Feature: Four Releases from Empreintes Digitales

A few weeks ago, I was sent a generous selection of releases from the 2018 roster of French-Canadian label Empreintes Digitales. The label has been releasing CDs in the area of acousmatic and electroacoustic music for almost thirty years, and has introduced me to many of my favorite artists such as Paul Dolden and Michel Chion. I couldn’t choose which ones I wanted to review, so I decided to just write about them all!

eRikm – Mistpouffers (release date unknown)

French improviser and composer eRikm is one of the few artists whose work has been a consistent element in my journey into experimental music. His collaborative CD with Jérôme Noetinger, What a Wonderful World, was one of the first Erstwhile releases I heard and introduced me to the field of electroacoustic improvisation, and Zygosis made me realize the power of the turntable as an instrument in an avant-garde context. Mistpouffers, consistent with Empreintes Digitales’ focus on acousmatic music, collects three pieces that were composed and arranged from 2013 to 2016. “Draugalimur,” commissioned by the French music office, incorporates several spoken word segments within its immersive ambient soundscapes, including excerpts from traditional Icelandic folk writings. “Poudre” and “L’aire de la Moure 2” are both explorations into a very physical stereo space; the former’s treated recordings of firework explosions and the latter’s electric whirring and airplane engines are equally breathtaking.

Monique Jean – Troubles (Oct 16)

Troubles is Monique Jean’s third solo release, and its two pieces each boast an ambitious conceptual backing. The kinetic “T.A.G.” was inspired by rippling collective movements by crowds of people, an influence that is represented well by the composition’s litany of synthesized elements that progress with masterful pace and control. Jean’s sonic palette is dominated by the cold and artificial, with both actual recordings that are heavily processed as well as pure synthesis, but she commands this electronic orchestra with distinctly organic movements in mind. “Out of Joint” continues with that contrast, incorporating more recognizable sounds such as screams and the cawing of crows, but for an entirely different purpose; the piece is a sonic essay on the endurance of Shakespeare’s Macbeth throughout history.

Alistair MacDonald – Cabinets de curiosité (Oct 26)

The music on Cabinets de curiosité is just as colorful as the gorgeous artwork on the cover (painted by Shona Barr). Though each of the seven pieces explore different territory, the title of the composition that opens the disc, “The Tincture of Physical Things,” is a fitting unifier. MacDonald’s ‘cabinet of curiosities’ isn’t limited to just found objects; it includes any sounds that struck him as distinctive or significant, from the handmade glass instruments of Carrie Fertig used on “Scintilla” to the sounds of public spaces in “Final Times,” described by the composer as ‘cinema for the ears.’ MacDonald also pays tribute to Delia Derbyshire and early musique concrète on “Psychedelian Streams,” using more basic processing techniques on memorable objects from his childhood like Slinkies, wooden rulers, and wind chimes.

Åke Parmerud – Grains (release date unknown)

“Grains of Voice,” originally released more than two decades ago, is still one of the most powerful and conceptually interesting pieces of this entire selection of music. Parmerud’s own written summary of the work is fascinating, detailing his efforts to record different human voices from all over the world (the total duration of recordings Parmerud made during his journey approaches 20 hours!) and create a piece that ventures into several ideas, or ‘islands,’ amidst a continuous flow of sound. The composer’s treatment of the voices results in dark, sonorous waves, grounded by recognizable elements—for me, the most notable of these was an appearance of Ginsberg’s “Howl.” The other concepts are no less enthralling, what with the auditory riddles of “Les objet obscurs” and the philosophical musings of “Alias.”

“In the end, sound covered the face of the Earth.”