CD Reviews

Tuesday 9th March

March 10, 2010

In recent days a small amount of vaguely heated discussion has sprung up online regarding Matthew Mullane’s recent release on the free to download Homophoni label. The recording is called Double Negative and is credited to Non Group, a name chosen specifically because of the nature of the piece’s construction. The music is described as a work of appropriation, because it is actually a collage put together from samples of the work of forty two different improvising musicians. With the exception of a tiny bit of processing in the opening seconds, Mullane has not treated or altered the samples, merely edited them acutely and arranged them carefully so as to create a new piece of music from the sounds. I should start by saying that although Matthew contacted me about this piece some weeks ago, encouraging me to listen to it to try and work out how it was made, I only listened to it for the first time a few days back, after I had read about its method of construction. It certainly would have been more interesting to have approached the work without any prior knowledge, but such is life.

A bit of history first. Few people know this, but about thirteen years ago, when I bought my first computer and discovered simple sound sequencing software I used to mess about in a similar way to how the Non group piece was made, taking samples from my CD collection (Mullane might as well have used my collection given the list of musicians he sampled) and essentially trying to recreate the work of John Wall, who composed stunning collage works using tiny snippets from CDs. Like Wall though I worked hard to try and disguise the origin of the samples, processing them through basic tools, or simply sampling just tiny moments of sound so as to remove any sign of the original musician. Mullane has attempted something different here, taking sections of the musicians’ playing that are often easily recogniseable and putting them together without any processing. I should add at this stage that the amateur music I used to make was complete rubbish, but I learned an interesting thing from the exercise- often the parts that sounded better when I put the pieces together were the sections that fell together by accident, where two samples might have crossed by mistake but sounded good together so they were left in. Sometimes just combining random samples together produced results that would sound good, as if they were meant to have been placed together that way. from this I realised that there are certain common musical traits in improvised music that form when two sounds are placed together, even by accident.

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