Review

Simon Cummings, 5:4, May 23, 2016

The latest crop of releases from Canadian label Empreintes DIGITALes has proved as thought-provoking as ever, offering extremely diverse approaches to electronic music, with similarly varied results. Lépidoptères, a new 40-minute cycle of music by composer Monty Adkins in collaboration with recorder player Terri Hron, takes its inspiration, as the name implies, from families of butterflies and moths. The relationship between the various recorders used and the electronic sounds is deliberately flexible, allowing Hron scope for improvisation both materially and structurally. Selections from a distinct palette of sounds are triggered randomly, creating a ‘habitat’ for Hron, which are subsequently shaped by envelopes that, in Adkins’ words, “focus on specific families or combinations of families of sounds”. The first thing to say is that Lépidoptères is generally at some remove from the ambient aesthetic that’s characterised the majority of Adkins’ work in recent years. That in itself is a welcome and interesting development. In its place is a soundworld more spontaneous and unpredictable, where one’s listening focus is drawn primarily to the shifting, moment-by-moment articulations and textural shadings. The relationship between acoustic and electronic is well-balanced, neither predominating overall, taking turns to assume predominance in the foreground. It’s a work that, to my mind, takes time to establish itself, only really finding a foothold from the third movement, Saturniid, where the recorder is surrounded on all sounds by dense, broad agglomerations of colour and minute slivers of ticklish sonic stuff. There’s something primordial, elemental about it, carried over into the more overtly meandering environment of Anisoptera, where everything becomes simultaneously more considered yet very much more demonstrative, passing through some simply delicious episodes that stomp all over the myth that acoustic and electronic sounds can’t convincingly cohere. Hron teases out some fantastical material from her instruments, going some way towards redefining our perception of them. Taken as a whole, Lépidoptères is a nicely strange and engrossing cycle, one that finds a telling compromise between the immediacy of beauty and a more radical exploration into modes of behaviour and interaction.

Taken as a whole, Lépidoptères is a nicely strange and engrossing cycle, one that finds a telling compromise between the immediacy of beauty and a more radical exploration into modes of behaviour and interaction.