Graeme Rowland, Brainwashed, May 5, 2002

The title translates as ‘The Edge of Noise’ which is very appropriate as this New Zealand based electroacoustic composer takes the everyday sounds of swings, rainfall and breath through magnified journeys and thorough transformations. The inherent noise in all these sounds is honed and clarified to its limit and then stretched and pulled into new elastic shapes, but there’s always a compositional rigour and exactness that keeps this far from chaotic onslaught.

Pythagoras’s Curtain starts with what sounds like chalk on a blackboard colliding with door knocks. Lots of creaking, low squeaking and rustling follow, panning from speaker to speaker. The sounds are deployed with precision and meticulous attention to stereo picture detail. Sudden drones burst out and rupture against nature. The title refers to the way in which Pythagoras would lecture from behind a curtain and draws a parallel to the way in which acousmatic music requires deep attentive listening divorced from other senses. Similar brutal yet focused transformations occur in the other pieces. Inner takes sharp intakes of breath and overly dramatic exhalations on an asthmatic nightmare trip which opens up gaping windswept canyons from the human lung before collapsing it into wheezing asphyxia and abstracted whirling vortices. There’s a very claustophobic feel to much of this breathscape. Virtual takes recordings of wind through a similar if predictably more violent ride, but the feeling here is of open vastness. The squeaking swing that Time, Motion and Memory hinges on instantly recalls Pierre Henry’s ‘Variations Pour Une Porte et Un Soupir’ but takes on forms far beyond the capacity of old tape splicing, as Young reimagines the swing as a giant pendulum cutting back and forth through other environmental sounds. There’s a thick fog of nostalgic childhood memory gathering for the most moving and haunting track here. It’s soon washed away by the rain falling from the Liquid Sky, in crisp drenched drain swilling eddies. This is perhaps the most varied and violent track by default as the different surfaces that rain hits flood wide sonic spectra. Through academic studio alchemy enabled by empreintes DIGITALes, John Young makes explicit the drama and strangeness of everyday sounds, and draws deep shadows in the spaces between them.

John Young makes explicit the drama and strangeness of everyday sounds, and draws deep shadows in the spaces between them.