Lieux imaginaires [Imaginary Places]

Steven Naylor

… un regard et une réflexion sur l’urbanisme qui laissent un arrière-goût de goudron, de béton et de pots d’échappement… Revue & Corrigée, France

It’s quite a trip. ATTN:Magazine, UK

East Coast Music Awards 2013: Electronic Recording of the Year — Nominee

empreintes DIGITALes is proud to present this first acousmatic release by composer Steven Naylor. A quick glance at the artist’s biography reveals the broad reach of his work, ranging from electroacoustic composition to instrumental music, improvisation, sound environment composition, music for theatre, and festival organisation. In short, Naylor’s artistic path is remarkable.

Drawing on his versatile experiences, the artist’s compositional intentions are of startling clarity, investigating a specific creative process for every piece. From soundscapes, to radiophonic narrative, to abstract textures, the six pieces of this disc reveal unique places, oscillating between the real and the imaginary.

  • Canada Council for the Arts

DVD-Audio — Surround (IMED 12120)

  • Label: empreintes DIGITALes
  • IMED 12120
  • 2012
  • UCC 771028212095
  • Total duration: 70:35
  • OGplus
  • 142 mm × 125 mm × 10 mm
  • 50 g

Download (IMED 12120_NUM)


About Imaginary Places

All of these compositions are connected in some way by a sense of place — an abstracted sonic recollection of somewhere I have been, an immersive depiction of a place I never want to be in, or the construction of a place that could exist only in the imagination.

The approaches I have used are deliberately varied and frequently merged. A single piece may present elements of soundscape work, a radiophonic narrative, or a purely abstract exploration of sound for its own properties.

But all of the works are unified by an acousmatic position — harnessing that powerful combination of unseen sound source and imagination.

I may make oblique suggestions, open unknown doors, create brief pictures, or produce fleeting shadows, but ultimately each listener to this music will create and visit places entirely of their own imagination.

Steven Naylor, Halifax (Nova Scotia) [iii-12]

The Compositions

The earliest pieces of this collection of works — Bitter Orchids, I wish, and Irrashaimase — were conceived as part of a series titled Imaginary Places, a series concerned with the fragmented and imperfect nature of memory, particularly the inherent dislocation of memories of travel experiences.

Irrashaimase is an abstracted sonic memoir of urban Japan, while Bitter Orchids offers a more immersive, and somewhat hallucinatory, re-visitation of materials recorded in northern Thailand. I wish uses source materials from a recording of a simple song of lament, Home, composed by Steven Naylor some time ago, to present an anxious, largely vocal, portrait of ambiguous longings and unattainable desires.

The subsequent pieces were originally not intended to be part of the series. However, as the work progressed, it became clear that the notion of the imaginary place continued to be central to all of these compositions.

Automatopoiea: Study 1 immerses the listener in an imaginary world of low-tech mechanical chaos. kune kune evokes an imaginary world in which pigs may become child-like, while their identities morph freely back and forth among the referential, the associative, and the purely acousmatic. Finally, The Thermal Properties of Concrete visits a contradictory, immersive world that is at once a fictional creation, a complete abstraction, and oppressively real.

In this music, listeners may find themselves assembling a quasi-narrative based on disjunct bits of text, attempting to contextualize unknown but potentially familiar or knowable sounds, or trying to decipher the entirely unknowable.

But all of these works are ultimately unified by a common factor: composer Steven Naylor’s fascination with the ability of sound alone to empower the listener to identify, construct, attribute, and — more powerfully — to imagine.


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In the press


Yann Leblanc, Revue & Corrigée, no. 96, June 1, 2013
… un regard et une réflexion sur l’urbanisme qui laissent un arrière-goût de goudron, de béton et de pots d’échappement…


Jack Chuter, ATTN:Magazine, April 4, 2013

Large-scale sonic sculptures and narratives, in Steven Naylor’s very first acousmastic work.

It’s quite a trip. Lieux imaginaires is like some bizarre, metamorphosing wormhole of abstract texture and human experience; a strange co-ordination of both real-world sounds and vibrant dollops of imagined landscape, constantly transforming into new and unforeseen states. Even when I become fully mindful of the record’s skittish manner of movement, its transformations are no less startling. For example, I Wish rips open with a sudden sigh of female vocal – a knife of human immediacy in amongst the distant and highly processed – which leaves breaths and vo’wels protruding before gradually being mashed up into a tumbleweed of nanosecond sonic particles.

