AMN Review

Mike Eisenberg, Avant Music News, 28 novembre 2022
lundi 28 novembre 2022 Presse

Like Annette Vande Gorne, another artist that has undeservedly flown under my radar is Åke Parmerud. As I have been recently re-acquainting myself with his music the usual question comes up… where do I start? Well, he has quite a few very strong releases on the empreintes DIGITALes label, so it came down to me engaging in a highly scientific, researched-based, empirical process… I threw a dart. I’m glad his most recent release, Bruit noir (Black noise) was the chosen one since now I’ve been given a hook that will allow me to work my way backwards on future Parmerud installments by way of comparing/contrasting and framing some sort of evolutionary change in style. At least that’s the plan.

Åke Parmerud seems like a guy that someone like me, someone who is “just” the listener, can deeply relate to. In the early 90’s he wrote a paper called Tendencies in electro-acoustic composition [http://www.parmerud.com/downloads/On%20Electro-acoustic%20music.pdf]. I’ve linked to it for two reasons; 1) it’s really short and very easy to digest and 2) in its brevity he identifies, in layman’s terms some commonly held criticisms about electroacoustic music, why they rightfully exist, and measures to avoid them. I’ve personally found his opinions expressed here very relevant as they pertain to the whole electroacoustic space so, please indulge this rather long prologue before I get to the album. (I HIGHLY recommend reading the paper, it’s refreshingly down to earth.) 

Paraphrasing, he starts out by defining the terms “sound”, “event” and “object”. “Sound” is the raw material in which music is constructed, “sound event” is an action taking place on a certain timeline, and “sound object” is the representation of a complex process that makes up a recognizable structure which can also be distinguished from other “sound objects”. I see it as one or more “sound events” strung together. It’s all very hierarchal. 

These terms are important because, as he says:

“Ever since the art of instrumentation entered the music history, composers have been, to a certain extent, preoccupied with sound in its own sense. But in no music was the sound structure a major compositional means until electronic and concrete music appeared in the late forties.”

Ok, well that’s great, but it’s also fraught with danger as far as the electroacoustic composer is concerned (sorry for the long quote, but it’s salient, bolding is mine).

“I sometime get the impression that some composers really don´t want to be responsible for the sound of the piece at all. If they had the money they would simply compose a structure and leave it to some skilled programmer to put sounding flesh on the bare bones. I do not believe that it is truly possible to separate event structure and sound structure in electroacoustic music. They have to be worked on in parallel, tuned and retuned until the optimal relation has been achieved. Without this relation, the music will not be artistically convincing and of little or no interest to the audience. At least it could not be regarded as sonic art, but rather as an alien form of instrumental music. I do believe that a composer of electroacoustic music must take the full responsibility for creating a complete musical structure where sound and event structures are mutually dependent and inexchangeable. If he can’t handle that, he´s most likely better off composing some other kind of music.”

That all makes waaaay too much sense! I appreciate the straightforward, non-technical language he uses… not something you run into much when reading about this music.

Starting with MIDI technology, Parmerud sees many electroacoustic practitioners concerning themselves, and subsequently getting bogged down with the technically daunting process of making this music instead of the more important “how does it sound” result.

“People in conferences and seminars and festivals will talk for hours about intricate control structures, grammars, fractals, sensors and God knows what, but surprisingly little about sound, art or music.”

“I still believe that a good electroacoustic composition always starts with the composer reflecting on the structural and poetic resources of the sounds from which the piece is to be built. The day composers stops wrestling and experimenting with sound-structures, the term sonic art will have no meaning anymore.”

And the danger comes from the other direction too, as Parmerud points out;

“Unfortunately, sonic art seems to attract some composers who have very rudimentary ideas about composing. All to often a piece may demonstrate some interesting sound material but at the same time be conspicuously void of anything even remotely related to concept, structure, dialectics or poetry. These works simply presents one attractive sound after the other or, if things gets a bit more dense, on top of each other until they eventually disappear into the silence from which they so mysteriously transmogrified themselves earlier.”

