Bruce Russell, Musicworks, no. 71, June 1, 1998

1998 marks the 50th anniversary of musique concrète. I was able to see a few Paris concerts celebrating this in the winter, and was in awe at the audience turnouts for electroacoustic and experimental music. One great thing about such music here in Canada is the empreintes DIGITALes label. If you want to know what’s going on in the scene, check out their releases. Their 1990 Électro clips disc was groundbreaking in its use of 25 exactly three minute tracks by 25 composers with a photo backing each loose page of liner notes (too bulky for the jewel case). As a document of electroacoustic music, it is invaluable.

Now it has a sequel, this time with only 24 new composers, but from all around the globe. Again, the music is telling. There seems to be less variation in style than with the earlier CD. perhaps because the label has cultivated a more well-defined aesthetic since then. With most of the pieces, the scale is reduced to the level of microscopic detail, appropriate to their three-minute length. Most gestures are brief. sound sources are disguised (whereas musique concrète composers only thought they disguised them, right?); the upper frequency range tends to predominate; many relate a small history. And what’s the fascination with little bird sounds present on one too many tracks? Was this a soundbyte given in advance to all the participants?

My favourite piece, Pufferfish by Mark Wingate, pulsates with moving water, and fully uses both the frequency spectrum and pan potential. Monique Jean’s Lacrimous is a darkly hued descent to the underworld. Roger Doyle’s The First Spirit Level is a closet door-opening sonic entities pouring out. With a self explanatory title, Katharine Norman’s Squeaky Reel, provides some tongue-in-cheek content. Mass, by Richard Karpen presents nicely contrasting ethereal and visceral materials. In Bad Room, Sylvia Eckermann and Mathias Fuchs work with refreshingly unprocessed sounds which evoke a strong, if squeamish response. The packaging is inventive, with only one quirk: the loose flap of cardboard which cradles the disc. Overall, a very cohesive CD experience with many levels and layers for ambient / not-so-ambient listening. Kudos to empreintes DIGITALes, but I could do without the damn squeaky birds, or whatever they are!

One great thing about such music here in Canada is the empreintes DIGITALes label.