Ios Smolders


Ios Smolders, Earlabs, December 10, 2006

Darren Copeland is a Canadian composer working as sound designer and composer, now also working as artistic director of New Adventures in Sound Art which produces electroacoustic and experimental sound art events in Toronto. This is his second release for empreintes DIGITALes.

empreintes DIGITALes has a reputation of producing electroacoustic music of the highest standards. This is another proof of its status.

This DVD-Audio offers the listener a variety of listening experiences. The music is no longer pressed on CD but on DVD. This allows the label to use much better sound quality (24-bit) and a surround experience. Next to that empreintes DIGITALes gives the music encoded in AAC and MP3 format, for iPod listening.

Let’s first go through the compositions: This disc starts with the coming and going of a sound. It wanders around nervously, it flutters, comes and goes. Slowly, as a listener you become restless also. And then, after a minute or so a human voice becomes perceptible. At first it’s impossible to understand what is being said, only that the tome of voice is very excited. Then a first sentence is repeated again and again (reminded me of The Hafler Trio first release) and fades away again, in the distance. Only to return, break through in your face and then you understand that this is a woman reporting to a microphone on September 11, 2001. Strong entry.

The second work is based on the sound of people whispering. The work is much longer than the first and moves on at a quiet pace. After a short overture the sound retreats and slowly moves on. There certainly is a cadenza, a rise and fall, like the breath of a sleeper. The piece alternates between some fluttering of whispers and a quiet backdrop of harmonics. Whispers of course consist mainly of noise which is a nice contrast with the other more specific frequencies that can be heard.

Third: The Wrong Mistakes. A short work with a funny theme. The sounds, too, are a bit carnivalesque. Whirling about are bell and harmonica sounds. Short, interlude.

On Schedule clearly deals with travel. It’s a 12-minute lasting translation of a trip from London Waterloo Station to Moskva Byelorusski. The length of the tracks between the stops has been translated into the length of the parts in the composition. So far, so good. But what makes it a bit cheesy are glissandi of the organ like harmonics that one easily connects with the accelerating and decelerating of the train. Also the recordings of the train start and stop somehow makes me think that this might very well be an acousmatic composition for children.

Early Signals commemorates the first transmission of radio signals at the beginning of the 20th century. We hear the hoarse voices of Marconi and Eckersly and the clacking of morse signals. A short and simple layering of sound sources.

By far the best composition on this disc is On a Strange Road. It starts as mysterious as its title suggests and continues on this path. We hear the sound of the tires of cars passing but also transformations of these sounds. After a few minutes it sounds as if we have reached a ghost land. In contrast to the On Schedule composition here there is nothing cheesy about the composition. Copeland succeeds in fascinating the listener with coming and going of the different sound sources that he has chosen. Here it’s the sounds of car tires, organs, rain, harmonic electronic sounds (in 2 or 3 different versions), some incidental recordings.

Faith-Annihia does not layer sound sources (only on a few spots) but instead, just like the good old times, collates them one after the other. There are groups of sounds, which are then placed one after the other, fast or slow. The composition itself consists of the rhythm of the alternation plus the filtering of the sounds. Sometimes it’s muffled or very thin (especially at the beginning) at other times the sounds are bright (and therewith louder).

Most of the works presented here are quiet. There are no rough edges, just as we can expect from the releases of empreintes DIGITALes. When it comes to pitched frequencies Copeland prefers the sound of reed instruments (such as mouth organs) which have a rich overtone structure. Most of the works date from 2001 and later, but the last two are 10 years older (1991 and 1992). It is of course interesting to compare these two groups. Indeed, the structure of Faith-Annihia is more abrasive than the works of this century. But the last work, Always Becoming Somebody Else, has a structure that is in line with the latest works. The most important difference is that Always Becoming Somebody Else lacks harmonic sounds. It is built from dark noise sounds that are counterpointed with high pitched squeals. But here too Copeland builds his pieces with the rising and falling of the volumes.

About the DVD-Audio: empreintes DIGITALes presents these works in several modes. The music can be heard through 24-bit stereo files, 5.1 Surround files (which I haven’t heard because I do not own such a set), but also as AAC and MP3 files (320 kbps/48 kHz). So there is a mode for every conceivable situation. I have listened to the files in my car (MP3) and at home in stereo.


Ios Smolders, Earlabs, December 10, 2006

I started this review by trying to describe what happened inside those seven compositions. That is however both tedious work and the result of that hard labour will still not be enough to give the reader the right idea about what this music really is. Let’s take a look at what I managed:


The opening of a door, the flanged (slowly declining) sound that resembles the peeling off of cellotape. Stop, start again. The same sound types, the same order but slightly differently mixed, edited, placed. Then the distinct sound of a ball in a bowl. Stop, start again. New scene: closing of a door. Sub bass, re-editing of previous sounds. Reverberated, echoed and snappier cut. Stop, start again. We’re outside. Street sounds, at first clearand unadulterated but soon caught in a wide mix with reverberations, the sounds of the first scenes, and street sounds. After which the composition rounds it up with the sounds of the first few minutes.


