In the one-and-zero walled world of so-called “computer music” (undoubtedly a vague and even somewhat deprecating moniker), the turbulent chunks of synthetic hums, blips, and glitches are backed by a variety of paradigms. The most renowned artists in this field, such as Florian Hecker, who in his music “dramatizes space, time and self-perception in his sonic works by isolating specific auditory events in their singularity, thus stretching the boundaries of their materialization,” or Yasunao Tone, whose works are concerned with the sonic properties of transformed and converted media, might give the impression that this sort of music is a very academic or even notional pursuit. But ultimately the sound itself is what matters, and placing all of the credit on the theoretical back end is, in my opinion, fallacious and reductive. M, which collects two compositions by Lithuanian sound artist Gintas Kraptavičius—M (2012) and Mimicry (2017)—is a visceral opus that explores the staggering potentials of the artist’s palette of files, plugins, and effects. The album doesn’t concern itself with complex explanations—just the opposite, in fact; the only words on the packaging other than the credits and track titles is the famous Dalai Lama quote “Life is not easy.” Instead, like Network Glass, whose idiot/smiling I reviewed just the other day, Kraptavičius occupies the the much more universal dimension of isolated sound, focusing on the dizzying textural collages he crafts from the pulsing clouds of digital noise. Mimicry, which comprises the second part of the album, is very much a response to its precursor M; where the latter delves into dense, evolving clusters, the former takes on a volatility that feels much less composed, drawing power from its disarming unpredictability. “Mimicry4” presents the album’s closest flirtation with conventional beauty, rolling a loud, cathartic drone into the fray of frantic glitches, just one of the countless enrapturing sonic conversations with which Kraptavičius experiments. M is a decisive statement in raw data-driven music methodology, in itself an argument for a diversity of approaches.
The “set limitations” of Glasswerx, as outlined on the cassette packaging:
- No laughing, breathing, or other human sounds audible on record
- When striking glass, striking utensils must not be audible (table or water sounds discouraged)
- Re-sampling, pitching, and other technological advancements permitted when extremely necessary, providing [sic] original glass timbre is preserved
- Effects may not be used unless they originate from mic and/or recording technique
- Absolutely no sound except glass
Considering the otherwordly textural and harmonic heights reached by these two musicians on Glasswerx, it would be hard to believe that all of those strict rules were in place without reading them first. Over 45 distinct tracks and about sixty minutes, this adventurous duo (about either of whom, for the life of me, I cannot find any information) delve deep into the sonic possibilities offered by their arsenal of glass, with each short segment establishing itself as a well-composed expansion of a particular idea. I can only assume that the amount of work put into this album is mind-boggling; the longest piece by far is “Never Be the Same,” at not even five minutes, but like many of its brethren it explores a sound-world so lush and immersive it seems like it could only be five times its actual length. There are too many tracks to talk about all of them in detail, but the fact that I can pick out practically any of them and discuss their amazing qualities—”Sword Sharpening” with its sublime rapid bowing and expansive stereo clatters, “First Break” and its beautifully dissonant major seventh melodies, the visceral bass crunches of “Infant”—is a testament to the painstakingly consistent quality of Glasswerx.
Pretty much everything about Idiot/Smiling is enigmatic, from the mysterious screenshot that adorns the cover to the unique mixture of digital and analog sound sources plundered to construct each track. Network Glass, one of the many aliases of artist Daniel La Porte, never even approaches the possibility of a limited or constrained palette, instead fusing together disarming, unholy amalgams of aggressive raw data textures, field recordings, and effects. The scattered, schizophrenic approach to composition works well for these short pieces, which are given a fitting introduction by the cut-up madness of “ocvbs.” La Porte explores the wide range of timbres and aesthetics of his crackling rivers of computerized noise on the album’s longest piece, “nrrrrrr,” whose growling low end and sheeny glitch wails form an overwhelming and intense soundscape. Beginning with “sm,” more organic elements begin to creep in, with the unmistakable wumping of wind against a microphone making brief appearances, and “novh1” takes it even further by basing its surreal, synthetic collages around a largely unmanipulated recording of cars racing through a tunnel. The true subliminity of Idiot/Smiling arises from its marriage of the natural and the manufactured, which, as the artifact-like textures of the wind captured in “ocsk,” are not as drastically different as we might think.
