyday world into something truly otherworldly. Rather than providing an aural document of a specific place and time, Copeland allows the listener to render his/her own unique impression of the sounds contained herein, shaped by their individual connection to the sound world around them, a liberty that is much appreciated around these parts. Rendu visible is a subtle yet intense, familiar, yet alien aural expedition that borders on the overwhelming, and is my absolute pick-of-the litter of the empreintes DIGITALes ‘cheapie’ series thus far.

… reminiscent of a sonic tidal wave…

Audio Reviews

Jeff Filla, N D - Magazine, no. 21, April 1, 1999

Much layered environmental sound here — stylistically typical for this Canadian label. Pristine field recordings of multiple wildernesses are combined with the more intermittent presence of other highly processed (electronic?) textures. Rushing wind is heard echoing from the horizon..or is a automobiles? Rainfall, crickets, a waterfall? Flood currents sweep you into the sewer drain. Moments later, amongst the hiss of thecurrents, you ear the submerged moans of other victims. It’s dramatic stuff even if your imagination is less morbid than mine. Recommended, especially to those with adequate stereos.


George Zahora, Splendid E-Zine, March 29, 1999

I can’t really tell what elements Copeland uses to paint his white-noise pictures. Often the source material sounds watery—tides, rainstorms, etc.—but evolves into collages of industrial noise and the altered soundscapes of public spaces. Sometimes he layers storm upon storm, or warps and loops sounds that sound almost familiar but fail, despite persistent concentration, to resolve themselves into a distinct and recognizable pattern. These electroacoustic compositions make perfect listening while reading or relaxing—they’re passive enough to sooth, but full of details ready to ensnare a mind ripe for sonic distraction.


Troy Date, KSVR: Air Force Nun, March 1, 1999

Darren Copeland works with natural environmental atmospheres along the same lines as Hildegard Westerkamp only his work tends to be much grittier. Copeland’s Rendu visible is an interesting ride which surrounds the listener with an imaginative reconstruction of environmental sounds. I place it highly among some of my favorites in its genre.

I place it highly among some of my favorites in its genre.


MP, Vital, no. 160, February 3, 1999

I first heard Darren Copeland’s music on the Storm of Drones a 3CD released by Asphodel in 1995 — he contributed two excellent tracks, which captured his unique sound. (The first of these three CDs was dedicated to pieces previously released on empreintes DIGITALes, and exposed this label and its music to a wider audience.) The pieces on this new release, another in the series of ‘CDs of short duration for half the price’ by empreintes DIGITALes, are of a similar ilk. (empreintes DIGITALes, if you’ve just tuned in, [is] one of my favourite labels, and consistently release amazing music. By now, it could probably be considered the foremost label of electroacoustic discoveries.)

Copeland works exclusively with recordings of environmental sounds, and is a true sound-ecologist (along with, amongst others, Hildegard Westerkamp—one of my heroes—listen to [her] full-length CD Transformations on this same label). Back to Darren: Rendu visible contains 3 tracks composed between 1993 and 1996. All of them consist of carefully blended, sometimes heavily processed environmental sounds. However the original sources remain quite recognisable—all part of Copeland’s intention to stimulate visual imagination.

Most of us have been to a beach and listened to the sea, but where in the head are the shores we hear in his music? The gulls are confined in a huge reverberant shell, the human voices swirl as if spinning on a silent merry-go-round.

The terrain shifts and shakes continually like a slow, jittery film shot through the shuddering heatwaves rising off a hot road, which weaves through a strange land. Twisted, asthmatic animals loom large, then recede, only appearing to quicken the pulse. Space creases the speakers and buffets the room. Doors open and reveal long corridors where lights flicker staccato and suggest weird, familiar forms—dream apparitions trailing luminous gossamer veils.

empreintes DIGITALes […] consistently releases amazing music.


Peter Wullen, Gonzo Circus, December 1, 1998

Electroacoustic music is best experienced in a quiet room where faint sounds from the outside world seep in. Auditive perceptions thus get double layered. The splatter of a real rain shower mingles with the virtual reality flowing out of the loudspeakers. Child voices in the street get entangled with voice samples which fill the space.

Rendu visible is the most recent CD by bruitist [sound-artist] Darren Copeland. The three titles of the album (Rendered visible, Reaching for Tomorrow, Night Camera) refer explicitly to visual impressions. In his compositions, Copeland uses sounds from the real world to stimulate the listener’s latent visual representations. This is best illustrated in Night Camera, where three soundscapes equip the auditive imagination with a magical lens to create invisible worlds. It is interesting that sounds picked from the real world have a more direct impact on visual imagination than on the auditive. Copeland goes even further: what are the sensations of someone who cannot make visual comparisons, that is, who was born blind? Rendu visible is an auditive experience like a peephole to the actual world.