Jeremy Keens, Ampersand Etcetera, no. 2001_6, April 1, 2001

A first for &etc — two disks from the renowned musique concrète/electroacoustic Québec label, in their unique cardboard constructed boxes. It also presented me with a challenge (which I hope I have achieved): to find a description appropriate to their work. It has struck me in the past when looking at ‘academic’ electroacoustic work (such as Philip Samartzis or some of the Metamkine) that these artists are working in an area which has its own theory and language, recognised across the ICAMs, departments they studied in and competitions that appear to be awarding prizes all the time (4 of the five tracks on Traces received ‘mentions’ or ‘places’). Yet my methodology of reviewing seems to me as even more inadequate than usual — the gestures and changes are so small, precise and rapid that the forest is lost for the pine needles. So I will immerse myself in them and try for a bigger picture. A quote from Moore seems appropriate — one of his tracks “reverts back to more abstract electroacoustic material, shaping form continuously and using gesture as the primary means of communication” which seems a pretty good description to me: and also leans towards some glitch/laptop artists. A great way in for me is Moore’s Study in Ink — as a lecturer I often enjoy dragging out the line of a whiteboard marker if it squeaks, and it seems that Moore noticed the sound as well, and applied his training. This track has one sound source — the marker pen. And what a web he weaves from it: generally you can hear the marker as it makes a gesture, but then the processing comes in to play — long echoed tones, pulsing beats, squeal, groans, trawls and sweeps, together with percussion and voices. There is an almost synaesthesia as you see a trail of movements follow and envelop the pen, sometimes hiding it all together, at others shrinking back into the image. Primarily entertaining, it demonstrates the possibilities available to the sound artist. The following track Foil-Counterfoil uses close-miked tin foil together with glasses, bottles and balloons: the whole thing shimmers and shifts, periods of intense small fragment activity, periods of relative stasis as things bubble away, streaming to the surface. Recognisable sounds shifting to manipulated echoes of themselves or pieces thrown together. A movement possibly discernable in the changes, a fascination in the drama. The first two pieces Junky and Dreamarena are both ‘abstract’ works — described with the quote above. Junky is more structured with “three main sections… and a more detailed structure… in each of the primary sections.” Electronic sounds (processed primary sources taken beyond recognition) play blippy, sqirly games (at times sounding like speech) over a sustained organ tone in the slow section, things speed up in the next section, the drone pulsing and the surface activity becoming denser, and finally an interchange between the two parts. The shifting structure works very nicely, giving an overall feel to the piece. Complex layered and drifting, Dreamarena lives up to its name and has that narrative feel you get from a dream — semirecognisable elements forming structured units which then slide into something else, providing some stability before sending you along new lines. It is not chaotic (in the original sense, though as with many pieces like this the fractal side of chaos science sometimes seems appropriate) but, to quote Robert Fripp (quoting Blake, I think) “resplendent in divergence.” And finally Sieve — a surreal soundscape. Sounds are taken from their natural environs, manipulated and thrown together: bird sounds and passing motors, complex swirling processed sounds, bells and horns layered and echoed against each other, breathing, coughing into a flushing, hubbling voices. The mind tries to extract a narrative, to ‘sieve’ out the main details, but is overwhelmed by the sheer volume; which nonetheless makes a dramatic auditory experience — sheer exhuberance, reflecting the feel of this disk. There is so much activity and all exciting and enticing.

… sonically fascinating.

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