electronic

Electric Spring 2015

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i don’t know which felt more strange, being in Huddersfield for a music festival in February (rather than November), or the fact that, somehow, for two decades the university’s Electric Spring festival has entirely passed me by. Better late than never, i suppose, especially as this year’s festival, which took place over five days last week, was celebrating a double anniversary, both the 20 years that Electric Spring has existed as well as the 10 years during which it has been run by composers Monty Adkins and Pierre Alexandre Tremblay (an era which has now ended; in future the festival will be curated by a newly-formed committee).

In addition to various daytime activities—including workshops on sound projection (using Huddersfield’s 48-speaker HISS diffusion system) and live coding (supplemented by a late evening ‘algorave’), as well as an MSP symposium and the ‘Yorkshire wiggle’ modular synthfest—Electric Spring centred on five evening concerts, featuring a headline act and opening with a short work by a different composer. The latter varied considerably in terms of both imagination and execution. Ben PottsCuboid was wilfully obtuse, bookended by bouts of tickling a kind of suspended multiple wobble-board, in between which non-sequitur bursts of shifting bandwidth came and went; it was at least mercifully short. Roberto Gerhard‘s DNA in Reflection (Audiomobile No. 2), composed in 1963, formed the soundtrack to a film by Hans Boye and Anand Sorhabal. This felt problematic in a similar way to some of the film accompaniments by Bernard Parmegiani, insofar as the visuals in no way lived up to the more experimental qualities of the music. Where the film was characterised by symmetry and anecdotal references, full of cycling images with large amounts of repetition, Gerhard’s music, encompassing an extremely wide dynamic range, seemed to follow its own predominately amorphous nose (revealingly, he described it an “aleatoric soundtrack”). The audiovisual combination caused a sharp aesthetic jarring that could only be solved by shutting one’s eyes. β Pictoris b by Olivier Pasquet referred to specifics in its programme note—”an extrasolar planet located approximately 63 light-years away”—but his music could hardly have been more generalised, a study in texture formed from the movement and juxtaposition of a body of timbrally similar particles. This was interesting in and of itself, but how Pasquet’s somewhat psychobabbular description matched his material was mystifying. The highlight of these openers for me was guitarist Diego Castro Magas’ rendition of Aaron Cassidy‘s The Pleats of Matter, completed as far back as 2007 but only now receiving its world première. i’m not sure which aspect was more jaw-dropping, Magas’ performance—involving incredibly fast hand and finger agility, racing up and around the fingerboard, to and from the tremolo bar, while operating two foot-pedals—or the resultant music which, apart from a section toward the end, sounded about as far from guitar music as one could imagine. There was, admittedly, a surfeit of information to grapple with on this first listen, Magas positively ploughing through Cassidy’s layers of simultaneous action (one of the most frantic passages can be seen in the excerpt above), but its soundworld could not have been more urgent and inviting. i can’t wait to hear it again. And again. Read more

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An acousmatic revelation: BEAST – Pioneers of Sound, Birmingham

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Last weekend Birmingham was treated to what will surely be regarded as one of the highlights of the 2014 electronic music calendar. Presented by Birmingham ElectroAcoustic Sound Theatre (BEAST), Pioneers of Sound was a 3-day festival primarily exploring works by three of the central figures of acousmatic music, François Bayle, Francis Dhomont & Bernard Parmegiani. What made the weekend so special & so poignant was that only two of that triumvirate could be there to present their music; the absence of Parmegiani (who died last November at the age of 86) was conspicuous & keenly felt throughout the weekend.