Parmerud even goes as far as to hint at what needs to happen (and in my opinion, has happened to a degree) to put the electroacoustic space back on the straight and narrow (bolding mine again);

“We must dare to be more personal, more specific, more unpredictable. We need to build up a new set of sounding symbols and signs that will allow us to communicate with the audience. A new kind of spectral harmonic system, adopted to sonic art, is yet to be invented and investigated. The rhythm of electroacoustic music has to be redefined and reinstalled as a major musical attribute, which will enable us to develop more complex time-relations between an increasing number of layers of sound objects. It is time to leave the mono-linear state and learn how to expand into a multi-dimensional musical space where poly-linear composing will be the electroacoustic equivalent of the traditional polyphony.”

I think Parmerud really speaks the truth here, and he does so in the clearest, simplest, and most logical way I’ve yet to read. I know these quotes are almost 30 years old but, for me, the message they convey is of extreme importance. He chucks into the dumpster the high falutin tweed-jacket-speak and casts away the esoteric, hidden knowledge vibe reserved for the Hermetic few up in the Tower. He talks to us, not AT us! 

But what about Bruit noir? Parmerud may be talking the talk, but does he walk the walk? Yes, he does… and you don’t have to go much further than the 33-minute opener, Louder Than Life to hear it. The “polyphony” he talks about is brought out in this piece in the way he masterfully layers sound over other sound.

There are lots of moving pieces within Louder Than Life but all these pieces are in service to the final goal. His pallet of raw sound is vast, but Parmerud isn’t just throwing random events against a black canvas. The piece is split up into 5 movements, and to really appreciate the overarching beauty, I think it’s best listened to in its entirety. Like Francis Dhomont before him, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts and, when looked at in retrospect… the flow of this piece makes complete sense.

Along the way, the listener will encounter enough surprises, mood shifts, undulating sonic landscapes, (some totally alien while others are as familiar as a symphony orchestra), and especially, some uber dramatic tension build-and-release moments with incredible dynamics.

When I was a kid, I used to listen to my King Crimson, Yes, and Gentle Giant albums where I would only pay attention to what one instrument was doing. If I was in a Bruford mood, I would key on the drums, a Fripp mood… the guitar, a Squire mood… the bass, a Minnear mood… the keys, etc. On Louder Than Life, the mind is willing, but the body is weak because Parmerud’s “polyphony” is dialed up to extremely high levels. You can try, and I have… to key on to some of the perpetually shifting currents of sound objects but, as soon as they appear, they poof off into the mists and the brain needs to reset itself again. By then you’ve already missed a couple more easter eggs that were already taking root. This is still a fascinating and rewarding exercise because, experientially, each listen is its own thing. 

Bruit noir is a high recommendation for this piece alone, but the fun continues with Raw and Dark Matter, the other two works on the album. Raw is a commissioned piece and was created by “the most uncontrollable software synthesizer I have ever encountered”. Parmerud calls the piece a “composed improvisation” and I thought to myself well, here might be a good test to see if the composer can stay true to his intentions of keeping the “concept, structure, dialectics or poetry” within the music. In other words, is Raw going to come out sounding like the millions of other noodling modular synth pieces I’m starting to get sick of?

Happily, no! (You probably knew that.) Parmerud does something here that surprised and impressed me… he uses restraint. Instead of sounding like some bedroom knob twirling, patch cord shuffling exercise of getting your rocks off with the latest shiny object, the piece is quite reserved, in some spots… sparse. Not only do we have some bizarre and exotic sounds and structures but there is also a sense of narrative… albeit a strange one, no matter how you look at it. The “alien-ness” and controlled randomness of Raw acts as a great “other” to the more composed and organic “Louder Than Life” but then we come to Dark Matter.

The concept behind Dark Matter is compelling, to say the least. Rather than being about esoteric, alchemical knowledge… the Dark Matter in question is;

“… a sonic “matter” that we cannot normally hear, but which surrounds us wherever there are electrical appliances. Microwave ovens, cell phones, computers, light bulbs… all emit fields of electromagnetic energy. These fields can be measured, recorded and made audible using special detection devices. The majority of the sounds in the piece are recordings of these sounds.”

