Artists Katharine Norman

Katharine Norman (UK, 1960) is a British composer based in London (UK). She studied at Princeton University (New Jersey, USA) with Paul Lansky and held various academic posts before deciding to pursue a freelance career. When using computers she works mainly with recorded sounds from the real world, making pieces which seek to create a poetry from the activity of our so-called ordinary lives. Her disc London is available on the NMC/Nimbus label.

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Katharine Norman

Billericay (England, UK), 1960

Residence: England (UK)

  • Composer

katharine@novamara.com

On the web

Katharine Norman [Photo: Chantal Rosas Cobian]
Katharine Norman [Photo: Chantal Rosas Cobian]
  • Katharine Norman
  • Katharine Norman
  • Katharine Norman

Selected works

Appearances

Various artists
empreintes DIGITALes / IMED 9837, IMED 9837_NUM / 1998

Complements

Innova Recordings / INNOVA 874 / 2013
  • Not in catalogue
  • Not in catalogue
Ashgate Publications / ASH 0754604268 / 2004
  • Not in catalogue
Metier Sound and Vision / MSV CD92054 / 2001
  • Not in catalogue
Various artists
Innova Recordings / INNOVA 114 / 1997
  • Not in catalogue
Various artists
Discus / DISCUS 6CD / 1996
  • Not in catalogue
NMC Recordings / NMC D034 / 1996
  • Not in catalogue

Articles written

  • Katharine Norman, Array Online, October 30, 2000
    … revealing the previously known as an unknown new world with surprising dimensions, and then flying out into space…
  • Katharine Norman, Array Online, March 1, 1999
    … carefully wrought sonic forms…

Review

Katharine Norman, Array Online, October 30, 2000

Normandeau is a master of sonic allusion and metaphor, and these acousmatic works offer a powerful listen. Le renard et la rose will be known to many in the ICMA world, since it was commissioned for ICMC 1995 in Banff, and has received many performances since. It’s a piece of extraordinary depth, in which human speech sounds are woven into a multi-layered tapestry of meaning and movement. Opening with irresistible sounds of laughter and exuberance, it expands outwards to occupy and play in space. Like Spleen, a related work, it harnesses the force of onomatopoeia and rejoices in the primitive vigour of a rhythmic beat. Listening to this work in concert was fascinating, but over headphones there’s perhaps an even greater sense of being immersed in the spattering, ‘animal’ activity of a community of sounds, that are at once both clean and dark, joyful and ominous.

Figures de rhétorique is an enigmatic re-interpretation of the piano and tape genre - or rather, in this case, tape and piano - in which the pianist ‘makes’ his performance in relation to the tape part, itself derived from piano timbres. The work is constructed by employing sonic metaphors related to precise figures of meaning in rhetoric. Though it is impossible (for this listener at least) to embark on aural butterfly-catching, to pin these metaphors down, one doesn’t need to in order to appreciate the dramatic variety of the gestures, most notably in the tape part. Whilst the pitch content tends to anchor itself to a single centre, the variety of gestural motion and interaction provides a means of going on.

Venture is a large-scale work inspired by Normandeau’s formative experience of listening to progressive rock, and uses samples of the same as its material. Like much of his work the piece is in interlinked movements that each refer to what Normandeau calls different ‘states of existence’. It’s a work of symphonic ambition - an ambition it shares, of course, with much progressive rock of the 70s - and has a clear ‘emotional’ trajectory that carries the listener from one sound-world to another. Fragments of Pictures from an Exhibition are interwoven within it, and the tantalising glimpses become more explicit as the work progresses. And, of course, it ends with a nice big string-synth chord. Music about music is difficult to bring off, but this piece works, I think, at a deeper level - as a quite personal journey into the roots of one person’s musical ‘psyche’.