Sound is both invasive and far away; not only in terms of its proximity (rubbed across the eardrums before reappearing seconds later as a mere horizon glimmer), but also for its familiarity – cutesy melody climbs miraculously out of a well of elasticated noise, while spiderwebs of electronics are plastered across the bustling embrace of public space chatter. The album’s closing 27 minutes are devoted entirely to The Thermal Properties of Concrete, which brings all of these characteristics together under the umbrella of industry – traffic noise, monologues on concrete, theatrical rants against modern life and piercing drones that emulate the claustrophobic (yet threateningly vast) cityscape that rises up via Naylor’s grand-scale sound design.

It’s quite a trip.


Vito Camarretta, Chain DLK, March 26, 2013

The filter Steven Naylor interjects to a series of field recordings on this release is mainly emotional memory. He makes such a cognitive and creative operation in a way which could be associated to the sight of a director of a movie or an essayist on a plot, so that there’s always an emotional transmission which interferes with the somehow cinematic palette of field recordings: the mechanical and electromechanical creaking and squeaking of gearwheels which enliven automatons of Devon-based designer-maker Tony Mann subtends an astounded and sometimes frightened wonder in front of the complexity of an “artifical life,” the emotional wires which permeates the fragment I wish taken from plaintive song Home by Rita Rankin seem to be stretched by longings, fears and imperilments related to wishes, a certain daunted and confused upheavel emerges from Irrashaimase, an immersive track, named after the typical form of greeting that some Japanese shop keepers shout to invite new customers inside their shops, which depicts urban Japan with its inner contrasts between robotic and elegant, chaotic and musical, a dumbfounded contemplation arises from the wonderful sonic painting of Chiang Mai night market in northern Thailand where Steven kept the noises of motorcycles and other occasinal intrusions in his ethnomusicological documentary and a certain estrangement comes out on kune kune, a track based on the oinks by these rare hairy pigs living in New Zealand and recorded nearby Bath. The final long-lasting The Thermal Properties of Concrete, based on the fictitious narrator-character of a woman, wondrously performed by Jody Stevens, and a couple of senior staff members of the Planning Department of the City of Halifax. emphasizes the cinematic hooks of Naylor’s skills.

… there’s always an emotional transmission which interferes with the somehow cinematic palette of field recordings…


Sven Schlijper, KindaMuzik, January 24, 2013

Waar? Hier, daar, ergens, nergens… Deze vraag en de vele mogelijke antwoorden plaatst componist Steven Naylor centraal op Lieux Imaginaires. De zes stukken zijn net zoveel abstracte herinneringen aan werkelijk bezochte plaatsen als constructies van locaties die alleen in Naylor’s fantasie bestaan of zelfs waar hij nooit zou willen zijn.

Naylor gebruikt elementen uit soundscape fieldrecordings moeiteloos naast elektro-akoestisch instrumentarium en hoorspelachtige technieken. Het levert een reis op in niets dan geluid die herinneringen oproept of juist diepe verlangens en angsten. Lieux Imaginaires pendelt tussen waarheid en in- of verbeelding en legt zo de nadruk op de bij lange na niet perfecte aard van het geheugen; zeker waar fysiek reizen sowieso voor een gevoel van ‘dislocatie’ zorgt.

Van urbaan Japan tot de prachtigste natuur in het noorden van Thailand, van mechanische chaos naar een wereld waarin varkens kinderachtige trekken hebben, weet Naylor korte beelden op te roepen die het onderscheid tussen feit en fictie in mist doen opgaan. Zijn muziek kent zoveel associatieve mogelijkheden dat de luisteraar bijna ongemerkt een quasinarratief samenstelt uit de puzzelstukken die de composities in overvloed aanbieden. Zo probeer je een coherent geheel te maken van geluid dat bekend voorkomt en geluid dat juist totaal onbekend is.

Aan dat ‘rekenen en ontcijferen’ voegt Naylor een niet-analyseerbare laag toe: dat wat helemaal open is voor poëtische interpretatie, namelijk het inherent onkenbare. Dat zijn de Lieux; net zozeer van Naylor als van de luisteraar. Dat ze wel of niet of misschien bestaan, doet niet ter zake. Wat ertoe doet, is dat déjà vu’s en totale verrassingen elkaar in steeds weer andere vormen en sensaties afwisselen. Zo blijkt ook het geheugen gaten en kleuring te kennen ten aanzien van deze imaginair bereisde locaties. Zozeer zelfs dat deze geluidenwereld de toehoorder elke keer opnieuw als behaaglijk vertrouwd, intrigerend nieuw of angstaanjagend onheilspellend en meer voorkomt. Reizen kortom die met geen mogelijkheid af te vinken zijn van een landkaart of lijstje.