Review: Composing Listening (First Volume of the Annual SPECTRES Publication from Shelter Press and INA GRM)

Composing Listening is all-encompassing in its universality, from each copy’s built-in bilingual translation options to the rejections of formal and conceited interpretations of music that color its pages. The introduction is perhaps the purest microcosm of this proponence of a ubiquitous approach to music through abstraction; it begins by quoting Pierre Schaeffer’s essay “Vers une musique experimentale” or “Towards an Experimental Music” (1953), an ironic denouncement of the new and unfamiliar techniques being used in the composer’s own developing musique concrète ideology whose sarcasm only becomes apparent as one reads on. The next hundred or so pages are occupied by a collection of diverse writings from many well-renowned voices in contemporary sound art, including Félicia Atkinson, François Bayle, Eliane Radigue, Jim O’Rourke, and many others. Drew Daniel’s contribution, “Towards a Heterology of Sound: On Bataille and Musique Concrète,” frames discourse arguing for a recognition and integration of concrète music’s inherent ‘messiness’ within a personal listening anecdote to which I’m sure many reading it could relate; “Recording” sees Chris Watson describing his musical coming of age in the context of the burgeoning practices of tape music and field recording; Brunhild Ferrari muses on the creative uniqueness of a single person’s recording of a sound event as compared to another individual’s observation of the same source and shares stories of capturing sounds with her late husband Luc; the list goes on. I could write about any of these pieces in great detail, for despite their being united under a unifying idea each introduces, examines, or argues for a specific and fascinating facet. My only consistent complaint is that they’re all too short!

I highly recommend this book; it’s beautifully printed and edited, and very few publications compile this large and diverse a quantity of written work and reach this wide of an audience. SPECTRES is an exciting development in the modern landscape of experimental musics, and such a comprehensive collection of the current musique concrète corpus is pretty much indispensable, in my humble opinion.