Liquid Transmitter – Arboreal; Jeff Carey – index[off]

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Despite being located at opposite ends of the aesthetic / behavioural spectrum, i’ve recently been finding that two new releases pose the same questions about the distinction between long- and short-term listening. In the case of Arboreal, the latest album by Canadian musician Jamie Drouin’s alter ego Liquid Transmitter, this arises out of its affiliation to the conventions of ambient music. Its eight relatively short tracks are all archetypal steady states, setting up simple modes of behaviour that are then maintained for four to five minutes. Furthermore, like its predecessor Meander, which Drouin released a few months back, the emphasis in these states is on their harmonic content. Each piece has a certain kind of modality that defines the limits of its pitch content. The title of Meander was a direct clue to its musical behaviour, and in Arboreal the emphasis of that title is less on the suggestion of multiple tree-like agglomerations (which don’t occur anywhere) than on, in Drouin’s words,

Half-seen limbs plot paths across the night sky – presences made known solely by the patterns in their wake.

This suggests a kind of ‘implied music’, about effect rather than cause. Certainly, the individuality of each piece makes it easy to think of it as a separate ‘limb’ from the others, and their overall behavioural similarity indicates that they are all part of, or offshoots from, the same ‘tree’. But let’s not labour the metaphor: it works but it’s perhaps nicer to keep it as a poetic background layer. Read more

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The Isolation Mixtapes : R

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Number 18 in my weekly serious of Isolation Mixtapes explores some of the best music from the last decade by artists, composers and groups beginning with the letter R. As always, there are two tracks from each of the years 2010 to 2019, featured in chronological order.

Here’s the tracklisting in full, together with approximate timings and links to obtain the music. As usual, the mixtape can be downloaded or streamed via MixCloud. Read more

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Erkki-Sven Tüür – Mythos

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A couple of years ago i wrote about the world première of Erkki-Sven Tüür‘s Symphony No. 9, subtitled ‘Mythos’. It was a fantastic performance of what turned out to be a marvellous piece (i often find myself marvelling while listening to Tüür’s music), so it’s exciting to see that original performance being issued on CD by the Alpha Classics label. It comes with two additional pieces, one light, one more weighty.

Incantation of Tempest is a 4½-minute flash in the pan designed to be suitable as an orchestral encore, but which has turned out to work equally well as a concert opener. As such, it’s everything you’d expect from a work of that ilk: robust, rhythmic, boisterously energetic to a fault with gestures everywhere. Stylistically speaking it’s somewhat anonymous (as most of these pieces so often are), but few composers do energy as well as Tüür, giving it many extra frissons of excitement.

Far more meaty is Sow the Wind, a work that’s concerned with various “disturbing and irreversible processes” that are “consequences of reckless human activity”. The clear suggestion here, in light of that title, is the imminence of ‘reaping the whirlwind‘. Considering the implications of this for a composer as feisty as Tüür, it’s surprising that Sow the Wind generally holds back from an unchecked unleashing of its forces. It’s more about volatility than violence, setting up an environment teeming with mass activity out of which large-scale swells and other shapes emerge. Sometimes these are heard as fanfaric trumpet blasts, possibly a kind of fin de siècle heralding; sometimes they’re less concrete, forming into torrents, rumbles and shrieks, peppered with twiddles and trills, all of which indicate a complete lack, anywhere, of anything approximating rest or stillness. Everything, everywhere, moves, which makes all the more poignant the occasional glimpses of lyrical material that emerge from the midst of all this – but which all too quickly become lost in the melée. Read more

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The Isolation Mixtapes : Q

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For the latest Isolation Mixtape i’ve had to take a slightly different approach from usual. We’ve reached the letter Q in my alphabetical celebration of some of the best music from the last decade and, quite frankly, though i scoured my music collection like never before, trying to put together a mix featuring artists, groups and composers beginning with (or even, for that matter, including) the letter Q for each of the years 2010 to 2019 turned out to be too problematic. i experimented having the name of the track start with the letter Q instead; problem solved. i’m guessing similar issues might arise when tackling the letters X and Z…

Here’s the tracklisting in full, together with approximate timings and links to obtain the music. As usual, the mixtape can be downloaded or streamed via MixCloud. Read more

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Remixed, remastered, revised, reissued: irr. app. (ext.)

