Stuart Marshall, The Sound Projector, May 3, 2020… Yegl is a selective audio autobiography that renders the image of an individual’s lifelong curiosity in the expanded palette of electroacoustics, fixed medium and radiophonic composition. And it commands a similar curiosity from the listener.
Stuart Marshall, The Sound Projector, May 11, 2018A striking and visceral listening experience throughout…
Stuart Marshall, The Sound Projector, October 30, 2016… ambient composer Monty Adkins makes a stylistic metamorphosis and takes to the air…
Stuart Marshall, The Sound Projector, January 13, 2016… the corresponding result is an alternation between harrowing, ballistic frenzy and scenes of dead air that lashes together emotions such as revelry, violence and horror as definitively as anywhere else on this fine collection.
It’s been a while since my ears were graced by the colourful sounds of the Empreintes Digitales label, home to an international bevy of electroacoustic composers with compositional awards and academic qualifications lined up like military medals. While I’ve always been happy to get to know new releases, there’s a uniformity of approach that can make it difficult to say new things about them. This uniformity is stamped into the standard card packaging of each release, each of identical layout, heady, intertextual liner notes, and non-chronological sequencing of pieces. Naturally, this portrait collection, Yegl by Argentinian composer Elsa Justel, follows this formula.
Yet despite these hallmarks of artistic conformity the collection is as expressive of an individual identity, predilections and working methods as anything from the GRM studios, and it beckons the curious listener to probe within. Quite literally: remove the inner sleeve and peer into the wraparound card and you can see a picture of the composer, captured during what looks like a moment of erudition, opposite what may be her fingerprint. Talk about hidden qualities.
Dating back as far as 2001, the pieces span a broad set of themes from geometrical hypothesis (Cercles et surfaces) to electroacoustic Tango (Purzelbäume). Ingenious and polymathic, but one obvious risk of such rabbit-hole pursuits is insularity and the listener must be prepared to accommodate a few peccadillos. L, for instance, consists of jumbled electronic treatments of short passages read in French. Bewilderment achieved, granted, but for the non-Francophone probably less compelling than, say, the visceral smash and spray of the geometrical opener or the chilling psychoacoustic swish and tear of Marelle ou Les instants de la vie. This giddy interaction between disorienting sound collage and the tapestry of deeper listening sketches out the extreme boundaries of the collection.
On closer inspection, woven through these disparate themes is a sustained enquiry into primordial origins: meditations on Pythagorean concepts of geometry (Cercles et surfaces) and acousmatics (Tapage nocturne), a poetic synthesis of utterances on ‘the origin of the concept of “element”‘ (L), and the psycho-dialectics of identity (Marelle ou Les instants de la vie). As per so many releases on this label, Yegl is a selective audio autobiography that renders the image of an individual’s lifelong curiosity in the expanded palette of electroacoustics, fixed medium and radiophonic composition. And it commands a similar curiosity from the listener.
Electroacoustic storyteller Paul Dolden has long been interested in the intersections of music and mythology, coding his theories on the sounds of ancient cultures as densely textured metaphors, from 1990’s Below the Walls of Jericho to today’s Music Of Another Present Era. In Histoires d’histoire, he feeds us his intoxicating blend of memory, musical scales and imagination as a pan-global soup of backwards gongs, scattergun samba flurries and hyper-real ensembles whirling on a carousel of mythical time; martial percussion rattling off in Janek Schaeffer nostalgium; microtonal musics of diffuse cultures united by their complexity, faux-improvisational verve and shamanic ecstasy.
The outlier (of sorts) is the jam sesh in BeBop Baghdad where some righteous six-string noodling competes for breathing space with a molten brass band. I wonder if this is what Derek Bailey dreamed of after jamming with Buckethead at Company ‘91? A striking and visceral listening experience throughout, but aesthetically and socially a perfect fit for the Empreintes DIGITALes label, which is a stable of mostly Francophone electroacousticians who’ve been showered with awards for outstanding achievements in the field of electronic excellence… if you’ve not stopped by, then here’s your chance!
Last heard purveying Rothko-esque, aquatic ambience in Unfurling Lines (the waterways of which having lulled but not quite committed me to my final rest), ambient composer Monty Adkins makes a stylistic metamorphosis and takes to the air with a new collaborator Terri Hron and her ‘consort of renaissance recorders’ for a five-section survey of moths, butterflies and other winged insects, each piece deriving from an idea about a particular order. This ‘display case’ approach makes sense in the empreintes DIGITALes catalogue, where each collection receives the taxonomer’s treatment; every piece given a full exegesis — often quite scientific in tone — in the liner notes.
It also delivers straight into the action, avoiding the long narrative arc from minimal matter to maximal clatter that such singular, scientific surveys tend to take as the depth of field narrows on increasingly intricate detail. Each section constitutes its own field of activity, marked by a set of common features, such as the recorders’ sharp, electrified exhortations that weave, whistle and roll into granulated deconstructions of their own essence. Those of us with gardens might forget the butterfly’s decorativeness in this thick, processed churn of organic, primal matter, which really digs into the violence of full-blown physical change. It also reminds us of the truly alien aspect these creatures acquire when considered up close; their insect sensibilities airborne in dotted patterns, the quivering of internal cavities and the organic passage of events that finds its natural habitat when just shy of critical mass.
At the end of Grant Morrison’s run on Batman Incorporated, readers learned of arch rival Ra’s al Ghul’s secret stock of super-foetuses, cloned from the caped crusader’s genes and gestating for some future Battle Royale. On the strength of this latest batch from electroacoustic label empreintes DIGITALes, of whom ample note has been made here, a similar programme seems to be well underway in deepest French Canada, with a plot to inundate listeners with award-winning, electroacoustic composer-pedagogues.
Georges Forget is the latest of these luminaries to alight upon these pages, following a trail unremarkable only among his peers: schooled to PhD level in Bordeaux and Quebec, scooping up awards along the way, and moonlighting for stage and screen while teaching electroacoustic composition at his alma mater. The journeys in these pieces (mostly from 2008) are suggestive of an ambition that can blast through shield doors; a ferocity evident in Métal en bouche (Metal in Mouth), which detonates millions of charges at stifling, oceanic depths; its claustrophobic paranoia constituting a debt to Wolfgang Petersen’s epic adaptation of Das Boot.
If Forget favours high-minded literary extracts over lucid description of his sound sources, he still shares a passion for the elements, especially water and metal. This he appeases by sticking a mic in everything from sea waves to the kitchen sink and capturing the frothing tension that ensues.
Peaks may be difficult to detect in these careening escapades, but a telling reference appears in his notes on the WWII (account)-inspired Orages d’acier (Storm of Steel) in which he refers in both sound and text to the ‘moments (in battle) where violence gets so intense it becomes hallucinating and stripped of any emotion… separated by long stretches of emptiness’, the corresponding result is an alternation between harrowing, ballistic frenzy and scenes of dead air that lashes together emotions such as revelry, violence and horror as definitively as anywhere else on this fine collection.