This CD showcases the works of four independent British
electroacoustic music composers, whose names and music should be familiar to most readers of this publication. Each composer's contribution consists of a pair of works, one of which
is purely abstract, while the other carries some connotation of place. Despite this thread of commonality, at least behind the selection of the pieces, the disc presents an interesting
variety of works and manages to convey above all else the distinct individuality of each contributor's musical voice.
The disc opens with Douglas Doherty's
"Neptune's Children (on the edge of chaos)", which dates from 1996. This is a substantial work, unfolding its moody and often chaotic soundworld over almost 13 minutes, in a
complex and shifting development of mostly synthetic, abstract washes of sound, which build into a series of dynamic pulsing textures. Listening to this work reminds me of watching the
roiling waters of a great river: its seemingly slow and ordered flow actually the result of a chaotic and headlong rush. It is similarly hypnotic in nature, too, so that one hardly
notices the gradually swelling to a climax, until the material is suddenly subsiding into its final, relaxed resolution.
By contrast, "On the Toon in the Toon
on the Tyne" (1997), which follows, is a more programmatic — or at least representational — work. It is constructed from pieced-together sound snippets collected from
Newcastle-upon-Tyne's city centre and subjected to virtually no additional processing. The composition is essentially a 3-minute soundwalk through the lively and rowdy nightlife of a
hard-working, hard-playing community. It presents, however, a disconcertingly fly-on-the-wall view. It evokes very effectively that sense of disconnected alienation that one can feel if
suddenly immersed in a community one is not really a part of — present, but only in the role of eavesdropper; party to mere fragments of others' lives, gleaned through sonic
snapshots which have been isolated from their full context.
Moving north, across the border into Scotland, we come
next to two works by Glasgow-based composer, Alistair MacDonald. The first, "Dreel", is an acousmatic composition which contrasts various recognisable but disparate sounds
— some real-world, others more traditionally musical in origin — in a 10-minute musical progression through a variety of sonic images and loose mental associations. Most of
the sound sources are processed to some extent, but generally only just enough to blur their true origins and to suggest others. The result is akin to some kaleidoscopic journey through a
succession of mental states or locations, a dream journey in which one is always travelling without ever really seeming to arrive anywhere.
The somewhat shorter "Final Times"
feels to be similar in aim: framed by the calls of a street newspaper seller, its 5 minutes provide a highly enjoyable and individualistic whirlwind tour around the city of Glasgow, but
one in which almost nothing is quite what it sounds to be. As a sonic portrait, it makes for an interesting contrast with Douglas Doherty's portrayal of Newcastle.
Our northward journey continues with two
works produced in Aberdeen by Pete Stollery. The first of these, "Shortstuff" (1993), is an entirely abstract work, constructed from sound objects of short duration —
mostly short fragments of longer source sounds. These are used in a series of staccato, pointillistic sonic gestures, which blend over 9 minutes or so into a sequence of slowly evolving
textures, as the sonic possibilities of each of the sounds are separately explored.
Its companion work, "ABZ/A" (1998)
joins the other sonic portraits by using sounds from a cityscape — Aberdeen in this case — as its source material. These sounds are used not so much to construct a sonic
postcard but rather as a launch pad for an excursion into the acousmatic potential of the sound objects themselves, creating (to my ears at least) a more abstract evocation than either of
the previous two such pieces.
Returning south again (to Huddersfield, by way of
Australia — or perhaps that should be the other way round?) we come to Mark Alexander Bromwich's narrative work "Ghosts" (1995/7). This 8-minute work uses notes played
on a didgeridoo as well as sound samples from home-made spirit catchers to evoke various legends of the Australian Aboriginal Dreamtime. The legends themselves are never overtly explained
within the work, but are rather left as a potent, underlying physical element to the music (which was originally conceived as a dance collaboration, but presented here in its concert-hall
Mark Bromwich's second work on this disc
("Lifting Bodies") also began life as a dance collaboration and shares something of the previous work's sense of physical energy. The product of an MSP environment, occupied
by a live dancer whose movements control both a granular synthesis player and a bank of 25 sine-wave generators, "Lifting Bodies" takes the form of a lengthy evolving
improvisation. While I have a slightly uneasy feeling that this piece probably works better in performance than it does as a recording, it nevertheless provides an interesting contrast
with the other works on the disc. Its entirely synthetic sound world contrasts well with what goes before it, without in any way seeming out of place, and the work draws the disc to an
altogether satisfying conclusion.
In summary, I would say that this disc
provides an excellent sampling of electroacoustic and acousmatic music from across Britain in the late 1990s, presenting a range of similar but disparate musical works from composers who
are otherwise poorly represented in the recorded musical canon. It makes for great listening and MPS are to be praised for a very worthwhile release indeed.
Steve Benner Sonic Arts Monthly Journal "Diffusion" Nov. 2002