empreintes DIGITALes shines the torch the UK way sometimes, like they’ve done earlier with CDs devoted to Denis Smalley (well, ok, he’s originally from New Zealand… and that’s far, from a North European point of view, but you know, some say Sirius is home, some Betelgeuse), Jonty Harrison, Adrian Moore (soon here with another CD) and Natasha Barrett (who left the UK for Norway). Pete Stollery just released his first collection on an empreintes DIGITALes DVD-Audio. By the way, those great sounding DVDs also contain the whole set in mp3s, too, as well as in other formats, and you can listen in regular stereo or in surround. These are fantastic discs, and they sometimes contain more music than can be fitted onto a regular CD, which is the case with this disc.
The British series continues here with Mathew Adkins’ DVD-Audio, called Mondes inconnus.
Looking around at home I find a couple of Adkins pieces spread out on two Cultures électroniques CDs; No. 10 from 1997 (Pagan Circus) and on No. 15 from 2001 (Noumena). I also locate the Six Winners CD from The Stockholm Electronic Arts Award after a while, where Adkins participate with Melt from 1994, awarded in 1995.
Adkins studied music at Pembroke College, Cambridge (UK), becoming a member of the BEAST (Birmingham Electroacoustic Sound Theatre) in 1993. Studies followed with Jonty Harrison and Simon Waters. Mathew Adkins has worked at EMS, Stockholm, Groupe de Recherches Musicales and IRCAM in Paris, the Heinrich Strobel Studio in Freiburg and elsewhere. From having composed exclusively for the acousmatic concert media, Adkins has diversified his efforts to also include electronic music for modern dance and multimedia works.
The composer defines this work as “the slow evolution of an imagined landscape”. That’s good. That sets the dreamy pace, decides the post-and-beyond consciousness of electroacoustic listening required here. It could be the programmatic note of much good electroacoustic music being recorded. Something comes out of nothing, passes into our perception and becomes something, later to leave this realm into… nothing. Beautiful! Just like everything! Impermanence. That which isn’t eternal isn’t very real (I said that!), and “nothing is real”. John Lennon said that, the lamas say that. Of course, they’re all right — and alright!
Out of silence: a trace of light shimmering just above the horizon, growing in intensity, flowing out to the left and the right, closing in on you across these wastelands of human suffering, which is the content of, and reason for, this planet among the planets; a rest stop for coming to terms, for corrective measures. The music twists and tosses, like was it trying to get out of some kind of grip; perhaps illustrating the grip of matter on this consciousness that for all practical an impractical reasons is completely immaterial, completely elusive and imagined, just like this abstract music, which flows and slides and lights up in a million tossed cigarette butts in the wind on depressive Bogart October evenings after work with leaves glued to the asphalt and lonely bodies scurrying off in the darkness under their umbrellas, eager for their aimless and pointless little corners of cozy amnesia in front of flickering screens… “Let me forget about today until tomorrow…”
Mathew Adkins’ music in Mapping is ghostly, windy, without any kind of mercy. It wrings you out of yourself in jingly incidents that yell out of the storm of sounds. Singular events come banging by in explosive closenesses, like closed-up fates too damned even for the most extended of salvations, unsaved even by a lethal dose… The soundscape edges over from the cruel to the beautiful. In the massive force of the audio I feel like I’m being hoisted up and away inside huge church bells, and I hear out-of-whack angelic voices ringing far, far inside my mind. Adkins’ soundworld grows immensely exciting and rewarding, calling for many run-throughs before I get a real grip on it. I like that. If it gets too easy to listen I get suspicious and start looking for the catch. There are no catches here; just cross-legged moments to travel, roaring situations to handle; coffee shop signs flickering by in up-tempo youths.
I enjoy the way Mathew Adkins delivers drones in glaring beauty together with bumpy granite and drizzling gravel. His sounds are so rich, flowing off in massive sound-slides under tonal glaciers of might. Dry, crackling sounds that might be identified as real are shown on a backdrop of fairytale rings out of enchanted marsh mellow stories, observed through aquariums and heard under siege. It’s a matter of beauty and danger, small town realism and fantasy, all coming together in one brilliant electroacoustic composition: Mapping. I wouldn’t have it any other way!