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The most fascinating – and the most extensive – campaign of reissuing earlier work that i’ve ever encountered is by US artist Matt Waldron, better known as irr. app. (ext.). His earliest releases date from the late 1990s, a time when Waldron’s access to and capabilities with technology were apparently limited. As a consequence one of the earliest irr. app. (ext.) albums Dust Pincher Appliances, originally released in 1997, was revised just four years later and subsequently reissued in an expanded form. Almost from the outset, then, Waldron has been grappling with both creating and re-creating his music, and throughout the last two decades his irr. app. (ext). output (both solo and collaborative) has been a mixture of the new and the revised. Hitherto the process has been sporadic and somewhat haphazard: Their Little Bones (1999) was remastered in 2012, Perekluchenie (2005) in 2014, while 2018 saw reissues of Drone Works #10 (2005) (now with a new title, ‘Anticyclogenesis’), Night Wearing Feathers (2006), Observation Affects The Outcome (2013) and, in a second revision, Their Little Bones. Recently, though, Waldron has been more systematically working through his output chronologically, and the last couple of months have seen newly-remastered versions of two early albums, Foreign Matter, Nor Frequency Carrier (1999) and Radiant Black Future, Step Forward and Address the Present Amidst the Wreckage of the Past (2001).

Perhaps it should have been obvious or inevitable, but it’s only relatively recently i realised that i’ve come to think of the entire irr. app. (ext.) oeuvre as, if not provisional, then at least fundamentally fluid, always potentially subject to later rethinking and revising. i regard this approach as an integral part of Waldron’s creativity, fuelled not simply by a desire to ‘fix problems’ (though that is a significant part of it) but also an irresistible urge to continue to play with his palette of materials in new ways. When writing about Paul Dolden i remarked how the word “remaster” wasn’t remotely adequate or even correct to describe the process going on there, and that’s even more the case with many of the irr. app. (ext.) reissues, including these latest ones. Waldron hasn’t simply cleaned up all of the original source materials – though he has done that – and put them back together again, but he has then extensively reworked, revised and recomposed each piece such that it’s impossible to hear them as anything other than entirely new works. Read more

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Remixed, remastered, revised, reissued: Paul Dolden

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Another composer who has been polishing off, smartening up and reissuing old works recently is Canadian Paul Dolden. It always surprises me how underappreciated and even unknown Dolden’s music continues to be, particularly as it’s among the most extreme stuff i’ve ever encountered (and, for good or ill, people love to get worked up by extremes), and in many respects is both sonically unique and way ahead of its time. One of the key characteristics of a lot of Dolden’s work is the creation of what we might call a ‘supra-pseudo-orchestra’ through the assembling and layering of a vast number of individually recorded instruments. At full force, the effect would surely have caused Hector Berlioz (whose never-realised ideal orchestra included well over 400 players, including 30 pianos(!)) to squirm with delight, making the climactic tuttis of Mahler seem puny by comparison. Yet one’s always aware that what we’re hearing is not, in fact, real, partly because of the sheer impossible enormity of it, but also because of the curious effect of amassing that many sounds at once, leading to a weird kind of hypercontrapuntal trammelling in which the music’s internal machinery, so to speak, seems to grind against itself and threaten to explode apart. As a consequence Dolden’s music sounds uncanny in its not-quite-but-almost-verisimilitude, dangerous in its precarious volatility, and breathtaking in the audacity of its proportions.

Dolden’s work is primarily represented by a series of releases on the empreintes DIGITALes label, the first of which was the double album L’ivresse de la vitesse (1994). One of the standout works on that album is the fixed media piece Beyond the Walls of Jericho. From the perspective of being reissued, this piece has had an interesting history, one that’s far from unique in Dolden’s output, and which raises important questions about the nature of ‘remastering’. Completed in 1992, the work was originally released two years later on L’ivresse de la vitesse. This album was reissued in 1999 with no changes, and then reissued again in 2003 but with the two discs now split into separate albums L’ivresse de la vitesse 1 & 2, and featuring newly-remastered versions of the music. The liner notes included a text by Dolden directly addressing this, titled Why Remaster Old Works? (which can be read here), citing the challenges of working with early technology and “compositional concerns” as the basis for the remastering. Most recently, in the last few weeks Dolden has reissued Beyond the Walls of Jericho again in another new remaster (apparently created in 2012) as part of an ongoing series of digital releases that presumably capture Dolden’s definitive take on these pieces (some of which have never before been released). Read more

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The Isolation Mixtapes : P

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This week’s Isolation Mixtape focuses on artists, groups and composers beginning with the letter P. As usual the mix celebrates some of the best and most striking music from the last decade, with two tracks from each of the years 2010 to 2019, featured in chronological order.