The first time I visited Australia, my initial reaction was one of familiarity. Everyone spoke English, had lawns they needed to mow, there were birds flying, insects chirping, strip malls everywhere. It wasn’t till later that I started to “notice” things. The grass on those lawns didn’t look like the grass I was familiar with, the birds certainly didn’t look the same, don’t get me started with the insects, and the strip malls had stores that sold things made by companies I’d never heard of. Well, listening to Dark Matter I got that sense of the familiar but, upon further review… and knowing where the sounds are coming from, this is truly a different, unfamiliar type of sound. And, keeping true to form… these “different” sounds still manage to flow in a natural manner. It’s comforting in a way, when the mind doesn’t have to be at odds with the music… it makes the experience that much easier and pleasurable.

Dark Matter, like its two other brethren on Bruit noir demonstrates Parmerud’s intent at building a “new kind of spectral harmonic system”. I think the musical concepts used in all three of these excellent works can be used as jumping-off points for further study and future compositions. I’m looking forward to more detailed forays into his back catalog to see how he got there but, in the meantime… Bruit noir did an excellent job of connecting with this listener on a multitude of levels.

Bruit noir did an excellent job of connecting with this listener on a multitude of levels.

In ‘Difficult Grace,’ a Cellist Moves Beyond Classical Confines

Anastasia Tsioulcas, The New York Times, 20 novembre 2022
lundi 21 novembre 2022 Presse

In his wide-ranging multimedia program at the 92nd Street Y, Seth Parker Woods used different artistic avenues as channels for personal and communal exploration.

The cellist Seth Parker Woods presented an evening-long, multimedia program titled Difficult Grace Saturday evening at the 92nd Street Y’s Kaufmann Concert Hall. It was the full staging’s world premiere, but, as Woods remarked, he had premiered a “nucleus version” in February 2020 in Seattle; the coronavirus lockdown gave him the opportunity to rework his concept into its current form.

Woods was already a cellist of prodigious technical gifts and sharp intellect. This program has stretched him even further into performing as a spoken word artist and singer as well as instrumentalist.

Aided by the choreographer and dancer Roderick George — a childhood friend from Houston — Difficult Grace was a feast for the ears, eyes and mind.

In one portion of Freida Abtan’s My Heart Is a River, the audience sees a prerecorded video projection of two dancers as Woods plays live in front of the screen. The dancing figures straddle a cello that they are reimagining as a boat. The performer in front — actually Woods himself, with dancer Tamzin O’Garro behind — is wielding the cello bow as an oar. It’s a marvelously apt metaphor: Woods is an artist rooted in classical music, but whose cello is a vehicle that takes him, and his concertgoers, on wide-ranging journeys.

The program included works by a large roster of composers, many of whom used electronic sound design as well as live acoustic cello: Fredrick Gifford, Monty Adkins, Nathalie Joachim, Abtan, Ted Hearne, Devonté Hynes and Pierre Alexandre Tremblay. (In addition to Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson, who died in 2004.)

Gifford’s piece Difficult Grace, which lent its name to the entire program, included projected artwork by Barbara Earl Thomas and was inspired by Dudley Randall’s poetry. Regrettably, it was difficult to discern from the auditorium seats much of what Woods was saying during long spoken-word stretches. (Projected supertitles would be a welcome addition.) The same was true during Hearne’s work with an unprintable title, with texts by the poet Kemi Alabi. Within the most riveting section of Hearne’s piece, Woods sang and played R&B-flavored harmonies atop hip hop-inspired electronic beats.

Each composer who used prerecorded cello and electronic sound design, sometimes with on-the-spot manipulations, did so to very different aesthetic ends. Woods performed two movements from Abtan’s piece (Opening Out and Seeping In), in which the electronics and the live cello swirled around each other in haunting, echoing duets. Adkins’s gentle, cinematographic Winter Tendrils, accompanied by an equally warmhearted film by Zoë McLean, used electronics almost like an invisible string orchestra, framing Woods’s cello in lush, glowing harmonies.