Adkins defines Aerial as landscape music: “… a sonic photograph of the hills and mountains […] where I currently live in the north of England.” I get the impression of a landslide at the outset; a side of a mountain eroding away in one last submission to planetary gravity. It’s a wave of grainy gray sounds in motion. Soon I determine large bodies of matter in dark, hot friction, like the mountains on either side of a valley having a geological quarrel. Out of this brute scenery beauty arises, you could say: glossy bands of audio, drone-like expressions in candybar colors slowly swelling, contracting, swelling, spiraling, as the duration of the piece expands down the time axis while visions expand up the consciousness axis. Prickly, black insect sounds are spread across this event like peppercorns, indicating miniature worlds all over the premises, the humans unawares. Adkins makes the most of this combination of large, swelling beautifications and tiny insect interferences.
Some very deep, dark ambiences occur after a while, straining the limits of the sound bubble; the particular dimension of Aerial. As this is being introduced, Adkins gets ever more detailed and fine-tuned, microscoping through the planetary surface on spider leg outings in curious screwing and winding sonic ripples of semi-transparency. Right here I see that he’s creating sound worlds in the likeness of François Bayle and Bernard Parmegiani, and he’s definitely up to the task. It works. He brings us into those enchanted gardens that I’ve always enjoyed most in European — especially French — electroacoustic art. Here he lets the sound swivel around like a spinning top; the sound rotating at high speed right in front of you, center stage, the same way Terry Riley began his illusionist career with Untitled Organ in New York in 1966 with an Indian harmonium. Mathew Adkins achieves a similar sonic illusion here, with his electronic machinery and his sonic sensitivity.
Events move rapidly now, and in a guttural accent Adkins brings us back into the brute, grainy mounds of black coal of Northern England. He swings his electroacoustic wand of environmental anxiety across these lands, in a gesture of good medicine, bringing an envisioned age of healing to the tormented territories. The force of the soundings is immense, brought on in divine wrath. The sonic vision is blurred in the process, due to the shaking and rumbling of focused good will. It’s like riding a shaking runaway train.
Soothing, see-through moments are mixed-in with the tour-de-force of might, giving breathing space in views of soaring jet plane traces across the evening sky; arrows heading waywardly away, away. The ticking, tickling cricket audio reemerges towards the end, as spatiality of the sounds increases and the atmosphere cools off and night settles over these observed areas. Mighty!
Adkins says that Deepfield forms a pair with the former Aerial, “both exploring similar materials with differing sonic results”. For sure, he raises his gaze considerably, widening the material of observation from a landscape in Northern England to the intergalactic voids, talking about the Hubble telescope in his introduction, and about the images it has brought humanity of distant worlds; distant in space, distant in time. He explains that “Deepfield is a sonic exploration of these terrae incognitae”. As a structural model for the musical exploration he uses the most distant stars, the quasars, nucleuses of “primordial galaxies” at the rim of human perception.
The piece opens in grand style, perhaps in the mimicry of flowing, bulging electromagnetic force fields, in refined and artistically molded versions that nonetheless have some traits in common with the force fields of, for instance, our system neighbor Uranus, which have been recorded by the Voyager II space probe on 24th January 1986 and played back in our atmospheric milieu as audible sound. A parenthetical observation is that those electromagnetic vibrations through space around Uranus — i.e. the ones the specially built instruments onboard Voyager recorded — all oscillate at frequencies ranging from 20 — 20000 cycles per second: within the range of human hearing (not at my age, but perhaps when you’re around 10 or something…). What I want to point out in relation to the Voyager II recordings in this lengthy parenthesis is that no other manipulation to the electromagnetic vibrations were applied than a simple translation at the retained frequencies to audible atmospheric compressions. Nowadays you can listen to all kinds of space “sounds” on the web, for example on this NASA site, and at the University of Iowa space sound site. Speaking about space sounds, I can’t refrain from mentioning a Terry Riley venture from a few years back, when he wrote music for The Kronos Quartet to be performed with sounds and images from space. The work is called Sun Rings and was commissioned, indeed, by NASA! When Riley visited Sweden in 2002 he brought with him CDs with space sounds that he played back to the attendants of a seminar he held in Stockholm.
