D’incise – IlhasMay 12, 2014
D’incise is the nom de plume of Laurent Peter, best known as one half of the prolific Swiss electroacoustic duo Diatribes. Whilst he has several solo releases to his name, including a fine new disc on the Consumer Waste label, Ilhas is, I think, the first work to bear his name as composer, in the more traditional sense of that word. Ilhas is a work that consists of thirty-eight chords, existing as pre-recorded electronically generated frequencies that are based on the twenty-two tones of shruti scale, whatever that may actually be. These chords each last a multiple of ten seconds in length, so either ten, twenty, or thirty seconds etc, and are each spaced apart by four seconds of silence, so that the entire work lasts twenty minutes. The premise of the score is that the musician(s) will play these chords through a “medium sized handheld speaker” either very close to, or touching the surface of a snare drum that may be prepared with aluminium, paper, cardboard, plastic, etc ,so causing its skin to vibrate in different ways. By adjusting these simple preparations and by altering the pressure of the speaker against the drum’s skin, the soft tones we hear are then given different textures and vibrancy.
So there are three tracks on this release of the work by the Chicago based Suppedanum label. The first features D’incise performing the score himself, before the second sees the Berlin based duo of Jamie Drouin and Hannes Lingens realise their own version. Finally the third track here consists of just the electronic tones used to create the work, so allowing the CD’s owner to create their own version of Ilhas, should they happen to have a snare drum lying about. The music across all three versions has a gentle restfulness to it. The tones of the third, unrealised version have a softness that have a real warmth to them, remarkably familiar to the kind of sound preferred by Radu Malfatti for his electronic works- reedy and earthy but always clearly electronically generated. These tones are perfectly listenable by themselves. Whilst perhaps not the most exciting of compositions, just listening to them is something of a gentle, untroubled affair. The chords however take on a much more interesting, if very subtle new life when the speakers are applied to the drums. D’incise’s realisation adds a thin, whispery dissonance to the tones as he seems to set out to inject just the thinnest layer of grit into the otherwise oily workings of the piece. With each tone comes a slightly different sound as he works through assorted preparations or fine tunes the delicate interplay between speaker, drum and loosely placed interjections into their relationship. The duo version obviously offers more body- a rougher, harsher sound the result of the two musicians approaching D’incise’s instruction simultaneously. There is more density here, if even then only slightly more, and the interplay equation takes on a further dimension as the two musician’s sounds then react to one another.
No matter which of the three recordings you listen to here, Ilhas is a subtle work. The two fully realised recordings however have a very delicate opacity to them however that allows you to listen into each hovering tone and picture the surface of the drum vibrating as the various preparations rattle atop the membrane. One can picture the musicians, holding the speakers with concentrated precision, sometimes finding a thickness of sound that allows the vibrations to roar, or just as likely delivering just a touch of colour. if anything D’incise’s version is a nicer listen purely because the simplicity of those basic relationships are more apparent and easy to connect with, but both recordings are charming in their unadorned singularity. Chance also plays its inevitable part. Each time the speaker is moved closer or further from the drum, or its tentatively placed preparations nobody, musicians included could know precisely what sounds would arise. Adjustments and decisions can only ever be approximate with occasional surprises. Very nice work then. Nothing technically groundbreaking, rather a set of simple studies on a narrow but intricately detailed acoustic phenomena and how sensitive musicians might relate to them.
As with all Suppedaneum releases, its a beautifully packaged affair also.