Review

Ingvar Loco Nordin, Sonoloco Record Reviews, 25 octobre 2002

Natasha Barrett (1972) has studied with some of my personal all-time favorites in the dominion of electroacoustics and sound art; Jonty Harrison and Denis Smalley. She has worked at BEAST (Birmingham ElectroAcoustic Sound Theatre), which had a great impact on her aesthetics. A grant from The Research Council of Norway brought her across the North Sea to her current base in Oslo, Norway, where she teaches and composes.

She is fully at ease with works for instruments and live electronics, sound installations, dance, theatre and animation projects, but her heart and soul dwell in the acousmatic tape composition.

Track 1 – Three Fictions (Northern Mix) – is, as the title indicates, a revision of a work, revised in Barrett’s own studio. Each of the three sections glimpses a sight / sound / sensation. Each part also carries a short, haiku-like text.

A soft tuning in, fading in, to the fire of brush – or, as the poem suggests; the mind – pries open a meadow of elves’ bells and quirky birds of electricity, but deep murmurs of overgrown layers of clay reveal some geological unrest… until a myriad of grains fill the air to polish your face like a battalion of blast-lampas… Maybe the ringing of little bells disclose a silently treading group of goblins through the grass… but nothing is threatening…

Strong vibrations, frictional grindings, bubbling simmerings, shimmerings – a sudden laughter out of unreality, swallowed by silence like matter sucked into a black hole… rolling, shifting motions; deep murmurs onto which fragments of audio are sprayed… A woman’s vocal expressions rise softly, sparsely, like rare flowers in the forest, and a reminiscence of midday cloister bells of southern France glide by like a summer fragrance… Towards the conclusion the voice utters fully graspable sentences, evidently out of a poem, and the intensity of the rushing sounds increase.

A downward glissando, like a distant dive bomber at the end of WWII, and some inconspicuous closeness populated with screws and bolts of the age of industrial paraphernalia… caressed by solitary gamelan gongs along the curvature of the planet, the horizon shivering with bent light through the gravitational field, upheld by the virtual particles of quantum mechanics… and the World Cat meows and purrs, extremely closely miked behind interstellar clouds of Creation!

Natasha Barrett has inserted shorter interludes into the progression of works marching on like crouched shadows on a lithograph by Rune Lindblad through the sonic landscape on this CD. She calls these insertions Displaced:Replaced, and there are three of them: Fog, light wind - Wet and gustyGathering wind. As a further explanation she reveals that these brief works stem from a sound and visual installation that she set up with photographer Trym Ivar Bergsmo, who is also responsible for the CD cover and the photo of Natasha Barrett that I submitted with this review. The installation was designed to capture realtime meteorological circumstances and their effect on nature; hence the titles, which simply describe those circumstances.

Evidently, the move to Norway, but also an inherent affinity for, or intuitive understanding of, the interplay of human and natural forces, spirit and matter, has a decisive effect on the composer’s work. She has roots in the soil and the clay and the rock, and a soaring mind among the stars. She rides a slingshot through curved space!

Fog, Light Wind has a prickly notion hopping or sort of vibrating across the wet rocks of the shore, as an imagined sound of mist paints grayish colors across your ears… and I do believe I can sense Moomin Papa’s boat adrift between hidden islands in a combination of homeliness and bohemia – an impression you’d normally get in the October of the Finnish archipelago…

Red Snow is a spiritual, musical, account of Barrett’s impressions on moving to the land of Norway from Great Britain in boreal times. She says:

I moved to Norway in the winter. Leaving behind everything I knew, I felt increasingly aware of the environment: the variety of snow spiraling in the wind; intricate details of vegetation enhanced by crystal formations; the soft sun and bright landscape; footprints suggesting their own scenario… and the potential color lying dormant.

A moment – the sensual feeling of a moment – flashes by, then recedes… only to return with its catch of time residue, which then displays on the inside of your eyelids as the moment widens to encompass the holy NOW of FOREVER, the mighty HERE of all directions.

The spatiality of Red Snow is amazing, sweeping past and by, back and forth, hither and thither, up, down, front, back – and gathering a rare force of timbral colors; tempting, persuasive, instigating a let-go of every-day paraphernalia, to enter a shaman’s spiritual aloofness, as layer upon layer of existence are superimposed in an ever-changing kaleidoscope of sound dreams upon dark skies…

The beauty of this forceful music is grand; stretched bells, elongated through space-time, focuses the attention on minuscule motions-emotions, which in this spinning-top behavior are subject to intense study, their smallest properties taking on unknown, otherworldly appearances…

The music changes character, winds down into a slow breath of metallic specs riding murmuring infras in a thoughtful, spiraling circumspection, the open, saliva-running jaws of Bardo fantasies nearby – and concrete soundscapes open their little shutters onto peaceful still lives of crows and farmhands deep inside the music, and in the final shrill moments the work winds down into a winding bead of brilliant sonic pearls, rattling in shimmering reflections down the line.

