James Andean is a composer, but also does free improvisation and music performance in groups such as Rank Ensemble, The Tuesday Group, and Plucié/DesAndes. His Assemblance(s) is both maximal and lively. At any rate, he’s good with creating strong dynamics and jarring shifts in timbre through his editing, particularly on pieces like Déchirure, whose very title indicates it’s all about “ripping up” the sound. He uses field recordings, but very precise ones — and can tell you an interesting travelogue story about each one (e.g. the old Jesuit monastery in Greece where the wind gave him many moments of epiphany). He also uses piano and percussion in his work, and samples of famed opera singer Maria Callas on Maledetta, his unsettling sound portrait of the terrifying Medea character. I’m also warming gradually to Valdrada, which is not only a fascinating sonic enigma, but is prefaced with an Italo Calvino quote; anyone who reads Calvino is OK in my book. A strong and varied set with a lot of great compositional ideas, backed up by life experience and insightful observations.
English composer Annie Mahtani studied with Jonty Harrison in Birmingham, and does electronic music, electroacoustic composition, free improvisation, and installations; she expresses an interest in environmental recordings. Five very recent pieces on Racines, of which the earliest dates from 2008. The stories behind these contain her written observations about the very specific places where they were made, or where the original recordings were captured; it’s evident she’s very sensitive to the entire surrounding area, hoping to capture the truth of a locale. I like her subdued, pared-down approach on Past Links, which remains very coherent as it attempts to take on the form of a living museum in sound, using objects from a museum in Dudley to tell the story of the industrial past of the Black Country. Round Midnight derives from her time in the Amazon rainforest, working with Francisco López; having heard my fair share of recordings of frogs, insects, birds and rainfall, I can safely say Mahtani’s is one of the most interesting entries in an over-crowded field. In her hands, the locale becomes an intense, bubbling cauldron of life; the power of nature, cubed. Equally subdued and focussed is Inversions, involving a strange tale of 5000 figures carved out of ice at some open-air exhibit; she creates a minimalist humming atmosphere which may have been derived from the sounds of chiselling and melting ice. Scary; at times it seemed these icy figures were coming to life, forming an army and preparing for an invasion. There’s also Aeolian made from wind recordings in Northumberland, and the very touching (and personal) Racines tordues, about a family tragedy which has evidently deepened her and made her stronger. A most excellent set by Mahtani.
Sophie Delafontaine was born in Lausanne and studied in Belgium; a gifted child prodigy, she seems to have come into electroacoustic music through the medium of dance and movement. I’m quite taken by her refreshing, near-innocent approach to her work on Accord Ouvert, which showcases six recent compositions. The overlapping voices (speaking and singing) on Ondiesop are absolutely enchanting, and they swim in and out of a collage which involves running water and stabs of digitally reverbed sound. Respire marche pars va-t-en began life as an observation about breathing — and made me think for two seconds we’d be getting a Pauline Oliveros-like observation — but instead it’s about the forward movement of life, which sets up a kind of swing or pendulum. What I like is the way she makes it part of her personal history; did she do the right thing in leaving Lausanne so young? She reflects, honestly, on her own private impressions of what it all means for her, giving the music depth and feeling. There’s also a droney, languid reflection on the restorative powers of sleep in Dormir, aujourd’hui which uses the speaking voice of Laurent Plumhans to deliver fragments of a lecture in among compelling rise-and-fall electronic tones. The distant sound of a cock crowing at dawn in the middle of this one is about one of the most poetic moments I’ve heard in this genre of music. The three other pieces refer in turn to watchmaking and the tiny springs, the rock formations at Creux-du-van, and the work of Ovid as she tells the story of Echo’s metamorphosis. While it’s possible to situate Delafontaine’s work in the traditions of musique concrète and electroacoustics, she clearly isn’t weighed down by the baggage of history. I mean it as a compliment when I think of her as a naive, instinctive composer, one who is not afraid to source her own life in an honest, personal, diaristic fashion. Some of the stodgier buttoned-up composers on this label could learn a lot from her.