Returning to Mathew Adkins and Deepfield, I observe with a listener’s delight the bell-like qualities of the initial blooming sounds, and maybe the growing fields of stars that are passers-by on the speedy route of an imagined Deepfield traveler would appear like blooming lilies of the night… As I continue listening I feel the glare of overtones wash trough my perception like neutrinos through subterranean water tanks. I note that Adkins right here takes on the guise of a John Chowning in a sonorous conversation with Michael Obst: a Turenas exchanging views with a Crystal World! It’s wrangling, spiraling, turning and bending motion throughout, yes, in the general behavior of whales rising to the surface, blowing, turning over and diving, heavily but graciously, on the backdrop of snowcapped summits inland.
Deepfield loans a lot of its sound imagery from the 1980s, but that isn’t said with any criticism at all. On the contrary, Adkins utilizes these electronic characteristics with bravura, and displays them in a rare light of sonic beauty. Midway, the sound ruptures, and ghostly whispers and sharp showers of gravel appear in the intervals between silences. Everything stops to think, before moving on again, in the looming shadows of distant thunder. A process at mineral levels continues, helplessly, moving as it must, in the direction of least resistance, filling out whatever cracks or crevasses there may be with rushing sounds of fluids and grains, like monstrous lahars after volcanic eruptions.
More in line with the semi-programmatic intentions of the composer, these sounds of rushing and stirring may as well be the expressions of stellar flares and wavy magnetic fields in deep space — and as the sounds die down into a wondrous beauty of restful drones, I marvel at a ray of light that has traveled 13 billion years to reach my retina and light up the visual center in the back of my brain like a torch. All places are here! All times are now!
Still Time (2001)
A mixed-form piece makes its entry onto this hitherto very specialized acousmatic album. Mathew Adkins lets the tune begin on a Kathinka Pasveer nuance of Kathinkas Gesang; Stockhausen’s flute-and-electronic guidance of consciousness through the Bardo of after-life. The flute breathes and spits, cuts like a samurai sword through a veil of overtones, trills and sings; sings in the voice of female metal vocal chords modulated through the saliva-rich caves of oral cavities lining up at eyelevel all around the listening space.
Toneless sounds serve to contour the tonal sounds, which echo and swirl between the walls of here and now in a thin cloud of Heisenberg uncertainty imperfections.
The music is more lyrical than usual here — compared to the former Adkins pieces on the disc — displaying a vision in my mind of a boy god in golden locks walking a sunny Mediterranean beach under blue skies in a golden age of the past, when gods weren’t very unlike human beings.
Melt has a clear programmatic idea as its starting-point: a 30-kilometer train ride from Adkins’ (at that time) home in Warwick to the Birmingham studio. He says that the piece also draws on Joseph Mallord William Turner’s (1775-1851) painting Rain, Steam and Speed (1844), in the sense that Turner, in his later works, used to paint over more definable objects, dissolving the harder lines. Moreover, Adkins confesses to making references to Pierre Schaeffer’s early musique concrète piece Étude aux chemins de fer (which is part of Cinq études de bruits from 1948, released on [by the GRM])
Wildly panning, the event kicks in, sounding a train horn right off, while pneumatic steering of train car doors mimicries the steam of both Turner and Schaeffer! The horn signal becomes an extended, slow, downward glissando in the hands of Mathew Adkins, also picking up other forms of sounds along the way, which also adhere to the droning glissandi behavior. Like spoils of reality to vainly hold on to, voices through train station speakers are thrown in the kettle, but you’re inescapably pulled down into the maelstrom of sonic illusions, where you soon discover that those spoken-word instances are just as unreal as the rest, just happening to sound like something you feel safe with, something so human on the face of the Earth…
The music slowly bends forward like an old man in an armchair, moving in slow-motion near the outer limits of his life… and as the man falls to the floor, into the bardo of after-life as he reaches for his morning paper, the music swirls around him, around us, in a whirlwind of bending benevolence and half-healed scars of ill deeds that we’ve allowed to happen to us and to our kids. It all comes together, the squirting of water on a cat in heat and the lonely gaze out of a dog’s eyes in the late 1950s or a boy deeply disappointed in his father in the 1990s. It never goes away, and it always comes back — it all comes together… and this music sounds like that fact: karmic, final; sonic winds rushing in from all directions, filling up this here and now with core significance… while “boxcars boxcars boxcars [go] racketing through snow toward lonesome farms in grandfather night” — leaving echoes of the final stanzas of Ulf Lundell’s Rialto: “Kom och möt mig på Rialto, i ett ljummet regn; på Hotel Danieli har dom bäddat en säng. Håll det där leendet levande; det är det bästa du har. Möt mej på Rialto om du har din längtan kvar…”
Reading the composer’s introduction to Symbiont before actually listening makes me curious. He talks about a number of “hidden quotations”, from, among other works, Henry Purcell’s (1659–1695) Dido and Aeneas (1689). He also explains that the work is inspired by the writings of science fiction novelist William Gibson (born 1948 in the U.S., lives in Canada) and the artworks of surrealist HR Giger (Switzerland 1940). As an overarching characteristic of the piece, Adkins uses the expression “balancing opposites”.
