Friday 9th JulyJuly 10, 2010
Hot and tired this evening, but now I have a couple of days off of work, which all being well will be spent writing and sleeve designing, so that thought along with this icy cold pear cider is making the toils of the week disappear pretty quickly. I’ve also spent a couple of hours playing a CD that has been in and out of my CD player for a few weeks now, the //2009// compilation CD put together by the q.O2 organisation in Belgium for the Compost and Height label. The idea behind this compilation is really very simple, but if I think about it I can’t come up with another CD release that has adopted the same idea down the years. The disc works as a kind of game of musical Chinese whispers.
The q.O2 organisation in Brussells is a wonderful operation. They bring experimental musicians and artists into their city centre workspace throughout the year to take up week-long residencies, sometimes also playing concerts, but generally just making use of the creative space offered to them. During 2009, one of q.O2’s driving forces, Julia Eckhardt asked ten musicians (nine plus herself) to create a seven minute long piece of music, one a time, as the year progressed. However each was given the CD of the musician before them’s music and asked to respond to it. They did not know who had made the piece of music before them, or have any information other than the recording itself. The project began when Eckhardt herself made a piece of music, so starting the chain that is documented on this CD. Each musician was also asked to provide two diary pages about their contribution, which are collected in the handsome book that wraps around the CD here. Some of the contributions are written texts, some hand-drawn, some just consist of photographs. The whole project then takes on a new dimension beyond what we might expect from a various artists compilation. Rather than just listen to each track we ponder over its links to the preceding piece of music. Interesting stuff.
So Eckhardt’s opening piece, a composed work for viola starts things off with a rough, scraping rhythm as steady sweeps of the bow across the instruments body occasionally pull in slight tonal resonances from the edge of a string. The viola sounds very closely miked, so every tiny detail, or irregularity in the passing of the bow is captured. Tapping and scratching fingers add a further dimension and set of rhythms to the music a bit later in the track, which falls into silence around the three minute mark, quietly pulling itself back together after a bit of a pause.
Eckhardt’s piece, which is named Aspects 1-7 is followed by a track by someone named Chiyoko Szlavnics, a name new to me. Slvanics actually takes Eckhardt’s piece and reuses it, placing it as a layer in a laminal structure of murky field recordings, the grey, textural nature of the viola playing fitting in nicely with sounds of a jumbo jet’s cabin and industrial sounds from within a heating and cooling plant. Slowly the viola is consumed in these clouds of grainy white noise, resurfacing every so often. Rather than a response this piece feels like a remix of Eckhardt’s piece. Its nice, and the sounds added are full of depth and mystery, but it feels a bit of an obvious way to respond really.
There then follows a piece called Teufelskreis by another new name to me, Mieke Lambrigts. His/her work is a quiet piece that mixes deep bassy rumbles with circular textural rhythms, obviously influenced by the viola’s presence in the previous piece. The track sounds like distant rumbling factories and closeby mechanical machinery churning over. It has a certain charm to it, particularly when you consider how it follows and is informed by the track before it, and it is a nicely made piece of restrained electroacoustic composition, but perhaps otherwise a little run of the mill. Which, in many ways is how Manfred Werder’s contribution here could be described, as it contains a seven minute long field recording made in Brussells, at precisely 12:28PM on June 19th 2009. The recording then captures a series of run of the mill events heard in what sounds like some kind of pedestrian-filled tunnel beside a road in the city.
The recording is beautiful, in that it captures a little piece of everyday human lives and adds sounds that are a little less familiar, and others that are so commonplace that they sound completely anonymous, just another passing car, another chink of glass, unknown distant crash. The question then is how does this recording respond to Lambrigts’ music before it? The work here actually follows a Werder score, which in itself seems to just arrange particular places to stop and listen. In his diary notes Werder talks of allowing the music to help him choose where he would stop, listen and record this time, Exactly how the music informed these decisions is not clear, but the sense of grey, murky texture remains on rainy streets late in the evening.
