Not so long ago, electronic music was the province of those lucky enough to be able to gain access into the squeaky clean labs of IRCAM or similar institutions, where large, impossibly expensive boxes festooned with dials and flashing lights awaited the bidding of the composer. Now that a similar level of wizardry is achievable with just the aid of a laptop, and contemporary electronica made in bedrooms all over the world enjoys cutting edge status, it’s tempting to wonder what the point of ‘classical’ electronic music actually is…
A graduate of Jonty Harrison’s B.E.A.S.T. project, Natasha Barrett’s approach is highly rigorous, borne of compositional rather than improvisational process. Though on paper her methods can seem a bit dry, her music is posessed of an overtly sensual and often awesome power that rivals anything else you’re likely to hear. Her ‘acousmatic’ techniques transform field recordings, percussion and voices into restless soundscapes that conjure up strange geographies buffetted by even stranger meteorological phenomena, cosmic forces on a massive scale or hallucinatory rainforests straight out of JG Ballard.
Barrett’s structural precision gives her pieces a strong sense of narrative as well as place. Tiny sonic fictions unravel throughout; footsteps recede over glassy, gong like tones. A door is opened, a cat enters, draws near, purrs and eats from a bowl seemingly placed in your left ear. You’re dragged through dense undergrowth packed with insects, or sat in a dripping cave listening to distant machines devouring the landscape. But most of all it’s her control of timbre that catches the ear again and again.
At times during the opening Three Fictions (Northern Mix) the immersion factor almost sent me into some deep alpha state, or the abstract sweep of millions of tiny oscillations produced such strange sensations in the small of my back I had to take my headphones off to catch my breath.
Lush, disturbing and beautiful all at once, Isostasie at once connects with the rich and strange concoctions of classic musique concrète, yet has a timeless quality lacking in the ephemeral world of contemporary electronica. Stunning.