Here’s the tracklisting in full, together with approximate timings and links to obtain the music. As usual, the mixtape can be downloaded or streamed via MixCloud. Read more

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Remixed, remastered, revised, reissued: The Hafler Trio

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A few months back i wrote about about the appearance of various releases by The Hafler Trio on Bandcamp, which quite apart from being highly unexpected (hitherto Andrew M. McKenzie had seemed opposed to his output being released in a digital format) is a very good thing indeed, since most Hafler releases – many of which, for anyone passionate about electronic music, are quintessential – are by now long out of print and as a result difficult to obtain. More recently McKenzie has extended this by reissuing audiovisual works via Gumroad, including two seminal (in every sense of the word) Hafler Trio EPs, Masturbatorium (1991) and FUCK (1992).

These works form the first two thirds of a never-completed trilogy exploring, for want of a more actually meaningful term, “sexual energy”, with both of them aspiring to go against what were at the time prevailing trends of sexual thought, discourse and propriety. Masturbatorium had its origins in a performance/ritual by the legend that is Annie Sprinkle. The performance evidently explored her progression from sexual naivety to maturity, culminating (or should that be climaxing?) in a sequence that McKenzie has described as “how to have an orgasm with your breath”. Sprinkle’s show began in the USA, but for its move to Europe McKenzie suggested replacing the New Age-esque soundtrack Sprinkle had used with something more directly applicable, incorporating the sounds of Sprinkle’s own body, layered and manipulated. FUCK was conceived as a male-oriented counterpart to this, but despite its somewhat outré shouty title is neither about fucking nor the conventional idea of sexual climax. Quite the contrary: it was intended to work in reverse, intended, in McKenzie’s words, to “get men to slow down, not to ‘burst the balloon’, not to concentrate on result but on process”. Read more

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Remixed, remastered, revised, reissued: Roland Kayn

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A noticeable musical side-effect of the lockdown has been to take the opportunity to reissue composers’ earlier work, usually in some newly-polished or otherwise revised form. Four artists in particular – Roland Kayn, The Hafler Trio [Andrew M. McKenzie], Paul Dolden and irr. app. (ext.) [Matthew Waldron] have reissued work in recent weeks and months, and it’s been an engrossing experience to spend time with them and consider them both on their own terms and, where possible, in light of their previous incarnation(s).

In the case of Roland Kayn, his work has recently begun to be issued on Bandcamp. This is great news not only because it will greatly help to introduce Kayn’s remarkable music to a much wider audience, but also because it makes it a great deal more accessible than via the rather expensive CDs released by, and only available from, the Kayn estate, which hitherto was pretty much the only way to hear it. The first two digital releases, which, like the epic box sets A Little Electronic Milky Way Of Sound and Scanning have been remastered by Jim O’Rourke, are The Man and the Biosphere (2003) and Requiem pour Patrice Lumumba (2002). Both pieces are at some remove from the ‘cybernetic music’ with which Kayn is especially associated.

While not acousmatic in the usual sense of that term, the musical language of these pieces is heavily informed by a similar blurring of the edges of reality and artifice, transparency and obfuscation. The Man and the Biosphere – which has never before been released – is focused on and around one of the most extensively explored sounds in all acousmatic music: bells. Kayn doesn’t often present them untreated; they become the basis, and to some extent the ‘theme’, for an ever-changing sound environment in which a great deal feels immediate and tangible, yet which remains beyond our ability to fully parse or recognise. Attacks attack, resonances resonate, but the precise nature of these sonic objects remains a mystery. As in all Kayn’s work, though, the nature of that mystery is often stunningly beautiful, particularly when Kayn opens up the bounds of the soundworld such that its horizons seems impossibly distant. Throughout, though, the emphasis is on the more immediate activity going on in the foreground (its strangeness all the more tantalising due to its apparent proximity), where continuity is complex, roaming through a habitat that’s decidedly volatile, ever-shifting. Read more

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The Isolation Mixtapes : O

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Week number 15 of my Isolation Mixtapes celebrates music and sound art by composers, groups and artists beginning with the letter O. Once again there are two tracks for each of the years 2010 to 2019, featured in chronological order. The final track in particular may (or, more likely, may not) provide some useful if tongue-in-cheek advice for those struggling to cope with the ongoing pandemic situation.