This work is not as scenic as the first one and concentrates much more on the morphing of sounds. Central sound source is (I think) the sound of a turning coin. Reminding us of course of one of the first Études of Pierre Schaeffer. Then the sound changes and we no longer appear to be dealing with a Schaefferian but simply with a ball inside a roulette disk. New scene, starting with the final second of the first scene. But now everything breaks down again, and again. The sound of the ball is edited again and again. After a few minutes we hear, from the distance, the voice of a child. Then: silence and booming sounds. We’re teleported to a family scenery. The conversation between a small child and his very English parents. After which the story continues with sounds of wrapping paper, clicks, humms. Aside from the funny family scene, not the best work. It starts of quite strong but somehow looses its direction on the way out.

See? This might be regarded as a sort of map, but still you wouldn’t see the landscape. The problem with this music (and indeed a lot of the music released by empreintes DIGITALes) is that it consists of so many layers and the musical structure is so complex that trying to describe will always fail to transmit the essential.

So, how shall I proceed to review this release? Let me do that in separate phases. First some words about the total collection, after which a short description (no more) of each of the compositions. Then I might compare it to works that have already been released so that the reader has a point of reference. After which some words about the package and such.

It is most important to keep your attention with the music. Do not, really, do not start another activity because you will miss out on 80% of the quality of this music. Also, listening with headphones is not recommended. The music needs to float freely through the air. I found listening through headphones not as pleasant as through speakers. The sounds heard in the compositions on this disc keep a strong link with their origins. 90% of the sounds are firmly rooted in real acoustic phenomena. We hear, for instance, the rolling of a ball in the roulette table, but it is presented to us in such a fashion that those parts of the acoustics are enhanced, that we normally neglect. This double negative, together with the sound icon that we already have of a ball rolling over a wooden plain, gives the impression of a sort of acoustic super reality.

The whole disc is in this vein. Recordings are crystal clear and edits or the elaborations of these are never cloggy. So, in that corner everything’s hunky dory. I have more difficulty with the musical structure which can be hard to follow, sometimes. At times it seems like the music is designed on a second to second basis. This is especially the case where the sounds remain close to the original (phonographic) recording. There, Stollery seems to want to change our perspective again and again with abrupt or heavily processed interludes. As you may see in the descriptions of the two first compositions above but it also appears in composition number 5: ABZ/A. Composition numbers 3, 4, 5, and 7 (Shioum, Altered Images, Shortstuff and Vox Magna) are different. They are not as closely related to an acoustic source and follow a very clear thread of development.

We get 7 compositions, ranging from 1993 to 2003, on this disc that is presented in several formats: [88 kHz / 24-bit, 48 kHz / 24-bit], and in AAC and MP3 (320 kbps).

Label Feature

Ios Smolders, Earlabs, May 19, 2006

This is one of the early netlabels, starting in 1998, and one that still exists because it has a steady drive. It’s therefore only natural that it should be one of the first of series of feature articles on netlabels. I had an e-mail chat with Aimé Dontigny, the current director at No Type.

I have monitored the releases of No Type right from the beginning. When I first started thinking about a goal for my own internet activities (I had been a webmaster for a corporate for a couple of years) the obvious thing was to do something with music. Somehow I ran into No Type.com and was immediately captured by the cool metropolitan feel of the site. What was most interesting, apart from the look and feel and the slight of hand texts combined with professional design was that you could actually download music from the site. And not just a few short samples but complete ‘albums’. That was something that I wanted as well. I contacted webhost David Turgeon who generously allowed me to upload files on the server that he was using as well. We have not been in touch for quite a few years, but I initiated new contact because of this article.

David Turgeon is described as follows on No Type (it’s quite inaptly called a biography): “Obfuscationist composer, strategist of sonic vagueness, and sometimes even performer (Camp, Ensemble Camp, Asyncdrone, Period Three, L’Île de béton…), David Turgeon, founder of the No Type label, is also known as a graphic designer, DJ (as part of the 10,000 Teenage Girl Posse) inventor of arcane programming languages and the author of a graphic novel, La muse récursive, to be published in 2006.” That really doesn’t tell very much about his activities. For one, I know that he also works for the renowned Canadian label empreintes DIGITALes.

What defines the No Type label? I really don’t know. Improvisational noise, rhythmical technoid, drones, punkish, (classically structured) electronic music, jazz, phonography; it’s all there. What combines it, is probably the edginess. It’s never easy, there is always excitement. Every release is something special. Where other labels sort of extrude a continuous stream of ambient techno dub produced with the same software again and again (Ableton Live… again…) 99% of the No Type releases hold a surprise. And if there is no music available that meets the standards, then there will be no release. Simple as that. Aimé Dontigny, current director: “The common denominator is: off the mark. We support: artists who are not at ease within their genres; musics that will never find a public with the exception of the adventurous and/or the snotty; ideas that are so revolutionary they must be encrypted in light-hearted idm or lo-fi folk; free improv that believes in freedom, not in idiom; noise that encompass the inaudible, the dramatic, the refined, the subtle; etc. etc. etc. And we also strongly support Beauty, Craftsmanship, Dedication, and Audacity.”