The most overtly narrative work was Nathalie Joachim’s The Race: 1915, which used projected images from the artist Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series” and texts taken from The Chicago Defender, the Black newspaper that was founded in 1905 and urged Black Americans to move northward in what became the Great Migration. Joachim’s music alternated between busy, cyclical motion and periods of meditative, slow arcs.

The most traditionally “classical” piece during the evening was a technically demanding cello sonata written by Devonté Hynes, whom certain music-loving New Yorkers may recall from his recent stint opening for Harry Styles at Madison Square Garden.

The other fully acoustic work was the third movement from Perkinson’s Lamentations: Black / Folk Song Suite for Solo Cello, entitled Calvary Ostinato. Perkinson’s music evoked centuries of Black American music, between lavish pizzicato sections which called to mind the connections between the American banjo and West African plucked string instruments and bluesy slides from note to note.

The evening ended with a powerful duet between Woods and George dancing live onstage in Tremblay’s asinglewordisnotenough3 (invariant). It’s a piece that crackles with nervous, coiled energy. Woods often attacked his strings with furious intensity, while George’s dancing combined solid muscularity and sinuous movements. Somehow, all of these emotional currents found a home inside Tremblay’s score.

This program has stretched him even further into performing as a spoken word artist and singer as well as instrumentalist.


Frans de Waard, Vital, no 1360, 7 novembre 2022
mardi 8 novembre 2022 Presse

The biography of Vanessa Massera is relatively short. She is a composer of electroacoustic music, “a medium she uses to express poetic ideas within the multiple cultural spaces and environments that fuel her inspiration”, plus a list of places that programmed her music. There are six lengthy pieces of music on this disc, with a total length of seventy-one minutes. Massera uses a lot of field recording, from fireworks and bonfires to industrial objects and environmental recordings. She also works with instruments, such as saxophones (played by Stockholms Saxofonkvartett), her grandmother’s voice, and an accordion. Most of the time, none of these sounds are recognized as such. It’s only when you read the liner notes that one thinks, oh, fireworks or saxophones, indeed it is. When she writes about her piece Omega 3, using “elements of traditional Nordic folk music”, I can safely say that ’indeed it does’, didn’t come to mind. As with many releases by Empreintes Digitales, the way the working methods of Massera are all in the digital domain, emphasising granular synthesis and stretching of sounds, topped with a good amount of reverb. All of this results in sturdy music with a serious approach. I think this is all solid music, good pieces, but not really something that seems to stand out. I enjoyed the way she treated the saxophone sounds into a densely orchestrated piece of minimalist attacks (using the sound of the keys, it seems) and the aforementioned Omega 3, which goes from near-silent to something that could be classified as weird techno music (with an all too strong 4/4 beat, however). Solid and good are the keywords here, but it is also something I heard before on more than a few occasions.

Solid and good are the keywords here…

David Berezan’s Tongue Drum

Musicworks, 1 novembre 2022
mardi 1 novembre 2022 Presse

Third place in the 2021 Musicworks Electronic Music Composition Contest was awarded to UK-based composer David Berezan’s Tongue Drum.

The piece premiered online in May 2021 at the European Art Science Technology Network for Digital Creativity (EASTN-DC) in Corfu, Greece. It was subsequently performed in person at Sonic Matter (Zurich), METS Fest (Cuneo, Italy), Noise Floor (Staffordshire, UK) and New York City Electroacoustic Music Festival.

Tongue Drum was composed in 2021 during a period of lockdown in the UK “The piece follows a series of my previous acousmatic works that were each developed from a single sound source: bicycle, thumb piano, and spinning top,” Berezan explains. “I am drawn to the challenges and rewards of working with reduced starting points in much of my work: sculpting, designing, and revealing greater complexities of texture, timbre, and music from the original source and sound, and reflecting the character and stories that the source objects bring with them.

“I had recently been given a tongue drum (a pitched metallic percussion instrument) as a gift and was immediately drawn to the potential of its sound for use in an electroacoustic work. The recordings of the instrument that I made were explored through a wide range of sound transformations and techniques: micro-montage and granulation, specialized audio processing plug-ins, and techniques of scrubbing and skipping of audio. Various forms of rhythm, pulse, and melody emerged and were further developed to thread through more abstract textures of noise, drone, and sonic impacts. I completed the majority of the work in my home studio, with the mix finalized in the electroacoustic studios at the University of Manchester.”