Here’s the tracklisting in full, together with approximate timings and links to obtain the music. As usual, the mixtape can be downloaded or streamed via MixCloud. Read more

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The Isolation Mixtapes : N

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With this week’s Isolation Mixtape, we enter the second half of the alphabet, focusing on artists, composers and groups beginning with the letter N. As ever, there are two of the most interesting tracks from each of the years 2010-2019, featured in chronological order.

Here’s the tracklisting in full, together with approximate timings and links to obtain the music. As usual, the mixtape can be downloaded or streamed via MixCloud. Read more

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Gigs, gigs, gigs: Forum Wallis

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During the last few months it’s been disheartening and downright depressing to see one festival after another forced to cancel or postpone their events due to the pandemic. So it’s exciting to see that things are tentatively starting to get going again, and among the first to throw open their doors will be this year’s Forum Wallis festival, which will now run from 10-12 August in the Swiss town of Leuk. Last year was my first experience of Forum Wallis and it made a big impact on me. Part of that, i must admit, was due to its location: i’ve attended festivals in some beautiful places but i’m not sure any of them has packed the full-on majestic awe of Leuk, positioned on the side of a mountain in the Swiss Alps, with most of the concerts taking place in the restored castle building of Schloss Leuk. The perceived relative remoteness of Leuk perhaps explains in part why it seems to be a relatively unknown and underappreciated festival. It’s a shame, as to my mind Forum Wallis (so called as Leuk is situated in the Valais or Wallis region of Switzerland) is one of the most engaging and daring festivals i’ve ever attended. That’s due in no small part to Javier Hagen, singer, composer, and artistic director of Forum Wallis, whose appreciation of new music happily stretches from the easily accessible to the most eye- and ear-poppingly avant-garde.

This year’s festival features eight concerts across the three days, including members of ensemble recherche in music by Claude Vivier, Johannes Schöllhorn, Lisa Streich and Rebecca Saunders and a new work from Tobias Krebs; Fritz Hauser performing several of his own works (which have seriously impressed me in the past); and Klangforum Wien in an evening of music by the likes of Toshio Hosokawa, Liza Lim and Scelsi alongside premières from Javier Hagen and Ulrike Mayer Spohn. Hagen and Spohn have for many years performed as a duo under the name UMS ‘n JIP, and they’ll be presenting Sancho, described as an “electropop opera” based on Cervantes’ Don Quixote. There will also be two concerts showcasing this year’s Ars Electronica competition, featuring electronic music from the winning composers in addition to acousmatic works by Nono. And like last year, two of the days will conclude with concerts focusing on improvisation, both featuring quartets: Hans Koch, Hans-Peter Pfammatter, Patrice Moret and Julian Sartorius on the 11th, and Manuel Mengis, Rudi Mahall, Florian Stoffner and David Meier on the 12th, bringing the festival to a close. Last year the improvisation events had a real WTF quality to them, so goodness only knows what these will be like.

i referred before to the relative remoteness of Leuk, but the reality is that it’s not really remote at all. From Geneva it takes around 2½ hours on the train – which is a stunning journey in and of itself, skirting round the edge of Lake Geneva – with slightly longer journey times from both Basel and Zürich. Furthermore, at the moment flights from the UK (Gatwick especially) to Geneva can be had incredibly cheaply, so it’s likely to be not only one of the most geographically and sonically impressive festivals you can experience this year, but also one of the cheapest. And quite apart from all this, having been deprived of the experience for several months it will be simply wonderful to be back in a concert hall once again.

Full details of the festival can be found on the Forum Wallis website.

