Monday, January 23, 2012

Summertime Super-Fun-Pak! NZ Electroacoustic on CD -- Part Two

The final three CDs in the Jack Body-curated 'Electroacoustic Music by New Zealand Composers' series on CD Manu. All of the entries in this series, barring the Kim Dyett album, have covers taken from photographs by Theo Schoon of geothermal curiosities. I've been a bit cheeky here and designed a replacement cover for the Dyett album from the same series of photographs by Schoon.

David Downes - Saltwater (1988-1992)

Five of these eight works were composed as soundtracks to dance pieces, and as such contain more aggressively rhythmic content than the other albums in this series. All were composed when Downes was between the ages of 21-25. ‘Valley Mine’, ‘A Green Piece’ and ‘Saltwater’ use effected field recordings, white-noise wind and other classic and eighties cutting-edge synthesis techniques, but pick up some live-sounding percussion and midi-beats halfway through. If you are hoping for more traditional electroacoustic composition, skip right ahead to ‘Disquiet’, a conversation between what feels like improvisatory digital synthesis and a recording of a housefly buzzing round the room; for me the standout track on the album.

Black Noise 

Kim Dyett - Wallpaper Music (1982-1986)

The title track is not. at. all. what one would expect from a piece called ‘Wallpaper Music’, considering that term’s association with Satie and Eno. Jittery jumpcut sampling and synthesised horns, squeaks and burps, lead into John Cousins-esque spoken-word sections, tape-speed effects, shimmering Eventide crystals and quite lovely live guitar and singing. So maybe it’s wallpapering in the sense of that unintentional collage which one finds along heavily postered walls and bollards. ‘Song Cycle Nocturne’ uses the poems of Hone Tuwhare sung and spoken by soloist Rosalund Solas, with atmospheric electronics often mimicking the birdsong of the kokako, which sounds like traditional instrumentation mimicking electronic music! Very beautiful, very NZ. The final piece, ‘Flute Music’, is entirely constructed from recordings of the composer playing his own, self-carved koauau. Ghostly whistles, fragments of tunes, with little processing other than looping, stereo separating, and delay; much more what Satie and Eno had in mind, I believe. 

Making Small Holes in the Silence

Denis Smalley - Tides (1974-1984)

‘Pentes’ (1974) is, according to whoever wrote the Denis Smalley article on Wikipedia, one of the classics of electroacoustic music. But it's no joke. These are serious, complex soundworlds imagined by a rigorous master of the form. Sophisticated timbres are created from instrumental sounds in the isolation of the synthesiser, and in other sections, snatches of what sound like tapes of orchestral warm-ups mixed with white noise are slowed to a halt. There are also, as in many NZ electroacoustic works (like Dyett's), references to native birdsong, and even (like Downes') to bagpipe music. ‘Tides: Pools and Currents’ is a perfect audio accompaniment to Theo Schoon’s cover photograph of Rotorua mud pools, or an evocation of autochthonous echinoderms and cnidarians in their rocky puddles. Its sequel, ‘Tides: Sea Flight’ is uttered in the same tongue, but describes magnetically shifting immensities, rather than the small and self-contained. ‘Vortex’ jumps around like Dyett’s ‘Wallpaper’, then coalesces into skirling winds and distant chimes. Denis Smalley has been, for me, the greatest discovery from this series. New Zealand born and trained, his award-winning body of work has been entirely electroacoustic, and he deserves more recognition here both for what he has produced musically, and academically through his teaching and articles

Invisible Kinetic Sculpture

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