“During a masterclass in electroacoustic composition that I gave at the Conservatorio di Musica in Cuneo in April 2022, one of the attending students, Marta Zigante, drew an incredible artistic response to the work upon hearing me play and discuss it. I believe this captured some of the character and essence of the work’s sonic forms and landscape.”

Edmonton-born and Calgary-raised David Berezan started writing and performing music in the late 1980s and eventually found himself drawn to electroacoustic, and in particular, acousmatic music. He moved to the UK in 2000 to study a PhD under the supervision of Jonty Harrison at the University of Birmingham, where he also became a member of BEAST (Birmingham ElectroAcoustic Sound Theatre) and gained experience with sound diffusion performance practice. In 2003 he joined the Music Department at the University of Manchester where he is now Professor of Electroacoustic Music and Director of the Electroacoustic Music Studios and MANTIS (Manchester Theatre in Sound).

His work has been awarded prizes at competitions and festivals including Klang! (France), Music Viva (Portugal), Bourges (France), Luigi Russolo (Italy), Radio Magyar (Hungary), São Paulo (Brazil), L’espace du son (Belgium) and Jeu de temps / Times Play (Canada). He has worked in residence in the studios of the University of Calgary, Université de Montréal, Mexican Center for Music and Sonic Arts, Elektronmusikstudion (Sweden), Visby International Center for Composers (Sweden), Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, Center for Art and Media Karlsruhe, Groupe de recherches musicales (France), Institut international de musique électroacoustique de Bourges (France), Electronic Studio of the Academy of Music Basel, and Tamagawa University (Japan). His work is published by Empreintes digitales.

AMN Review

Mike Eisenberg, Avant Music News, 12 octobre 2022
mercredi 12 octobre 2022 Presse

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.

Mondes inconnus gets even higher marks than usual.

AMN Review

Mike Eisenberg, Avant Music News, 5 septembre 2022
mardi 6 septembre 2022 Presse

Well, shame on me for neglecting to do a write-up on Belgian composer Annette Vande Gorne. Penance must be paid, and that comes in the form of a twofer in this write-up, so this may be on the longish side. By the way, “penance” is not the correct word because listening to her works has been nothing but a source of joy… let’s call it, joyful penance.

First the preliminaries… like all empreintes DIGITALes releases, they are available at electrocd.com. Healthy length sound samples of the specific two I’ll be talking about, Haïkus and Illusion (both released in 2020) can be found at their individual links. I’m assuming by now that I don’t have to verbalize how good any given empreintes DIGITALes release sounds. Anyone who has been keeping up with this long, ongoing series of write-ups on the label will find it old hat.

Vande Gorne’s history in the Acousmatic world can be traced back to Pierre Schaeffer. In 1970, while engaged in a training class for choral conducting in Vichy France, she was drawn to a room emanating with “unrecognizable sounds”. Curiosity, and I’m sure bravery took hold, and she entered the room only to find…

… people sitting around with their eyes closed in front of two loudspeakers.

The rest is history, as they say. She proceeded with several years of electroacoustic training courses and workshops through the GRM in Paris and finally, in 1977, studied under Pierre Schaeffer and Guy Reibel. Through her studies, Vande Gorne honed her listening and developed ideas based on Schaeffer’s concepts about sound and its relation to time and movement through the listener’s space. Reibel influenced her thoughts on gestures by the composer to control these sounds. Together, these tools have informed her methods of composition.

Her calling was found and the fact that the Acousmatic community as well as the public at large are still benefiting from her continuing activity is a boon to us all. My bolding above is important. All my write-ups about Acousmatic music have been from the perspective of a giant fan boy. I’m not a creator or composer of this art but I am an intense listener (and still learning how to listen to this music to achieve max. Nirvana… nope, haven’t made it there yet). I’m a card-carrying member of the public.