There then follows seven minutes of Annette Krebs’ music, She provides lengthy notes in her diary pages, explaining the way her music responds, stretching from using small samples of Werder’s recording early on, to contrasting sounds from one piece to the another, for instance as Werder’s track cuts off suddenly at seven minutes, so Krebs chose to begin hers softly in response. The music consists of little grabs of voices, mostly in German separated by bell-like strikes at her amplified guitar and other small abstract ephemera. The voices here reflect the bustling crowds of voices in Werder’s Brussells streets, little bits of conversation cut off in much the same way, like hearing small parts of people’s conversations as they pass by. Its great stuff, very typical of Krebs’ music of late with perhaps even more use of the vocal samples than usual.
Before listening to the CD, the question of how Tim Parkinson might possibly respond to Annette Krebs was very much a question in my mind. Having listened many times now, I’m still not sure of the connections, but I like both pieces. Parkinson’s track is named Melodica and Percussion and mixes both instruments in little passages of somewhat quirky dislocation. There are held melodica notes that really grate, cheesy little two or three note riffs, soft, rather beautiful perussive interludes and an overall sense of avoiding all established music forms at all cost. Its this last fact that does link this piece to the preceding work. Neither flow in a traditional manner, both use surprise and sudden juxtaposition as compositional tools. Both are highly enjoyable.
Olivier Toulemonde uses parts of Parkinson’s piece in his work, which fuses a muted, rerecorded section of the track repeated often over a series of field recordings Toulemonde made around Brussells. So we get a wheezing, squeaking melodica sound, sped up slightly and popping in and out constantly throughout the piece, with the sounds of the city blended around it. This is an odd track, the like of which we probably would not have got without a project like this creating it. It works well, a very tense, almost wild stream of nervous energy that returns to Parkinson’s hammering percussion sounds at the end.
The piercing melodica sounds still seems present in the eighth track, an electro-acoustic work full of field recordings and (I am guessing) elements of Toulemonde’s piece buried in it composed by Manu Holterbach. The music gets very dense and heavy near its midpoint, oscillating, crossing streams of synth-like sound seeming to rise in volume and intensity, the ghost of the screeching melodica still there in the background alongside unknown thuds and crashes. This piece bears a close similarity to Toulemonde’s in many ways, the retained melodica sounds partly creating this feeling, the use of dense field recordings also helping. The heaving synth-like swarms give the track its own character however.
The ninth piece, named Echelon 9 is by Aernoudt Jacobs, who I am not familiar with, and whose diary contribution consists of a seemingly mathematic field of colours, like some kind of long bright blue barcode. The short paragraph explaining something about the image and how it links to the music as the colours link to the frequency of sounds confused me to be honest. I like the picture, the music consists of whistling ghostly noises and small thuds and pattering that build up here and there into massed sections. This is one of the few tracks here in which I struggle to hear any link at all between the track and the one that came before it, unless as I suspect a fair amount of computer processing was involved. I also didn’t like it that much, the droning, rolling sensation of the music not doing much for me.
Anne Wellmer’s notes on her piece suggest that initially she had planned to use her laptop to somehow calculate a lot of data from Jacobs’ work and transform the music digitally somehow. Apparently this took too long, so she chose a different option and went out at night with something called a long loop antenna to capture ionospheric sounds in the atmosphere. The final piece in the Chinese whisper puzzle then does not resemble Julia Eckhardt’s opening track very much. It is very quiet and subdued, resembling Lee Patterson’s pondlife recordings as much as anything else to me, all tiny pops and crackles and gentle moaning murmurs. Again I’m not sure how Wellmer arrived at this music from the starting point of Jacobs’ track but I’m glad she got here, as this piece is beautifully understated, softly coloured and nicely shaped.
So overall this compilation makes great listening. Even if a particular track may not sound particularly interesting, the game of trying to work out where it came from, how it was born from the track preceding it is thoroughly engaging. The accompanying notes in the book are very helpful, and occasionally quite beautiful, and the entire project is lovingly presented. In her opening notes Eckhardt states that she wanted the project to ask if it is possible for musicians or listeners to “understand” experimental music in a manner that goes beyond “I liked it” or “it spoke to me” She asks if misunderstanding is just as important, or potentially as fertile an area of discovery. As a semi-professional listener to this area of music these are the questions I ask myself every day as I listen and share my thoughts on this music. Does any of it make sense? can we respond to music in an effective worthwhile manner? This CD shows that the course of trying to do so is a thoroughly engrossing one. Great stuff available here.