Ellipse, the final piece on the CD, is a wonderfully tactile and effervescent exploration of guitar timbres. The tightening of strings, the sound of the tuning peg straining against the neck - and then when we think we know where we are the sounds explode into pointillistic cloud of splinters, plucked strings, knocks and whirrs. This is a piece in which the material is the materiality of an object - wood, gut, fingers against strings. For this listener it was a sonic equivalent of watching as a miniature camera shoots around inside the guitar, revealing the previously known as an unknown new world with surprising dimensions, and then flying out into space - viewing the same object from a global perspective.

As Normandeau points out in his notes, all the pieces on the CD have dedications to specific people (in the case of Figures, the pianist Jacques Drouin, who features as performer on the CD). Figures are bodies, and Normandeau interprets this notion in various ways. To my ears, a touch of humanity figures highly.

… revealing the previously known as an unknown new world with surprising dimensions, and then flying out into space…

Review

Katharine Norman, Array Online, March 1, 1999

The pieces on this CD provide a powerful retrospective of Westerkamp’s work with environmental sound sources. And it is ‘work’ that we hear: these are not unadulterated soundscapes—pristine aural documents of time and place—but carefully wrought sonic forms in which the composer performs a subtle non-invasive surgery on our listening. Sometimes her intervention is more overt; as in Kits Beach Soundwalk where her speaking voice becomes the guide that leads us through a transforming world, suggesting her own sonic dreamscapes and depicting them in sounds along the way. Here we travel together through the shimmering chatter of barnacles to birds, beeps, watery tricklings and even a ghostly thread of Mozart before the low-pitched ‘monster’ of the city returns. This is perhaps the most didactic journey on the CD, but in the most forgiving and imaginative sense of that word.

Another piece, A Walk Through The City also includes speech, but this time as a poem spoken by its author, Norbert Ruebsaat. His voice, sometimes confined in short-wave radio timbres, sometimes real and reciting, sometimes whispering in the listener’s ear, is the central all-knowing presence in this tale of urban sounds. Westerkamp did not record all the original sounds herself (many are from the World Soundscape Project’s admirable collection) and it sometimes shows in some obviously ‘archival’ recording perspectives. But perhaps this kind of distancing is appropriate in a piece which veers from personal to impersonal, taking the listener on a swooping flight above the real city, where layered children’s voices, reminiscent of Gesang der Jünglinge or evocative mouth-organ strains, emerge unexpectedly from evolving traffic sounds and sliding drones and glissandi. The closing gesture, three separated descents—a tough and final punctuation—is inspired, while the use of spoken poetry in conjunction with such a rich sonic world makes for challenging and ultimately rewarding listening. This is a piece that asks, and deserves, to be heard again and again.

An earlier piece Fantasie for Horns II, dating from 1979, is for live horns (Brian G’Froerer) and tape; the tape using the sounds of other horns: cars, trains and whistles. An harmonic world characterized by slow drones and filtered timbres becomes the background for a surprisingly Mahlerian horn part.

Cricket Voice begins with looped rhythmic patterns that are almost minimalist in character, but soon the layered sounds, derived from the cricket’s call, weave a peculiarly tactile fabric. This is a composer who loves beautifully sculpted timbres, often focussing on high frequency and carefully ‘hand-tinted’ spectra, or using low and high pitched sounds in an almost metaphorical sense. Many of the sounds have the clear, crisp hyper-reality of the acousmatic world, but Westerkamp has different stories to tell.

The final piece on the CD, Beneath the Forest Floor is the most recent, dating from 1992. This forest grows from a low-pitched rhythmic drone and blooms as a primeval world in which birds cross the densely populated space suddenly and without warning. In the other pieces Westerkamp seems, to me at least, present and accompanying the listener: her words, or her musical processes, travel with us. Here, I felt comfortably lost—abandoned in an only occasionally familiar world which rose into an ecstatic sunlit reiteration of piping tones, birdsong and watery oscillations. Just when kitsch-ness was on the cards the music shifted a gear upwards and became a more abstract, transcendent encounter. Reading the liner notes I see this work is, for Westerkamp, about peace and the ‘inner forest’ in each listener. As with all the pieces here, she suggests a signposted listening path. But one gets the feeling that it’s fine to walk around in the woods awhile.

… carefully wrought sonic forms…

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