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Outside-In: Cato Langnes

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It’s three months since i began the Outside-In project, responding to the lockdown by compiling submitted field recordings that could act as vivid reminders of, and virtual windows onto, the outside world during a time when we weren’t able to experience it first-hand. Thankfully, much has changed and improved from that initial state of lockdown, so with today’s recording, i’m bringing the project to a close. The final recording comes from Norwegian sound engineer Cato Langnes, who works at Notam, Norway’s centre for technology, art and music.

Cato has been by far the most enthusiastic participant in Outside-In; during the last couple of months he has sent me a large number of recordings made both before and during the lockdown, the longest of which was almost an hour long. Any of them would have been a fine addition to the series, but the one that i like most he recorded a few weeks ago in the woods beside Lake Øyungen, around 15km north of Oslo. The recording was made on 15 May using a RØDE NT-SF 1 ambisonic microphone and a Sound Devices MixPre-6 recorder.
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The Isolation Mixtapes : M

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It’s week 13 in my series of Isolation Mixtapes, which means we’re now halfway through the alphabet. When i began this series it seemed possible that the prospect of 26 mixtapes, unfolding weekly over the course of six months, might well be in keeping with the length of time of lockdown. As things stand now the lockdown, and its associated isolation, is slowly becoming less of a reality in the UK – and even more so across Europe – though ‘normality’ (however we end up (re)defining that) remains somewhere in the future, particularly for music and the arts. So my plan is to continue through the latter half of the alphabet in the hope that, by the time we reach Z, all of our lives might be a lot more genuinely normalised, and that enforced isolation is becoming a memory.

To that end, here’s this week’s mixtape, devoted to composers, groups and artists beginning with the letter M. The first half has an inadvertent focus on song, while the second half becomes more abstract and atmospheric. As always there are two tracks for each of the years 2010 to 2019, presented in chronological order.

Here’s the tracklisting in full, together with approximate timings and links to obtain the music. As usual, the mixtape can be downloaded or streamed via MixCloud. Read more

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Sound and Image: Aesthetics and Practices

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i want to give a big shout-out and a heads-up for a new book that’s just been published, which includes a chapter by me. Sound and Image: Aesthetics and Practices had its inception at the Sound/Image conference at the University of Greenwich in late 2018. Edited by Andrew Knight-Hill, the book has chapters by 24 of the presenters from that conference, exploring a huge range of approaches, outlooks, critiques and techniques emanating from and associated with the interrelationship of sound and image.

My own contribution is titled Son e(s)t Lumière: Expanding notions of composition, transcription and tangibility through creative sonification of digital images, and it’s an in-depth exploration of the ways in which sonified images have been used as the basis for composition, both historically and in my own work. My examination of the context for sonification encompasses the work of such diverse figures as Clarence Barlow, JLIAT, Christina Kubisch, Ryoji Ikeda, Christian Ludwig, Daphne Oram, Iannis Xenakis, Aphex Twin and Nine Inch Nails. The latter portion of the chapter focuses on the techniques i’ve devised for my own compositional work, from the earliest example of sonification in Triptych, May/July 2009 through the series of Studies i’ve created in the last few years.

i’ve only just begun to start picking my way through the content in the other 23 chapters, but it’s already clear that this book – as was the conference – is a much-needed contribution to exploring the deeply complex relationship that sound and image have always had. It’s an important and valuable document, and i recommend it to all of you with interests in this fascinating area.

For all the information about the book, visit the Routledge website by clicking on the banner below – and to get a 30% discount you can use the code SAI30 when ordering.

Outside-In: Luís Salgueiro

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This week’s addition to the Outside-In field recording project comes from Portuguese composer Luís Salgueiro. Here’s his introduction to the recording:

In February, I found myself working a week in Stuttgart. This came on the tail end of an intense period of work and travel — and it was, in fact, the last one since, as by that time Baden-Württemberg already registered cases of COVID-19 and the country would soon go into lockdown.

This was recorded early in the morning, as the sun rose over the Oberer Schloßgarten, between the Staatsoper and the Landtag. You hear one early-morning jogger and a smattering of distant chatter, but the soundscape is mostly dominated by the birds and other animals that nest and frolic around the Eckensee. The city had not yet awoken; this window records a slice of the gradual reintroduction of the human. And it is from this situation that the curious dramaturgy of the recording (which is unedited in its temporal unfolding) emerges: these two layers coexist not in the other’s negative space — nor is the human here drowning out the animal — but their utterances seem to cluster together in time.

