Denis Smalley is a notable UK electro-acoustic composer who I associate with the University of East Anglia (where he taught for a time), but he also studied at INA GRM, University of York, and under Olivier Messiaen. Today’s record Vues Spectrales mostly focuses on works realised in the last 20 years or so, and Spectral Lands, Ringing Down The Sun and Resounding are all informed by subtle ideas about “spectral spatiality”, resonant sounds, and evocations of the great outdoors. If there’s any linkage between the three, it might be something to do with using natural decay to express the gradual fading-away of the universe, and this entropic theme is manifested in everything from recordings of church bells to the winds sweeping over a beach in New Zealand. All of these are (I assume) largely digital in their realisation, and there’s barely a single recognisable sound on offer, so thorough have been Smalley’s electro-acoustic transformations. However, the CD also includes a much earlier work, Vortex, from 1981-1982, which appeared on the Interpenetrations LP from 1984 which I happen to own. Vortex has more substance to savour by way of drama and dynamics, and somehow succeeds in invoking the sense of a physical sculpture, with dimension, weight, and heft. It also conveys the “real and imaginary motion” which the composer was aiming at.
Paul has been releasing a steady stream of one-off pieces that have not made an album appearance. They’ve all been extremely strong, and this makes me wonder how large his pipeline of unreleased material is. Based on the super high quality of these works, I am going to play catch-up and put down some thoughts on the three most recent releases (that when taken together would make a nice album of unreleased gems). If you have even a passing interest in all things Dolden, I can wholeheartedly recommend visiting his Bandcamp page where you can find these, and many more of his incredibly epic and heroic multi-track sound extravaganzas. Additionally, I have published a couple of write-ups on earlier records on this very site.
The Dance of the Firing Synapse clocks in at 20 minutes and is prime Dolden, i.e. aggressive, relentlessly LOUD, and in. yo. FACE!!! It has all the hallmarks of his sound, things like Balinese sounding percussion, ridiculously hard to count rhythms, face-melting passages of countlessly layered, metal-tinged guitars (or maybe those are something else, hard to tell), very complex drum pyrotechnics, moments of sick note Saxophones and the odd choral accents. All these things come together in a tightly produced, microtonal package that is just a constant stream of detail after detail. In a word, astounding! After many listens, new things manifest themselves that I can swear I’ve never heard before. I’ve heard a few comments from people saying the piece provokes headaches, or it precipitates sensory overload resulting in fatigue, etc. While I’ll never challenge these views, instead I’ll just smile to myself and think Dolden may have reached a stage of “mission accomplished”. He achieved that coveted point on the bell curve where the synapses just say, “fuck it, I’m done”. Bravo!
The other two releases (Marsyas’ Melodies and Who Has the Strangest Melodies?) has Dolden continuing to move forward with a more “modern classical” approach with less noise blasts and less massed layers of sound assaults. This is not to say that those qualities (and they are indeed qualities) are not present, just utilized in a more subtle manner within the context of the piece, instead of THE piece itself.
Marsyas’ Melodies starts quietly and slowly builds into a series of climaxes. Each build and release have its own distinctive personality due to the varied instruments used and, per the liner notes, ancient Arab and Greek tuning systems are employed. About midway through the piece, there is a short but quite beautiful cello solo which opens the door for more build-ups (this time louder with more multi tracked acoustic instruments including what sounds like a full choir and oddly tuned percussion… a Dolden hallmark). Even though the structure of this work sounds simple, the combinations of sound sources paired with his typical attention to the “little details” like the separation between sounds and total mastery of dynamics make this piece one of my favorites.
Who Has the Strangest Melodies shares many of the same compositional qualities but this time, I hear a little bit of a Charles Ives vibe. Brass instruments seem to be the prevalent focus on this piece and the structure seems more complex than Marsyas’ Melodies. Once again, the melodies are micro-tonal which of course throws the listener off balance until the mind “accepts” it but, unlike the former, there is a heavy rhythmic presence played mostly on the trap kit. Adding to the disorientation, the rhythms are certainly not your standard 4/4 and… if I’m understanding things properly, the overlayed melodies are speed corrected to fit the off-kilter rhythms.
I should know by now that the unusual is the usual when it comes to Dolden music. These three pieces, if you were to take them as an album-length whole provide an excellent real-time sound portrait of where the composer seems to be presently. Not only are his works getting more detailed and refined musically as time goes by, but technologically speaking… the current state of the sound recording is stretched to the extremes which yields a stunning aural experience, especially through headphones. As I alluded to at the beginning of this write-up, every new release that drops is an event that is certainly not taken lightly by this listener and, if the firehose is active, I’ll be there.
Estamos ya ante el tercer lanzamiento de Denis Smalley después de una “pausa” de 20 años. Portail presenta sus 2 trabajos multicanal más recientes: Fabrezan Preludes (2015-16) y Sommeil de Rameau (2014-15), convertidos en estéreo ambisonics, más uno de sus primeros trabajos: The Pulses of Time (1978).
Fabrezan Preludes compuesto en 2015-16 tiene una duración de 20:58. El preludio central, Debussy’s Cathedral, se basa en la transformación y desarrollo de un par de acordes resonantes extraídos del preludio para piano de Debussy La Cathédrale engloutie (La catedral sumergida), que evoca la historia de la mítica ciudad de Ys, sumergida frente a las costas de Bretaña. Cuenta la leyenda que las campanas de las iglesias de la ciudad se pueden escuchar en mares tranquilos.