In earphones this piece is a shattering, mind-blowing ride. Over heavy loudspeakers it moves your mind sky-high and your furniture around the room!

Wet and Gusty, the second brief meteorological sonic insertion, sounds like its title; like gusts of wind grabbing your coat or the makeshift sails of the raft of a childhood adventurer inside your forlorn memories – and there is a definite presence of some fluid that might well be water, in many sonic nuances; streaming, gushing – or just condensing on your window…

Viva la Selva! comes, says Barrett, in four continuous sections: Morning introduction (claiming territory), Midday heat (mad insects, mellow birds and lazy day dreams), Dancing at night (a frenzied bizarre), Dawn and rain (long live the forest!). This is the longest piece on the CD. It opens in a cicadish panning, in a subatomic jitter, elongated into a spacious bird expanse, meditative, pure… shining, rippling around its axes. Barrett fits well into the respected role as a true artisan of the audios in this extended work, which she displays in transparent visions, suspended like spider webs in the forest; that secretive, protecting forest into which you can run as civilization becomes too hostile for you; Natasha Barrett’s spidery, dewy sound webs sticking to your forehead amongst the spruce trees, the tiny kinglets squeaking up around the trunks, small balls of feathery life bopping inside the branchery. Almost human vocal sounds bring forth ideas of goblins and fleshy, meaty creatures rising like mushrooms out of the forest floor, raising their heads with those curious eyes above the fern…

Some sections are so deeply pastoral that they bring me into a forgotten orchard behind an old castle ruin on an island in Lake Båven in Sweden, which I came upon once when canoeing by myself across misty waters. Giant bumble bees, the size of sheep, murmur around you in this music, and the residue of evil intentions flutter around you in swarms of half-uttered morphemes… acrid, bitter…

The conclusion is even more mystic, like precipitation on the fern of a forest meadow, where the force fields of good spirits fondle the moment…

The third meteorological insertion is Gathering Wind. The initial sweeping, circling, spiraling gust is chilly, having you wrap your coat tighter around your anatomy, hat in face, bending towards the might that bears down on you… Like in the earlier cases, Barrett sketches these brief moments from out in the open with expertise and an uncanny feel for the character of each sound.

The Utility of Space is, says the composer, an exploration of spatial musical structure. This is also, like Viva la Selva! A rather long work, more than 13 minutes. It is, however, very different from that work, introducing itself in crumply, prickly, dry crackles and an absentminded, inward female voice, under the desolate drone of a distant airplane on high, far above the dark clouds, gleaming up there in the moonlight like a silvery fish across the reefs… The voice gets cut up and multiplied, sometimes lifting off the surface of the planet in clouds of sound dust… I get the impression of a chaotic, lonely mind, traveling the existence with big eyes and empty hands, timorous and bashful like an outcast fairy, like a bleak butterfly with wounded wings, dragging herself across these barren lands, searching for her death amongst the rocks and ravines of the pure arbitrariness of geology – and can anything be lonelier…

The sensation of a kind of Bardo walk increases along the duration of the piece, drifting over in a dreamscape, into the interior of a dream that blows through the inner expanses of a life not asked for but graciously given and humbly received…

Industrial Revelations is the concluding work on this precious CD of exemplary sound art; an art so subtle, so… compassionate and emphatic, towards all that has lived and will live, and towards the elusive NOW that is so infinitely short that it can only be described as the hypothetical interface of past and future, stretching and bending in the uncertainty of quantum mechanics… leaving us helpless… and the final words on this last piece, uttered by Natasha Barrett, go: “… the landscape will sing with machines…”. A bubbling, forceful but simmering mud flow sound overwhelms the listener, and inside the mighty, brown wall of sound sledge hammers and heavy machinery can be distinguished… as dirty brick walls rise out of the poisoned planet like sores of sorrow out of the mourner… and a flickering light of rare innocence, forlorn in this desolate place, is put out by dark sounds that well in from the karma of those that didn’t have the power to give up power…

She has roots in the soil and the clay and the rock, and a soaring mind among the stars. She rides a slingshot through curved space!

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