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Mix Tape #28 : Speech

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For the last Mix Tape of 2013, i’ve decided to explore music in which speech is paramount. Within a musical context, spoken words can jar in much the same way as an actor breaking the fourth wall, unsettling us by (ostensibly at least) withholding abstraction in favour of direct reference. The range of pieces included in the mix is more eclectic than usual, drawing on offcuts, afterthoughts & outtakes (Hecq, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Kreng, Aphex Twin), filtered renderings, recreations & re-imaginings of speech (Cabaret Voltaire, Charles Dodge, John Hudak, Gregory Whitehead, Marc Behrens, Jean-Michel Jarre) as well as forms of non-singing (AGF & the peerless William Shatner). But most of the tracks exploit the spoken word through fascinating essays in obscure narrative, by turns sinister (Eugene S. Robinson), prosaic (Jóhann Jóhannsson, Anne-James Chaton), sexual (Andrew Liles), wistful (Steve Peters), intimate (Edward Ka-Spel), surreal (Olga Neuwirth, irr. app. (ext.)), poetic (John Wall/Alex Rodgers), combative (Frank Zappa) & philosophical (Adrian Moore). Read more

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Ny lydkunst i Bergen

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My recent travels in Norway—focussed in & around the environs of second city Bergen—yielded plenty of jaw-droppingly splendorous landscape, but nothing in the way of contemporary music. Neither of the city’s CD stores betray any knowledge of the existence of Arne Nordheim, Maja Ratke & the like, while the concert repertoire essentially revolves around the (not unsurprising) omnipresence of Edvard Grieg. However, disappointment was turned on its head during my final morning in the city last Friday, when wandering through the network of backstreets i came upon Østre. An otherwise anonymous building, the billboard outside proclaims it to be a ‘Hus for Lydkunst og Elektronisk Musikk’ (House for Sound Art & Electronic Music); inside, the custodian explained that Østre (formerly the Lydgalleriet) is the only space dedicated to sound art in all of Scandinavia. The collection of books & CDs for sale certainly backed up its avant-garde credentials, & anyone in the Bergen area would do well to check it out, especially within the next couple of weeks.

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Mix Tape #27 : Drone

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It’s 1 July, so here’s the new mix tape, focussing on the intense genre of drone. Drone music suffers the same kind of malaise as more generalised ambient music—immobility & drift as tacet apologias for a dearth of imagination & subtlety of ideas. But these 21 tracks offer an insight into something altogether more profound, plumbing the depths of immobility & stasis, teasing out faint, furtive tendrils of exotica. They represent a broad sonic palette, in terms of colour, dynamic & texture, incorporating elements from dark ambient & noise as well as more experimental electronics.

In all, two hours of droning wonder; here’s the tracklisting in full:

  • The Missing Ensemble – A Long Walk (from Zeropolis)
  • Access To Arasaka – 7.14 : Daedal (from A Sky Now Starless)
  • Shinobu Nemoto – Trip 10 (from Melting Loop Trip)
  • Deaf Center – Close Forever Watching (from Owl Splinters)
  • Ektoise – The Great Perpendicular Path (from Ektoise)
  • Anduin + Jasper TX – A Beam Of Light Bends Back Upon Itself… (from The Bending Of Light)
  • Decembered – “Только пепел знает…” (стихи И. Бродского) (from Ноктюрн)
  • Peter Wright – …And I Live By The River (from An Angel Fell Where The Kestrels Hover)
  • Herzog – Small Loves (from Small Loves)
  • Carbon Based Lifeforms – System (from TwentyThree)
  • The Hafler Trio – Vi-Parīta [excerpt] (from Exactly As I Am)
  • Leah Buckareff – Hypostasis (from Trinitarian)
  • Asva & Philippe Petit – Sweet Dreams Asshole (from Empires Should Burn…)
  • Organum – Horii [excerpt] (from Horii/Volume Two)
  • Benjamin Dauer – Falling Apart I (from Saturation Event)
  • Jonathan Coleclough – Halant [excerpt] (from Halant / Heat / Beech)
  • Charlemagne Palestine & Janek Schaefer – Fables from a Far Away Future [excerpt] (from Day Of The Demons)
  • Freiband – Haze Shrapnel (Remix) (from Haze Shrapnel)
  • Christopher Hipgrave – Heavy And Pulling You (from Slow, With Pages Of Fluttering Interference)
  • Ekca Liena – Sleep (Minimal) (from Sleep Paralysis (Expansion Tracks))
  • The Beautiful Schizophonic – Bambilány (from Erotikon)