En el preludio de apertura, Portal, que es el que escuchamos esta noche en Atmósfera, el oyente cruza el umbral hacia la nave de la catedral. The Voices of Circius (también conocido como Cercio) se refieren al relativamente desconocido dios romano del viento a quien el emperador Augusto dedicó un altar cerca de Narbona, en el sur de Francia. El viento Cers atraviesa el país desde el noroeste, ganando fuerza y movimiento circular a medida que viaja por las llanuras a través de los amplios corredores del valle, avanzando hacia el Mediterráneo. Puede ser impetuoso, emerger repentinamente, ahuyentar las nubes y la lluvia, iniciando cielos soleados y luminosos. Reconocido por tener propiedades saludables, trae una agradable brisa fresca en el calor del verano, pero puede ser terriblemente fría en invierno. Este preludio tiene como objetivo capturar aspectos de sus “voces”.
Fabrezan Preludes se creó en los estudios de Denis Smalley en Fabrezan (Francia) y Londres y se estrenó el 21 de mayo de 2016, en un concierto con motivo del 70 cumpleaños de Denis Smalley, en el Colyer-Fergusson Hall en Canterbury (Inglaterra, Reino Unido).
Ha habido un accidente en la línea principal de la historia y como consecuencia se ha perdido toda la Antigüedad. El sueño de los Maestros del Universo se hizo realidad antes de tiempo: saltamos directamente del Neolítico al Medievo, fundando una civilización planetaria absolutista.
Una mezcla entre la implacabilidad de los romanos, la hipocresía griega, el totalitarismo de la civilización faraónica, la etérea crueldad de la China dinástica y, por supuesto, la insondable estupidez de la Edad Media occidental. Es esta Ucronía la que se describe en el disco que abrimos esta noche de Dominique Bassal titulado axet remperimos te. Ni siquiera estamos muy seguros del significado preciso de este lema del Imperio, algo así como “acepta gatear” o “acepta o te romperán”.
El compositor e ingeniero de sonido Dominique Bassal, estudió música electroacústica en un momento en el que esa disciplina estaba a la vanguardia de la tecnología de audio. Comenzó a trabajar en la producción de música comercial como arreglista y gerente de estudio, donde aplicó técnicas de vanguardia al mundo de la música pop, muy estricto y conservador en ese momento.
On Trilogie d’ondes, Gobeil collaborates with ondes Martenot virtuoso Suzanne Binet-Audet. Like an earlier empreintes DIGITALes release that marries the classical guitar with various Aousmatic composers (see my write-up here), Trilogie d’ondes achieves the same great synergies between Gobeil’s tape generated maneuvers and the most disparate instrument you can think of, the ondes Martenot. As you can probably guess by now, it works!
The following quote by Binet-Audet may give some clues as to why this partnership sounds so great (bolding mine):
“More electronic instruments have been invented since and are now omnipresent in our musical universe. Because of its sensory approach closely linked to the performer’s nervous system and its flexibility that allows it to respond to the performer’s slightest musical intention, the ondes Martenot remains unlike any other. It is often considered a forerunner of today’s electronic instruments, but it is actually somewhat of a slightly eccentric colleague: the rationale behind its creation keeps it closer to the great instrument-making tradition. That is probably why it made it through the 20th century and is still being included in new compositions. Thanks to its 80-year history and large and rich repertoire, the ondes Martenot has obviously secured itself a spot in music history.”
Like all the great acousmatic composers, Gobeil’s ability to organize sounds into a cohesive whole that allows the participant (you) to create their own visual / virtual / visceral narrative demands that these sounds interact with your limbic system. Being a disinterested outsider really doesn’t cut it when you listen to this music. Engagement, on a mental, and as stands to reason, a physical level is key. My bolded part above plays into what may have been the reason this pairing sounds so good. Doubting that both musicians were in the room at the same time, I’m going to hazard a guess that Gobeil supplied Binet-Audet his material, and she composed around that. I can very well imagine, as Binet-Audet was contributing her parts, the soundscapes that Gobeil created tapped into her Limbic system allowing her to “bring the music” to the ondes Martenot by way of the sensory approach that she mentions above. I can also imagine a live performance which would be a very interesting juxtaposition of her gestures on the ondes Martenot triggered off the synthetic material created by her partner. So, instead of machine triggering machine, the approach would be human triggering machine (Gobeil), triggering human, triggering instrument (Binet-Audet). In a live improvised (or not) setting, the permutations could be endlessly fascinating! Additionally, the dichotomy between what is traditionally thought of as a non-gesture form of music (Gobeil’s Acousmatic sections) is now organically attached to a human element that can change with each performance. In a case like this, the ondes Martenot sounds like the perfect tool to achieve this. (I wonder if they ever thought of taking this on the road?)
The music on Trilogie d’ondes is much more dynamically busier than Trois songes. Gobeil’s soundscapes have a rough and tumble attitude and the mood is quite a bit darker because of it. The ondes Martenot adds a celestial/cosmic element, usually when Gobeil is laying out. At times it sounds like a lonely pedal steel guitar that slowly builds in pitch and intensity. During periods like this, Gobeil brings in a slowly escalating, manic tension that succeeds in goosing the music into the stratosphere.
For the most part, Trilogie d’ondes is more of a Gobeil showcase for his acousmatic stylings with the ondes Martenot adding just the right amount of unique textures, so the pairing is not exactly equal. For me, the ondes Martenot uplifts this record from being a “great” Gobeil record to being a “special” Gobeil record, and that’s the primary reason I’ve included it in this write-up.