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.
With the minimally (and ambiguously) titled Cargo, multidisciplinary artist Ludwig Berger captures the wondrous and formidable beauty of nature, both in sight and in sound. The nondescript cover of the tape shows a distant cargo truck emptying a load of rocks onto what appears to be a large field of identical rocks, the homogeneous gray landscape dwarfed by the deep emerald of the mountainous forest that extends up out of the frame. “After Nature” expands on this simple but evocative imagery with its swirling soundscapes of harmonious hums, the drones building to a gorgeous climax around the five minute mark that surrounds and enshrouds with its almost overwhelming presence. From that point the piece begins to retract, the meditative tones receding to reveal the immediately recognizable sonorities of chirping birds, rushing water, the soft ebb and flow of a steady breeze. Berger’s approach to composition (or improvisation, it’s unclear how exactly these pieces were produced) is as natural and organic as the ardent environment that these recordings capture, the piece breathing like a living thing as it moves through its phases. The end of “After Nature” sees an intrusion into Cargo‘s immersive sonic landscape when the lively conversation of two children enters our perception, an unexpected but pleasing human presence that continues into the subsequent “Before Dawn,” which paints a vivid scene of a crew of busy workers. Cargo is a work recorded with reverence and respect for its subjects, and every nuance of these diverse vignettes makes its way into our ears.
From the second the distorted speech sample and growling dissonance of “Empty” tears its way into your eardrums, The Light Dimmed Eternal establishes a dark, oppressive, and absolutely crushing atmosphere that never ceases until the last mud-dripping chord rings out into silence. Though Elder Devil consists of only two members, their sound is dense and weighty, and every note smashes with nothing less than full force. The Light Dimmed Eternal also never concerns itself with relieving the pregnant tension that the staggering, barely-held-together unison hits of the opening track introduce; there are no predictable tempo changes precipitated by speedy drum fills or satisfying conclusions that wrap everything up nicely. Instead, the duo maintains its deliberate, lurching pace even in the fastest blast sections, focusing on the dark and hypnotic atmosphere that they weave through meditative, droning repetition. Stephen Muir’s anguished yells grate across the chunky soundscapes without the hindrance of high-pitched guitars or even cymbals—moments like the coda of “May the Light Be Dimmed Eternal” where a merciless low end is led by Jacob Lee’s forceful tom and bass hits while the vocals fill the remaining void are by far the album’s strongest and most magnetic. The Light Dimmed Eternal is clearly a product of two musicians with a defined vision, a quality that comes across in every minute of its carefully composed chaos.
Hypnos is the sound of tension, a spiderweb of stretched strings that hum, vibrate, and rattle. This is not to say that Greek artist Savvas Metaxas’ palette was limited to just materials commonly thought of as tensile; instead, he sculpts straining, groaning structures from modular synth and and processed percussion samples to complement the restless scratches of a piano’s inner strings. The hooks that adorn the album cover aren’t just for show—Hypnos takes a step past intense aural immersion into an almost physical domain, trapping the listener in its claustrophobic, carefully woven tunnels. Don’t be put off by the spoken word intro, which took a while to win me over; the sound-world of Hypnos is much more adventurous and ambitious than its opening moments would lead you to believe, and by the time concluding track “Morpheus” rolls around the female vocals are back, this time providing a spectral counterpoint to the shifting mixtures of sound, bookending the tape with hints of escape from its visceral, unsettling intensity. Even just the masterful construction of this work warrants a listen—it’s one of those albums that can only be fully explored after the initial intimidation its density invokes—but I’d go so far as to say that there’s something here for everyone.