[…] Les acousmaticiens aiment bien aussi les sons des locomotives: entre soupirs féminins, cris d’enfants et locomotives, il y a là un sujet de musicologie qui n’attend que d’être développé… Le compositeur (belge) Todor Todoroff travaille depuis des années dans la musique électronique, principalement sur son versant digital. Il programme ses ordinateurs, développe des systèmes de captation du geste, il est également «ingénieur civil en télécommunications» – comme si j’avais idée de ce que ça recouvre! Mais enfin, ça aide à penser qu’il sait ce qu’il fait en écrivant du code, et en écrivant sa musique également: il y a une aisance et un savoir-faire évidents, au point que cela m’étonne même que son Univers parallèles soit, à ma connaissance, le premier album sous son nom (bien qu’il y ait aussi plusieurs compilations sur lesquelles figurent de ses compositions). C’est donc un gars qui est là depuis longtemps, qui produit de la musique solide, qui a tracé un chemin musical qui lui est propre (parfois également pas loin de la danse contemporaine) – mais je ne m’attendais pas du tout à le mentionner en parlant de la voix. Il y a bien sur ces Univers parallèles la composition Obsession, dans laquelle apparaissent des voix (de jeunes femmes, oui, et dans un timbre à la limite du chuchoté, avec en tout cas ce grain de voix là) – un beau travail, un savoir-faire, mais rien de renversant. Sauf que le dernier morceau du disque, Requiem for a City, change complètement la donne, hisse l’écoute à un niveau d’émotion insoupçonné. En fait, c’est une musique que Todoroff a écrite suite aux attentats au Musée juif de Bruxelles (2014), puis ceux de Charlie Hebdo et du Bataclan à Paris (2015), et enfin ceux du métro bruxellois en 2016, lors desquels l’une de ses amies, «jeune violoniste et musicologue», a été assassinée. Les voix qu’il utilise sont celles des témoins et victimes, telles que tirées des divers reportages radio et TV, auxquelles s’ajoutent des matières électroniques (synthés analogiques, précise-t-il, mais comme il parle également de synthèse granulaire et que celle-ci n’est que digitale, me semble-t-il, on peut en déduire qu’il n’a pas totalement abandonné ses outils habituels). Et ce Requiem for a City, par son sujet sans doute, mais également et surtout par son traitement, par la crudité (sonore) des voix et des autres matières musicales, et enfin par la construction d’ensemble, est juste un concentré d’émotion – de ceux qui laissent du poids au silence qui suit, qui ne donnent pas envie de «mettre autre chose», qui créent comme un vide intérieur. […]
Out of Montréal’s electroacoustic/acousmatic spearhead in sound art, empeintes DIGITALes, comes Chantal Dumas’ debut, Oscillations planétaires [Planetary Oscillations]. With a press kit that reads like a science textbook, the album explores some of Earth’s more intimate phenomena. Some of these oscillations are familiar: quakes and geysers. Other naturally occurring geo-drama such as Earth Tides and Geomagnetism have a more educational resonance. Since its radio premiere in July and concert premiere in December (both 2018), the commissioned work was revised in August of this year.
Each of the nine tracks accepts a title and conception of a geological process. Several address plate tectonics. Instead of an expected dominating sub bass and thundering drone, the frequency-blending often includes higher ranges. Formation de montagnes for example sounds reminiscent of a vintage sci-fi movie soundtrack. Marée crustale sweeps with delicious stereo panning as minimalist dynamics translate the briny shiftiness. Some of the work (which features Ida Toninato on baritone saxophone) is more easily conceptualized. There are obvious sonorous tidal and bubbly references.