The No Type label started producing hardcopy releases as well, in 2002. To me, that was a very strange decision. Actually a jump back in time. But fortunately the online releases kept coming, as well. Dontigny explains: “We started releasing physical releases in order to better help our artists. Most of the time, mp3 albums don’t get you invited to festivals, don’t get you royalties, don’t get you print reviews, don’t get you a another record.”

I have seen the explosion of David’s energy wander off in 2004 and 2005. What about the future? Now that Aimé is director, what are his plans?

“First, restart a steady flow of mp3 releases, We’ll still see new names and some of our regular artists, but I will also try to give musicians from diverse experimental scenes outside of No Type an opportunity to release more personnal or perplexing works. So expect some surprises in the near future.”

“Also, we’ll re-focus our physical production. CD releases will be rarer, more unique, project-specific adventures (For exemple, like our 2003 Montréal Free 4-CD boxset of Montréal-based acoustic improv).”

“We’ll also be gradually leaving the CD format behind; expect some DVD-ROMs, multichannel DVD-Audio’s, and others. We will move beyond the ‘one medium collection’ and, in the short-term, even the mp3 releases will no longer be distinct from the other formats on our website. Of course, we’ll still release CDs when deamed appropriate by the artist and us, but, for the last 4 years, I think we lost too much energy in the ‘all-CD’ mentality.”

“Many artists have left No Type over the years (some temporarily, some others for good), and it’s a normal thing. Because we often support artists at the start of their careers, some have stopped making music after a while, and others have moved on to more successful careers on other labels.”

No doubt No Type will find new gems!

What defines the No Type label? I really don’t know. Improvisational noise, rhythmical technoid, drones, punkish, (classically structured) electronic music, jazz, phonography; it’s all there.


Ios Smolders, Vital, no. 357, January 30, 2003

Next Arturo Parra: this is a guitarist’s view on acousmatic music. I really think that this is the most adventurous of the three releases. The cooperation between musical instrument and tape/computer is difficult because you can identify the instrument from the other sounds, which so easily results in a relation instrument-backdrop. And in a live setting there is the discrepancy between the sound source of the acoustic instrument and the sound from the speakers which separates the two even more. Parra somehow managed to create a very nice balance, though. Parra commissioned works from five composers: Gobeil, Roy, Dhomont, Mauricio Bejarano and Normandeau. These compositions were each the basis for a composition of Parra. So the acousmatic composers didn’t know what Parra was going to do with their piece and Parra composed the guitar on top of what was already there. That is interesting because the guitar is the least versatile instrument here and yet it has to interact with the most versatile abstract noises. Also interesting to know is that the guitar was recorded without any overdubs. In some cases the guitar is tormented and played in extraordinary way but you can also hear melodies, which is quite unusual in an empreintes DIGITALes release. The result is a very dynamic and intense cooperation, very much worth listening to. I most liked the Dhomont cooperation. This “éminence grise” of the acousmatic society never misses a beat.

… a very dynamic and intense cooperation…


Ios Smolders, Vital, no. 357, January 30, 2003

Stephan Dunkelman’s Rhizomes plays heavily with sound and speed. His sounds seem to flee away from the speakers turned acoustically into large halls (through loads of reverb). Only seldomly does a sound remain at its place. Dunkelman must be a restless person. The acousmatic aspect of his music is according to the book (I think; there must be a book of some sort… I always hear the same sounds and techniques applied to edit them.) but it fails to keep my attention. The soundsources, the treatments, the structure… it’s all too much of the same.


Ios Smolders, Vital, no. 357, January 30, 2003

It has been some time that I listened to a new release of electroacoustic music, so imagine I was anxious to hear some new ones that I found on my doormat. empreintes DIGITALes releases the music of mostly classically trained electroacoustic composers. The music is well-produced, sounds perfect. The music is also well-documented and the sleeves are artful as well as tasteful. Very well balanced releases. Let’s get on to the first release, Natasha Barrett’s Isostasie. Of the three cd’s reviewed here this cd breathes the most human atmosphere. Unlike a lot of acousmatic compositions there is room for rest here. Many acousmatic composers tend to create dense layers of complex sounds that whirl around each other like inside a maelstrom. Barrett allows for calmth to get a place in the composition and we even hear a human voice. Sometimes she too uses the cliché of filtered basses to counteract with high pitched fluttering and her structures are not very original. Yet, in the best compositions (like Three Fictions (Northern Mix), Industrial Revelations) a very personal style appears and I’d really like to hear more of that. In other compositions (like in Viva la Selva!) the mimicry of the real world is too obvious, though. I would advise against that. (as if my opinion matters…)

… this cd breathes the most human atmosphere.