It soon appears that this is a daredevil, tour-de-force pop music electronica scene watched through a distorting mirror, which pulls the music brutally and grotesquely out of whack — but not without beauty, and certainly with ample finesse and style. Not even when the thumping all but tears the elastic audio behind and below it to shreds do you wake up from the dreamy property of the music. You simply integrate the unusual bumpiness with the general dream scope, and there you are, soaring off in a Harlequin outfit across candy bar cities of a world born out of the corner of a munching goblin. This is Mathew Adkins’ Symbiont: cotton candy sci fi music with a latticework of semi-transparent tendons working the anatomies of cyborgs from the ugliest part of your mind…
Silk to Steel (2005)
Well, well, this also makes for interesting reading, i.e., the composer’s booklet intro to Silk to Steel. The work is a present for Mathew Adkins’ close friend, composer Christopher Fox, who turned 50 and entered the death half (as we like to say in Sweden: döhalvan!) in early 2005. Adkins uses fragments from Fox’s piano piece Prime Site (1997), weaving his electroacoustic variations around it, “making use of prime number sequences to order material as well as other structural parameters…”
The fragility of the outset almost fools you; the brittle, sparse piano tones treading cautiously ahead, stopping to look, to listen, like a cat with one paw lifted, in complete attention. The real circumstances are soon revealed in thunderous blows of the electronic hammer, coming down hard in ebony and ivory, tearing strings and hammers out of the body of the instrument to wind them around the neck of the performer… or you may hear this as an erotic initiation rite at the mercy of a grand piano, roses spread all around, the body of the instrument taking you in, sensually soothing and exciting your senses, or vice versa, engulfing you in erotic pleasures of lacquered hardwood and tense strings, the vibrations of which tickle your senses, eventually letting your pleasure loose in a havoc of sexual eruptions, hammers and bolts and strings erupting in a pianistic intercourse that finally leaves you relaxed and soft as a summer’s breeze among Bronze Age burial mounds of Northern Scandinavia…
Mathew Adkins’ piece Cortex is the beginning third of a prospected trilogy “that explores the notions of identity in digital space”. Furthermore, he explains that he is inspired in this by ideas of writers Isaac Asimov (1920–1992) and William Gibson.
Cortex emerges more ominously than most other tracks on this disc, in an immediate middle register drone that harbors squirting sounds (as if from squeezed lemons) and vicious electronic laughter way inside the sound web; the laugh of a witch. The wonderful and the terrible merge in this witch, in this music, soaring this way and that in swinging pendulum motions. Crackling, creaking sounds investigate the strength of a rocking chair in a far-away hut in the forest. Other sounds, indicating electric discharges and sparks, leave a pungent smell of welding — so the situation is confused. Has the witch’s house in the tale of Hansel and Gretel turned into a repair shops for old Volkswagen buses?
Adkins makes good use of spatiality, and his generous blending of crusting, individual sounds rolling and thudding down a slowly tilting plane of drones makes for excitement as you turn the volume up! Later you start to hear guttural goblin voices in a kind of funkhouse manner, as a higher pitched echo of said voices ring in bead progressions deeper inside the varied soundscape. There’s not much chance of registering all that happens in one take, so repeated listening is my recommendation for Cortex!
The confusion of Cortex is inspiring, though, as if Adkins wanted to end this brilliant and relentlessly beautiful and venomous disc with a chaos that, as they say, is close to God; yes, as if he wanted to stir everything there is into a cloud of sonic debris, albeit in an orderly fashion: a kind of constructive destruction, as Shiva dances away with our senses… clearing the ground once again for Brahma and Vishnu — and so it goes on and on, as we go on and on, as the beat goes on…