Review

Pierre-Luc Sénécal, Musicworks, no. 126, September 1, 2016

Montréal-based James O’Callaghan confirms his position as a world-class composer with the release of Espaces tautologiques, his first album on the Empreintes Digitales label. Composed between 2011 and 2015, the four acousmatic pieces on this fifty-minute recording are further proof of O’Callaghan’s remarkable technical proficiency and virtuosity.

Sounds are at war, ferociously whizzing from speaker to speaker. Recordings of the sounding bodies of guitars, pianos, and a string quartet are torn apart and crashed against outdoor soundscapes or dramatically ruptured by punchy thumps and propelled violin tremolos.

O’Callaghan has cited Bernard Parmegiani as an influence, and he shares with that late composer a fondness for sculpting sound, as he imperceptibly turns car horns into wailing cries and elsewhere refines the hidden musicality of a ticking clock. Indeed, amidst the shredded samples of instruments, the composer uses the click of a lamp switch, the drop of a pencil, and other anecdotal sounds in such a way as to impart a sense of soul, which is clear to the listener. Those quirky, stranger sounds are brought to life in a thickly layered polyphony. In-depth exploration of these compositions requires several listens.

While any one of these pieces is undoubtedly spectacular in concert, for listening to a string of four you need breathing space around each to fully appreciate them. The constant tension and density of the music make each composition an intense listening experience. Less would definitely be more for O’Callaghan’s next release.

The constant tension and density of the music make each composition an intense listening experience.

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