Unfortunately, the discipline seems to be mired in an impenetrable maze of high-brow, academic tech talk along with a “boys and their toy’s” equipment fetish. In a couple of lengthy interviews by Elizabeth Anderson in the Computer Music Journal, Vande Gorne has gone out of her way to stress the importance of public awareness and engagement by creating festivals that welcome both artists/creators AND the public.

”The opening to the public is also important because music can only exist if the public knows it.”

Additionally, per the above interview… she considers the studio as simply a tool to achieve her goals. Outside of the studio, since Acousmatic music shares a relationship with a fixed medium… the Acousmonium (the large loudspeaker speaker array originally conceived by François Bayle) is looked at as something necessary for proper spatialization and diffusion purposes (but I’m ok with my stereo too).

To all of this, I give a HUGE BRAVO!!! To benefit and enjoy Acousmatic music there is no need to know the “how’s”… all it takes is an active imagination. How simple is that?

Speaking of imagination, the very nature of Acousmatic music I surmise, is to engage a relationship between sound presenting in space over time (on a fixed medium) and the listener. Optimally, the goal is to enable the listener (or at least this listener) to develop a highly personal mental narrative facilitated by the composer which, of course, demands nothing less than a healthy dollop of attention. Anything less defeats the purpose, and… in my opinion lessens or even negates the experience. Before I get into the albums, there is another concept that Vande Gorne talks about that I found interesting: How Acousmatic music stands apart from what is commonly known as “music”. From these same interviews:

“If electroacoustic and, particularly, acousmatic music could be in the plan of social and artistic life as Denis Dufour and Francis Dhomont prefer to have it, it would be an art which is apart, a sound art which is detached from the preoccupation of the term “music.” It would be an art like photography, like all the other types of art and their corresponding— and changing—media; for example, the evolution made by the art of representation on a stage, from the theater to the cinema to the video. One can, at that moment, say that art on a fixed medium, and particularly acousmatic music, which has a particular relationship with the imagination, could be considered to be an art form apart from music.”

I’m not 100% sure I completely buy into this argument because I think CONVENTIONAL music (you know, the kind the plebs listen to) has a relationship with imagination, but I think her point is well taken. The “particular imagination” that is engaged WITHOUT the well-trodden physical gestures of the performer on stage is certainly “apart” from what is commonly known as “music” and it’s certainly (for me at least)… transcendent.

Let’s get into the music on these albums. If sound is the paint, then space is the canvas and the composer (and/or the diffuser) is the catalyst (artist). On Haïkus, Vande Gorne is indeed a master artist using sound, space, and motion as her tools. She paints a living, mental portrait that is astounding in its detail and scope while retaining a sort of organic, earthly beauty that is captivating.

The overarching concept on this album is the five (Japanese) seasons but her intent is:

… to bring together, as much as possible, the historical repertoire of highbrow European music and current studio music writing practices: acousmatic music.

There is that word… that dreaded word… highbrow, but this time used to describe European classical music. Reading the above quote, I was glad that she didn’t use the word in the context of Acousmatic music. Score one for Team Lowbrow!

This piece was inspired by the shortness of the haiku and its long resonance in the imagination. It evokes contrasting realms from the five Japanese seasons set within an ambiophonic space (spread over 16 channels in concert).

(Note… like me, if anyone was confused about the “five seasons”, the Japanese consider New Year’s Day before their spring kicks in as a season on to itself.)

So, the album is split between the 5 seasons with several smaller “haikus” comprising each section. Hidden/embedded into the general Acousmatic tableaux there are snippets and traces of those “highbrow” European composers like Debussy, Messiaen, Ravel, Vivaldi, Schumann, and others that are referenced throughout. Personally, during my early listening experiences with this album, this aspect flew completely over my head but now, I can’t help but hear them (even though I have no idea of who the composer is). They are there, waiting to be discovered. (Or not.)

I’ve been using the word “epic” quite a bit in my last several write-ups about Acousmatic music. Artists in the discipline (Natasha Barrett and Gilles Gobeil come to mind but the list is long) are no strangers to creating vast sonic landscapes of epic proportions. Think of your favorite world-exploring RPG (or prog rock album for that matter) and then just release yourself, both mentally and physically into its service. Congratulations, you have just reached Dunsany’s realm “beyond the fields we know”.

