Review

Tae Hong Park, Array Online, November 18, 2002

Adrian Moore’s CD Traces (2000) showcases five electroacoustic music works from 1994 to 1997. All five pieces on the CD are acousmatic, i.e. they involve no intervention of ‘performed materials.’ Mr. Moore’s fluency and eloquence in manipulating and shaping sound objects such as recorded tinfoil, a marker pen, and balloons is of the highest craftsmanship. While listening to the tracks one can imagine him steering his magic mouse from pixel to pixel, and conjuring up sound images that often reveal no clear traces of their origins or roots. At the same time, as in the last piece Sieve for example, the composer does use recognizable and familiar sound sources but puts the listener in a new listening environment through strategic juxtaposition of those sound materials: “Normally one would listen to cars when approaching an intersection and listen to the birds or the wind in the trees as one walks along the sidewalk. If this was reversed and we listened to the cars as we walked along the sidewalk and the birds at the intersection, our relationships to the environment would be changed.”

Sieve also deals vividly and directly with the notion of space in music. In one section of the piece the listener is washed out from an interior sound space to an exterior one space a la ‘Ono Fluxus flush’. In another moment you’re inside a room that has a deafening silent feel of an anechoic chamber, listening to the ringing of a small carriage clock and the next moment you suddenly find yourself in the courtyard of a cathedral with its overwhelming ambience. The transportation occurs rapidly, yet in a consistently streamed projection achieved through the use of the timbral boolean product between the clock’s chimes and large bells from the church. Constant bizarre juxtapositions of sound objects that morph from the known to the unknown and unknown to the known appear throughout the piece and in some cases, sounds such as the church bells return transformed to a degree of ‘ambiguous certainty’, most notable towards the end of the recording. The listener is often induced to seek out residual traces of original sound sources that seem to be temporally and spectrally altered. However, one is in most cases given one second and one timbral feature too little to overcome one’s ‘uncertainty of certainty’ regarding the identity of the timbre.

The first track Junky (1996), according to Mr. Moore is ‘electroacoustic ambient’ music. One can quite easily hear both the ‘electroacoustic’ and ‘ambient’ elements in the piece although the heredity of the sounds themselves is digitally smeared via sonic treatment to render unrecognizable sound objects. The form however, is a more familiar one and follows an A, B, A+B, and a coda design with various ‘cadential’ points. In fact, traditional musical idioms such as melody, harmony, and rhythm appear in various parts in the piece. A slowly moving harmony, which strongly makes up the ambient part of Mr. Moore’s ‘electroacoustic ambiance’, mainly hovers around a steady C# major tonality omnipresent throughout the piece. However, the ambient moments are not something that would be regarded as ‘music for airports’: the smooth ambient clouds are constantly tagged with insect-like gestures that oscillate unpredictably between the foreground and background soundscapes. The idea of ‘electroacoustic ambient’ music further extends itself to the second track Dreamarena also composed in 1996. However, the ambient sound qualities soon become fainter and more aggressive gestural characteristics begin to color the piece. Insect-like sounds that resemble bits and pieces heard in the first track crawl all over the sonic terrain in Dreamarena and the compositional manipulations what seems like granular synthesis, accentuates the behavior of the tiny digital night-bugs.

Unlike the first two pieces, Study in Ink (1997) and Foil-Counterfoil (1997) use close-miking techniques to capture recognizable real-life sounds as a means to an end - to bring out concealed sonic layers of the recordings. The main starting sound in Foil-Counterfoil is not surprisingly tin foil. Mr. Moore uses the idea of ‘re-hearing’ the tin foil through the investigations of sonic features from other sources such as glasses, balloons, and bottles. In other words, the ‘counterfoil objects’ or the tin foil’s ‘opponents’ (bottles, glasses, etc.) serve as a means to reveal hidden sonic features of the tin foil itself. The low-level timbral feature extraction exercises in deconstructing the multidimensional make-up of the tin foil through seemingly unconnected sound objects and the highlighting of sonic intersections between the tin foil and unrelated sounds exemplifies Foil-Counterfoil. The listener is invited to hear and trace common sonic nodes, intersecting junctions, and acoustic overlaps between distantly related sound objects that he or she would not normally even try to link together. Study in Ink is similar to Foil-Counterfoil in that it deals with exposing different sound layers - comparing, relating, referencing, and incorporating it to other unrelated sound objects. However, in Study in Ink the composer uses the recording of a single marker pen only and transforms it into a variety of new sounds. Compositions based on single sound sources are of course not new - one of the earliest pieces being Pierre Henry’s Variations pour une porte et un soupir (1963). However, Adrian Moore takes the idea to a much higher dimension and sculpts the simple yet idiosyncratic sound object into a plethora of surprising, humorous, and musical objects. One is constantly surprised at the local sonic stops that are made until the piece reaches its final destination after 10 minutes and 22 seconds. For example, at one point the marker pen transforms into various types of quasi-birds, sheep, and insects. At another point in the piece the composer further stretches the spectral and temporal boundaries of the pen and places the listener in a virtual jungle with all its sonic and spatial intricacies. Yet in another moment, perhaps as homage to Pierre Henry, a door creaking gesture is made and at approximately 2’33” into the piece a quasi-human voice sighs out of the blue - somewhat reminiscent of Edgar Varèse’s sudden injection of a sighing female voice in Poème électronique (1958). But the vague similarity with Varèse’s piece only lasts for a very short moment as the quasi-human voice morphs into what seems to resemble a howling beast in the mountains of Transylvania?

Without a doubt Traces features an abundance of densely-populated aural soundscapes that bring about countless savoring moments of musicality, humor, surprise, and strategic placement of sound objects in time, keeping the listener extremely busy until the very last sound byte is spun out by the CD player. The meticulously placed sounds in space are also one of the highlights present in all five pieces on Traces. Perhaps his experience with the BEAST (Birmingham Electro Acoustic Sound Theatre) system inclined him to give particular importance to the spatial aspect of composition in this CD. Of all the interesting moments in the pieces however, possibly due to the unexpected contrast, one of the most beautiful moments on this whole CD is a dry and fleeting silent sector at the beginning of the last track.

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