Duncan Simpson, Musique Machine, April 26, 2017

Canadian David Berezan has since 2003 been director of the Electroacoustic Music Studios and the Manchester Theatre of Sound (MANTIS), both based at The University of Manchester, UK. His work tends towards a radicalising of the aesthetic and techniques first pioneered by Pierre Schaeffer and the GRM during the first wave of Musique Concrete. He describes his music as acousmatic and has travelled extensively collecting material for his compositions. Allusions sonores appears to be the first collection of his recorded works to be released.

There are five compositions presented here, each being around the ten minute plus mark in length, affording ample opportunity for the listener to lose themselves in the density of Berezan’s sound. The first piece is Buoy (2011) which builds its sound world around the characteristics and environment of sea buoys. Digital processing has affected a quantum leap in possibility for the composer of acousmatic music. Comparing the tape cutting techniques of Schaeffer and Henry to the array of digital tools available now is like holding up a stone axe to an eye surgery scanning laser. Berezan makes the most of his apparatus, contorting the signature bells and whistles atop of buoys into squealing artefacts of unidentifiable origin. The piece oozes atmosphere whether in the form of creaking metal or actual waves which frame the more abstract and uncanny sounds.

The most impressive piece for me — as it’s constructed via a highly limited range of sources, is Thumbs (2011). Spawned out of a single plucked sound from a Balinese thumb piano the composition is nevertheless layered with multiple manipulations and iterations of that same sound. It’s almost hard to believe that every click or drawn out intonation is derived from a single source. Where the fixation on such a limited pallet might have yielded to a sterile formalism (Schaeffer’s early studies are sadly a prime case in point) Berezan succeeds in drawing out the textural and harmonic complexity from his subject, weaving each derivation around the next and providing a fine example of how technical virtuosity rather than masses of sounds are key to this form of composition.

The last three pieces are perhaps more aptly described along the lines of Luc Ferrari’s anecdotal music, if only for the fact that each attempts through field recordings to capture something of a specific time and place. The first, Badlands (2008), uses material recorded in Berezan’s native Alberta, Canada evoking the environment of the prairie landscape. For such a seemingly pastoral image the music here is oddly alien sounding, full of drones, swirling swampy electronics and ghostly half-heard sounds. It invites comparisons with the darker corners of Roger Doyle’s Babel project or Bernard Parmegiani’s most out-there productions. Galungan (2010) takes us back to Bali, Indonesia where the minimalist pallet of sources from Thumbs is fully fleshed out into a sound world containing multiple timbres of Balinese instruments and voices. The composer took his microphones out into the rice paddies recording sounds of everyday work life as well as religious ceremonies. The result is a contemplative rather than exuberant study of tone and cultural soundscaping (as Hein Schoer might call it) where recognisable human elements are rather fleeting and the sounds in-between people and things are amplified.

Finally it’s Nijō (2009) that completes the set, taking us to Japan to explore the idea of “nightingale floors”. These are wooden floors in high status homes that cause a squeaking or chirping sound when walked upon, and acting like a primitive security system. There are some cracking (literally) processed sounds derived from wood in which splinters seems to fly off around the listeners ears, while huge tree roots grind against each other. There are more percussive elements here and there as is the occasional sonorous gong. But it’s the sudden passing of a bullet train that brings the piece into the 20th century along with some brief fragments of chanting, incidental speech and crowd noise that appear during the last quarter of the piece.

Berezan is clearly a virtuoso of this kind of electroacoustic music. Hopefully more of his work will become available as it’s a rare treat to experience such compositional and sonic depth in what can be quite a stuffy field.

Berezan is clearly a virtuoso of this kind of electroacoustic music. Hopefully more of his work will become available as it’s a rare treat to experience such compositional and sonic depth in what can be quite a stuffy field.

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