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New CD coming soon: Dither • Pother • Roil

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In a week’s time, a new CD of my electronic music will be released, titled Dither • Pother • Roil. It contains three distinct but related pieces, which began life in a series of improvisations made in early 2008. Somewhat inexplicably, i promptly lost the recordings & forgot all about them until the start of this year; between February & October i then extensively reworked & developed them into their final, very elaborate forms, which together last around 49 minutes. Here’s a smidgeon from the blurb-spiel:

There are ways in which this trio of works relates to & draws upon both the techniques & sentiments of my earlier electronic music. There are echoes of the shifting abstractions of the Simulated Music cycle, as well as the large-scale sculptural elementalism heard in the Ceiling stared at me but i beheld only the Stars & ‘Icon’, the central panel in Triptych, May/July 2009. But above all, Dither, Pother & Roil explore (for me) new methods & an expanded mode of expression.

Dither was finished first, & is concerned primarily with material that writhes & roars at its own prevarication. Here’s an excerpt from part II:

Pother continues the thread established in Dither, becoming increasingly fraught & portentous. This is an excerpt from the end of part I:

Roil was the last to be completed, & is the longest & most complex of the three. A multi-layered noisescape, Roil is by far the most unrestrained piece i have ever composed, whipping up elements of Dither & Pother into a clamorous torrent of frenzied outrage. Here’s an excerpt from the end of part IV:

The accompanying artwork explores details from a recent painting by the young American artist Claire Uhle. Titled ‘Well, everything’s moving so slow in this life time.’, the painting goes a long way to capturing everything that Dither, Pother & Roil are seeking to convey (click for high-res).

The CD comes out on 20 November in a numbered limited edition of 50 copies. For more information & to order a copy, click here. A digital download version will also be available.

In other news, my previous CD Night Liminal is now available as a digital download as well. There are also a few CDs left; details about both can be found here & here.

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New CD out today – Night Liminal

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i’m delighted to announce that today sees the release of my latest CD, Night Liminal. Here’s a bit of blurb from the spiel:

For the last four years, my electronic music has been to a large extent founded upon noise. Whether sculpting large, primordial shapes from it (Triptych, May/July 2009), pitting it against pitched material (the Ceiling stared at me but i beheld only the Stars) or allowing it to do its own thing (Simulated Music), noise has been the principal vehicle for my electronic music. Even in my most gentle work (The Stuff of Memories), noise has been present, colouring & caking the music in sonic detritus.

Night Liminal is different. Lasting a little under forty minutes, the work is a stark contrast to these intense noisescapes, signalling both a return to & a reclamation of my æsthetic roots, embracing the quietude of ambient music. For the first time, the material is gentle, soft-edged & peaceful—even relaxing. That, at least, is its first impression; but the work’s inspiration is more subtle & ambivalent than that. Night Liminal is partly inspired by the ancient monastic service of Compline, which takes place as day is ending. Both the service & its setting confront head-on the perils heralded by twilight.

Being in a sacred space at dusk is a profound & paradoxical experience, comforting yet unsettling. One is caught between light & darkness, between the vast expanse of tradition & the contemporary mystery of the moment. The night can be a dangerous & uncharted place; my hope is that this music can become an integral part of the gloaming, teasing out & resonating with both its delights & its uncertainties in a gentle act of provocation & peace.

Provocation may seem incongruous in the context of ambient music, but Night Liminal’s soft, slow-moving textures echo this; warm & melodic, sometimes dark & disquieting, they afford the listener a dual experience of rest & reflection.

Night Liminal is dedicated to the memory of Jehan Alain.

As usual, the CD is a limited edition of 50 numbered copies. Below are three excerpts taken from throughout the piece; to order a copy, go here.

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