Contributions come also from Daniel Áñez (piano on Dorsale médio-atlantique) and Claire Marchand who contributes flute on Geysers. Christian Olsen adds sparse, yet powerful drum kit performance on Dorsale médio-atlantique and Ondes sismiques. Fiona Ann Darbyshire contributed as scientific advisor. The predominant presence of electroacoustic effects, which define the album, are none more prevalent than during Magnétisme terrestre. Desired or not, the overall take-away affect of the album is a concrete eco-consciousness. There isn’t an ounce of proselytism herein. With subtleties and cool thematic structures Oscillations planétaires offers a grounds for legit conceptualization of ‘secrets of the deep,’ daftly demystified.
Commissioned by Deutschlandfunk Kultur in 2017 and broadcast first in July 2018, Oscillations planétaires evokes the larger geological cycles of planet Earth, from the eruptions of geysers and volcanoes to the motion of the tides and onwards to the formation of mountain ranges and the tectonic movements of the continental plates themselves.
Chantal Dumas uses both conventional instrumentation, synthesizers and other electronics over the course of just under an hour and nine movements to represent her impressions and elucidations of an entire planet-wide ecosystem in motion. So while there is much that directly connects to the sounds of land masses at their most active, much of Oscillations planétaires is necessarily impressionistic, the electronics wavering their metaphorical constructions in pulsating loops and babbling tones, their own low-frequency oscillations unable to run quite at geological rates.
The way in which the plates crumble and crash on Convection mantellique is particularly striking, where magma bubbles and boils below like the liquid musculature rippling beneath the subsurface, and the Geysers spurt and hubble under the huffing and skittering sounds of Claire Marchand ‘s flute, sputtering and rustling like eddies of superheated steam waiting to burst free. This it does, with ominous drama and a wetly resonant force, and the way which the soundscape is constructed is at once breathtaking and invigorating. Meanwhile, Formation de montagnes seems to build the high peaks from electronic modulations, its rippling beeps and rolling drones combining like the machinery that The Radiophonic Workshop might have used to represent Slartibartfast‘s fjordal constructions in the original broadcast of The Hitch-hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy.
Dumas lets the music sway and unfold, introducing searing banks of filtered waves and the occasional hint of a human chorale wafting on the swarming reverberations as formants drift lazily into the melded sonorities of Marée crustale, and the terminal sussurus of Plaque antarctique de loin en loin is plaintively mournful, marking the part of the planet’s surface undergoing perhaps its most shocking and profound moment of humanity-induced change.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Magnétisme terrestre offers the best opportunity for her to let the synthesizers do their electrical thing, tickling streams of oscillator burble and radio static hum weave in and out of a continuous magnetic storm that flickers like a fading fluorescent tube. Likewise, though the doomiest moment might well be expected on Ondes sismiques, instead Christian Olsen roughs up his drums, rolling thunderously as the ground shakes and a wailing warning sounds as the shape and face of the Earth’s foundations are rearranged.
Daniel Áñez (un)prepares and repurposes his piano while Olsen caresses and flutters at his drumkit to plumb the depths of the Dorsale médio-atlantique, the dark and relatively unexplored waters and its pigmentless denizens glimpsed in the fluid tapping of the keys and the counterpointed percussion. It feels suitably horizonless, up and down rendered at different scales, heaving with anticipation as much as hinting at the vastness lurking beyond visible distances, though any threat is perhaps illusory this far down in the uncaring deeps, waters rushing and lapping at the senses as an interface between land and sea is finally achieved.
As evocations of the grandeur of terrestrial existence goes, Oscillations planétaires is rather remarkably successful, its balance between simulation and abstract allusion finely judged. This is not so much an ambient soundtrack as it is a startling paean to a world that will nevertheless endure, no matter how much relatively puny humanity might have realised belatedly that it has effected an apparently unstoppable series of environmental catastrophes on its only home. But Earth will abide, even if its bipedal surface-dwellers may not do so for much longer in the style to which they had recently liked to become accustomed. The Oscillations planétaires will continue for another aeon or so; though entropy will inevitably claim the solar system too one day.