Never to stay put within one musical style, British sound artist Monty Adkins’s music has shifted gears a bit over the years. This write-up will be concerned with the album Mondes inconnus, a collection of works he put together in 2006 (but has pieces dating from 1994). At that time, he was associated with BEAST (Birmingham ElectroAcoustic Sound Theatre) studying with fellow empreintes DIGITALes label mate Jonty Harrison. He has gradually drifted away from the acousmatic style of that label into a much more lowercase, minimalistic sound with his recent releases. Interestingly enough, he did diverge into all things dark ambient under the name Skrika with one album called Fifth Nature on the Cryo Chamber label in 2021.
There may be future observations from me about his recent output, but let’s focus on the earlier acousmatic works of Mondes inconnus. The format is DVD-Audio so that allows for a lot of musical content (and 5.1 sound)… of which there is, almost 90 minutes worth. Unlike some of the longer empreintes DIGITALes releases though, I didn’t get that feeling of vastness on this release. There is no sense of an overarching grand sonic landscape or vision like I felt, for instance on Ned Bouhalassa’s Gratte-cité or Annette Vande Gorne’s Haïkus. In the case of those two, I often felt that after hearing them I just completed a long acoustic saga, and I was even able to tell myself stories as if there was some contiguous narrative logic happening throughout. I’m not experiencing that on Mondes inconnus but, I don’t necessarily miss it either because, just as alluring… my senses were mobilized in a different way. A way that I was able to distill the eight tracks on this album (all in somewhat varied styles by the way), down to one commonality.
Smoothness (or polished, shiny, glossy… yes, a thesaurus comes in handy).
Reading the liner notes to Mondes inconnus there are certain related touchpoints that present themselves throughout many of the tracks, and they all share a celestial, speculative fiction, cyberpunk theme. This first manifests itself in Deepfield which was inspired by the Hubble space telescope and its ability to look back in time. On the piece Symbiont, Adkins straight out name checks HR Geiger and William Gibson (this was composed in 2002 so… rather retro in our time) and Cortex, crediting Gibson again along with Asimov (and I can swear I hear a vocoder in there too).
The subject matter and more importantly, the general vibe on these works suggests to me, in a kind of synesthetic manner a sense of physical texture. Thus, the smoothness, or glossiness mentioned above. This is not some Ridley Scott Blade Runner grit, but something closer to Lucas’s THX 1138 or Besson’s The Fifth Element. A sense of hard chrome-like coldness. For another reference point, if they ever want to bring Æon Flux back to the screen… someone should give Adkins a call.
Even pieces like Aerial, Mapping, and Silk to Steel that don’t share these retro-futurist themes bring out a tactile sense of running my fingers down a smooth, steel piece of sculpture with perfectly rounded edges and high reflectivity. No seams, just a continuous metallic surface.
The exception is the one mixed piece on the album, Still Time. This work has a wonderful flute performance by Alejandro Escuer which is equally paired and lightly transformed by Adkins well placed studio manipulations. Still Time is much less frenetic than most of the other works on this album and allows for a welcome sense of natural earthiness, even amidst its acousmatic accompaniments.
In addition to Mondes inconnus being another fine release on empreintes DIGITALes (a label that has a roster of fine releases so deep that I’m starting to take them for granted and I apologize to readers who are starting to hear the monotony in my words), I alluded earlier to the “way” I was able to experience the album. This very direct observation of sound inputs through my ears and outputting them as sensations of touch was never this sharply rendered for me. At least where I was able to write down words about it and intentionally examine it.
I’m going to try and not fall down the trap door of being overly analytical, but I suspect many, maybe most composers and musicians have experienced something similar. Now that I look back on the last few write-ups, there were certain descriptive comments I made that described the sounds I was hearing in a manner of using more than one sense. When I talked about the Dave Kerman / 5uu’s release I mentioned a “gossamer veil of dust” that inundated the sound field. On a more recent write-up about the band Pox, I thought the overall sound environment on the album was “REALLY small”. At the time, these were just simple observations. For deep listeners though, this may be a good way forward to increase enjoyment on future listens.
Right about now, you may think… so what? This is not really a new concept, but let me suggest that when it comes to the appreciation of acousmatic music it might have legs. For a newer listener, or a listener that maybe wants to try and understand a little more about why the music has an appeal when, on the surface they just sound like stray and random “sounds”, an observation like this may be significant.
It might clarify the intentions of the composer in a way that wasn’t visible previously. It might even enhance and bust open a new and fruitful way for your own personal listening. Feeling the beat in your gut is one thing, but equating sounds heard through the ears into physical touch sensations sounds like something different… something that may inform future acousmatic experiences.
In that respect, Mondes inconnus gets even higher marks than usual. I think this is what acousmatic music in general excels at and I’ll certainly be looking forward to the next multi-sensory experience.