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Articles indéfinis Jonty Harrison

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… et ainsi de suite…: Prix Ars Electronica 1993 — Distinction

Harrison deserved a place among the leading figures of the genre…

— François Couture, All-Music Guide, Wednesday, August 1, 2001

Harrison deserved a place among the leading figures of the genre

— François Couture, All-Music Guide, Friday, April 27, 2001

Articles indéfinis

Jonty Harrison

IMED 9627 / 1996

Some Recommended Items

Notices

Playful Volatility

In contemplating the Harrisonian style, my first thought is of ‘volatility.’ Volatile in its agitation, its wayward energies, the restlessness of its short-breathed phrases, the unpredictable pushing and shoving of its gestures, its punchy presence, its elegantly controlled aggressiveness. Relaxed, gentle moments are to be savored in a sound world where sudden impulse dominates the soothing curve. This is a music volatile also in its playfulness — sparks fly, fireworks cavort, objects dance as well as collide, sonic events from the family diary felicitously mingle with studio life.

The notion of the sound object is forever evident as morphological types and the panoply of solid and malleable substances are lovingly explored. The elements of earth, air, fire and water are a constant thread, whether overt or allusive. Only in the most recent works has obvious human presence intruded on the world of invisible energies, provoking unsettling ambiguities.

If there are favorite morphologies then it is those based on iterative behaviours which have pride of place, for this is a very rhythmic music — exchanges of pulse patterns, peculiar bounces, granular interiors, halted accelerations, fleeting ritardandi, twists and turns which evolve their own particular logic.

Object and texture are in joyous equilibrium. The ear can savour minuscule, passing ephemera and at the same time admire the surrounding view. Behind the etching of detail, and the gauging of densities and rates of change, I detect the influence of those many hours of performing with the BEAST (Birmingham ElectroAcoustic Sound Theatre) system: I hear Jonty’s malleable fingers and effusive diffusion style, and when I hear Hot Air I know that it is designed to explode spectacularly in diffusion, but that I can only discover its secret corners on CD.

Look through the stereo window and discover this expansive, exuberant world.

Denis Smalley, London (England, UK) [i-96]

Indifinite Articles, the Disc

Just over twenty years ago, after a 45-minute introduction to the studio, I set out on a journey in the electroacoustic domain. As I was about to progress to a composition doctorate, I felt that I should know something about how electroacoustic music fitted into the broader picture of composition. I soon realized that it was more a question of how instrumental composition fitted into the broader picture of working with sound!

The field of possibility in the electroacoustic medium being more or less infinite, the old certainties of the act of composition can no longer be sustained. Composing can no longer be restricted to formulating abstract relationships between material drawn from a limited array of ‘musical’ sounds via an intermediate system of graphic (visual) symbols — a formulation which is frequently more firmly rooted in notational (‘notatable’) relationships than in the perceivable relationships of sound. No, in the studio one works with sound itself and tests the results on that most fickle and yet most potent discriminatory organ of perception — the ear. Composition becomes ‘concrete’ — a collaboration between composer and the organic sound matter which (like a kind of sonic DNA) carries clues to its behaviour in various musical contexts, and to which the composer must be sensitive or risk the musical consequences of a mismatch of local and global structures. This collaborative venture involves a shift of focus away from instrumental generalizations based on an acquired cultural memory of sonic exteriors. Listening inside sounds reveals interior structures which can give rise to new, external(ized) musical forms — no longer abstract, but abstracted from the material itself. Where this initial material is drawn from recognizable sounds, the sounds of our everyday experience, then the purely musical, spectromorphological relationships between sounds are complemented by a wider frame of reference: alongside Schaeffer’s écoute réduite we can perhaps also experience ‘expanded listening.’

Little did I realize back in 1974 that my encounter with the electroacoustic medium would change my attitude to composition — and, indeed, to music itself — so fundamentally. Over this period I have travelled from formulaic throwbacks to structures built from spectromorphological connections and free associations of sound images. The pieces gathered together on this CD chart some of this journey.

Jonty Harrison, Birmingham (England, UK) [i-96]

In the Press

Review

François Couture, All-Music Guide, Wednesday, August 1, 2001

Articles indéfinis (“Indefinite Articles”) is Jonty Harrison’s first CD. Here are collected five works of musique concrète spanning more than 15 years. The set begins with Pair / Impair, a piece created in 1978 but aging very well, based upon the notions of dynamic and static. The highlight of this CD is … et ainsi de suite…, which Harrison describes as a “French suite” in the purest musique concrète tradition. The 11 segments (mostly in the one-to-two-minutes range) present variations on the sound of wine glasses. Together with Aria, they illustrate Harrison’s fascination with movement and sound spatialization. Each segment comes back to the glasses and push their sound into another direction. Aria and Hot Air both use the prime element of air as their main sound source. The latter contains a wide range of dynamics. The composer would later create two more pieces (included on Évidence matérielle) using prime elements, wood and water, fuller and better constructed. Unsound Objects is clearly weaker: it lacks focus and poetry. Articles indéfinis proved there was serious research on musique concrète going on in England and that Harrison deserved a place among the leading figures of the genre, but his second CD would be stronger.