This soundscape was recorded on a Zoom H2n with a Primo ECM172 omni microphone.

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The Isolation Mixtapes : L

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The twelfth in my weekly series of Isolation Mixtapes focuses on composers, artists and groups beginning with the letter L. Once again, there are two of the most interesting tracks from each of the years 2010 to 2019, featured in chronological order.

Here’s the tracklisting in full, together with approximate timings and links to obtain the music. As usual, the mixtape can be downloaded or streamed via MixCloud. Read more

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Naomi Pinnock – Lines and Spaces

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It’s fitting that the first portrait disc devoted to the music of UK composer Naomi Pinnock should be titled Lines and Spaces. Not merely because one of the four works featured on the disc has that as its title, but due to the fact that every time i’ve listened to it it’s got me thinking about polarities. There’s a reference to the musical stave in that title, but it also alludes to one of Pinnock’s recurring inspirations, the work of artist Agnes Martin, whose paintings are characterised by the juxtaposition of line and space, usually within a soft, muted colour palette. Though the polarity seems obvious, my own experiences with Martin’s work in recent years have found the apparent opposite of elements to be more complex. Are the lines ‘material’ and the spaces ‘immaterial’ (in every sense of the word), or do the spaces exhibit a different kind of ‘materiality’? Furthermore, do the lines enclose space, exerting an implied inward force, or do they simply demarcate the bounds of the space, which exerts an implied outward force? Maybe it’s a bit of both; either way, the two are held in a perfect equilibrium, but one that paradoxically seems both taut and relaxed.

The same could be said for a great deal of Naomi Pinnock’s music. The most explicit example of this, unsurprisingly, is to be found in the title work, a piece for solo piano comprising three ‘spaces’ and three ‘lines’, performed here by its dedicatee, Richard Uttley. A work i’ve written about previously, its polarity is primarily heard in the contrast between these discrete kinds of music. The ‘lines’ consist of rapid middle C repetitions, each of which has a different element introduced at its centre – an octave displacement, adjacent pitches, and an oblique chord cutting across – resulting in a simple bare-bones drama. The ‘spaces’ are expansive; i likened them before to “droplets of harmonic colour like blobs of ink falling into water”, and while the essence of that is right, i realise that that description possibly suggests a disconnect between them, as if they were isolated motes of pitch unrelated to one another. The reality is that there’s a form of contemplation going on, a quiet wrangling with notes in which ideas don’t just connect but circle around in a way that suggests an underlying obsessive quality. There’s that equilibrium: taut and relaxed, the music sometimes temporarily fixated, sometimes breezily moving on. It’s worth emphasising that Uttley is the ideal pianist for music like this; i’ve always admired his ability to combine intricate precision with understated romanticism, which is the perfect combination for a piece like Lines and Spaces. Read more

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Outside-In: Monty Adkins

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Today’s addition to the Outside-In field recording compilation comes from Huddersfield-based composer Monty Adkins. Here’s Monty’s introduction

The recording was made in February 2019 during a residency in Reims. The short soundscape charts the route from my apartment to the studio space in which I was working.

Proceeding from the apartment through the beautiful old heavy wooden door that sealed the courtyard from the street beyond, up the Rue des Capucins and onto the Rue Hincmar, the soundscape slowly moves from relatively deserted streets to the busier central part of the city. Traversing the Rue Chazny brings the listener to the Rue Libergier and the stunning approach to the imposing 13th-century Gothic Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Reims. The cafe cries, speeding moped over the cobbled streets and other quotidian sounds now seem distinctly otherworldly to me after almost three months of lockdown. The soundscape then charts the walk from the Cathédrale up Rue du Trésor before finishing at the Rue Carnot.

Listening back at this recording now I am struck by its simplicity, a normality I am sure we are all yearning for.

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The Isolation Mixtapes : K

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In this week’s Isolation Mixtape, exploring the best music from the last decade, all of the music is by groups, composers and artists beginning with the letter K. As always, two of the most splendiferous tracks from each of the years 2010 to 2019, presented in chronological order.

Here’s the tracklisting in full, together with approximate timings and links to obtain the music. As usual, the mixtape can be downloaded or streamed via MixCloud. Read more

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