Haïkus is another work that visits these misty places. Coursing through its 57-minute length is a seemingly endless parade of acoustic detail. The seasons are adorned by the sounds that define them. Some of the sounds are (studio) transformed while others are untransformed. The marvel is how Vande Gorne alchemically combines the two into a coherent, seamless, compelling sonic narrative.

The myriad bells on this release stand out immediately. It sounds like most of them are untransformed in the studio with the composer reaching down to the essence of their physical being. The strike, the tone, the decay… all of this is heard, or rather experienced deeply, in stunning detail. This is the physical embodiment of Acousmatic music that the composer has complete control over (Reibel’s academic idea of “gesture”?). When she combines the sound of several bells of various sizes and sonorities the results are nothing short of arresting. The way they present within the listener’s experience of time/space is transportive.

The usage of bells on Haïkus is just one facet that struck me but really, on this release Vande Gorne is “playing” the world”. The raw material in these compositions is the earthly creations all around us, whether animate and corporeal or static and phantasmagoric. The artistry is in the presentation, and on Haïkus… the world is indeed, a beautiful place.

Illusion is the sister album released around the same time in 2020. Here we have Vande Gorne playing with the notions of text and voice (both by Belgian poet Werner Lambersy) and its uniqueness within an Acousmatic framework.

The opening piece, Au-delà du réel again, makes use of a specific sounding body, one that was previously explored to great effect in Haïkus… bells. This sound-the physical striking of a bell is the raw material that the piece is built upon. Vande Gorne’s intent was to highlight “the human presence, the creative gesture of the musician”. It’s a haunting piece with the various bells taking on a life of their own. My personal cinema was a 3D spatial visual of hundreds of FTL space-faring vessels popping into real-time from the wormhole they just exited from.

Déluges et autres peripeties (Floods and Other Adventures) is the 30-minute centerpiece of this album. Vande Gorne has composed several pieces that are based on human voice, which she considers a source of sound AND meaning.

I must say that each time I compose a piece with text, I start by deeply analyzing the text; I try to feel the profound meaning of each phrase and try to put myself in the place of the author. From this analysis, which is not only a formal analysis, arise several possibilities of choice regarding material and form. It’s the first stage of composing…

I don’t speak French but per Vande Gorne, this is a “horrific poem” thus leaving her “no choice but to support it with “horrific” sounds”. Mission accomplished, the voice as sound, (which is the only way I can hear it) goes from the untransformed to the ultra-transformed. It’s the latter where these sounds reach a new level of “horrifying”.

Without knowing the meaning, some may say that I’m only at the half-way mark of hearing this piece. To that I’d say, “Ok, I’m good with that”. The intended effect, one of “horror” is indeed successfully conveyed. The delivery and intonation of the un-transformed voice is steeped with a preternatural air, but it’s when the voice is studio transformed that the (black) magic begins to happen. Reducing to a metaphorical description… it’s like the atmosphere got sucked out of the listening space and the human voice-matter becomes a base, elemental, atavistic thing. Yes, quite malevolent, and for the 30-minute duration… quite alluring in its malevolence.

The album ends with Faisceaux, a stark, minimalistic piece that is presented in two versions. The first is strictly a fixed medium work that worms its way into a “dark ambient” zone. Here, the timbre of the piano is the primary focus. The atmospherics hang heavy and deep with each piano note exposing itself in naked detail. The second (mixed) version adds a live piano by Ana Cláudia de Assis that effectively has her playing in response to the Acousmatic noise material coming through the loudspeakers. Both versions display a sense of darkness and unease which suggest a similarity to Belgian countrymen Univers Zero in their earlier, more acoustic period. While Haïkus had a lighter, more detailed outlook on my head film, these two pieces (and Illusion in general) are a fitting end to an album that primarily uncloaks a desolate sense of blackness.

Both come solidly and completely recommended! Within the Acousmatic community, Annette Vande Gorne’s output is rightfully respected and both Haïkus and Illusion should not be missed.

Both come solidly and completely recommended!