Harrison deserved a place among the leading figures of the genre…

Review

François Couture, All-Music Guide, Friday, April 27, 2001

Articles indéfinis (Indefinite Articles) is Jonty Harrison’s first CD. Here are collected five works of musique concrète spanning more than 15 years. The set begins with Pair / Impair, a piece created in 1978 but aging very well, based upon the notions of dynamic and static. The highlight of this CD is … et ainsi de suite…, which Harrison describes as a “French suite” in the purest musique concrète tradition. The 11 segments (mostly in the one-to-two-minutes range) present variations on the sound of wine glasses. Together with Aria, they illustrate Harrison’s fascination with movement and sound spatialization. Each segment comes back to the glasses and push their sound into another direction. Aria and Hot Air both use the prime element of air as their main sound source. The latter contains a wide range of dynamics. The composer would later create two more pieces (included on Évidence matérielle) using prime elements, wood and water, fuller and better constructed. Unsound Objects is clearly weaker: it lacks focus and poetry. Articles indéfinis proved there was serious research on musique concrète going on in England and that Harrison deserved a place among the leading figures of the genre, but his second CD would be stronger.

Harrison deserved a place among the leading figures of the genre

Review: Another British Invasion!?

Laurie Radford, Computer Music Journal, no. 22:4, Tuesday, December 1, 1998

Another British invasion!? UK electroacoustic composers over the past several decades have been actively focused on fortifying the compositional and theoretical foundations and potential for acousmatic art music through high standards of teaching, production and performance. The works of Wishart, Emmerson, Lewis, Barrett, Stollery and Smalley are heard worldwide on concert programs and their ideas and writings have appeared in scholarly publications with increasing frequency. Jonty Harrison, based in Birmingham [UK], is among these talented and dedicated individuals who have taken up the cause of musique concrète, écoute réduite (reduced listening), and objet sonore (sound object) along with other aspects of the work pioneered by Pierre Schaeffer and the Groupe de recherches musicales (GRM) in the 50’s and 60’s. They appear to have set themselves the task of profoundly expanding the limits of this art as well as establishing and re-evaluating the means of discussion and analysis for an art form which often suffers from a lack of shared terminology and theoretical principles.

The sound world of Jonty Harrison is that of rich source materials scrutinized for all perceptible attributes and subsequently submitted to an array of transformations. These transformations push the materials further and further from their source while at the same time imbuing the new compositional context with timbral and gestural cohesion. In fact, it is remarkable to listen to the selections on this 1996 release, Articles indéfinis, which span seventeen years and hear such coherence and consistency of purpose, style and technique. In the words of his colleague, Denis Smalley, Jonty Harrison’s music is “volatile in its agitation, its wayward energies, the restlessness of its short-breathed phrases, the unpredictable pushing and shoving of its gestures, its punchy presence, its elegantly controlled aggressiveness.” As Smalley also points out in the introduction of the accompanying booklet, the fact the Harrison is the Director of, and a frequent performer with the Birmingham ElectroAcoustic Sound Theatre (BEAST), the multichannel acousmatic potential of his materials is always a primary consideration in their choice and compositional placement. This is a music of careful craftsmanship, an etching and molding of objects and textures, a control of motion, speed, direction and distance, a “listening inside sounds… which can give rise to new external(ized) musical forms.”

Pair / Impair (1978) is the oldest work presented on the disc and offers an appropriate introduction to Harrison’s origins. In the form of an extended study in electroacoustic transformational techniques, in a similar vein as Parmegiani’s De Natura Sonorum (1975), Pair / Impair is a search for balance and equilibrium between opposites. There is a supple elasticity to Harrison’s approach to time in this as in all of his work: one moment his objects flutter and rebound, are dashed against one another, explode and recombine; a suddenly, they halt and hover, frozen in textural and timbral configurations, only to give way in due time to further perturbations.

… et ainsi de suite… (1992) is a substantial, ultra-refined study in creating a lot from a little. Here the source material originates with soundsd elicited from some rough-textured wine glasses which are subsequently submitted to a gamut of extreme transformations and re-transformations, producing in the end a work of vast gestural and timbral diversity. Yet once again, a sense of unified character and direction is achieved via the frequent dialogue between original source material and the many levels of mutation and recombination Harrison employs. Eleven movements of varying duration present elements of exposition, parenthesis, commentary and recapitulation as we follow the attacks and resonance of the glass sounds through time-stretching, pitch shifting, truncation, and a myriad of textural constructions. Unsound Objects (1995) continues this compositional path while increasing the element of ambiguity “evoked when recognition and contextualization of sound material rub shoulders with more abstracted (and abstract) musical structures.” Swirling flashes of highly processed sound frequently lead the listener to the initial sounds sources such as walking on granular materials, falling rain, and the electroacoustic archetypal opening of a creaky door. The pendulum-like alternation sets up a sense of global rhythm within which “interconnections and multiple levels of meaning proliferate.”

The final two works on Articles indéfinis arise from the gestural properties of air. In Aria (1988), subtle connections between the frequency and velocity trajectories of gusts of air and the inner workings of the human vocal mechanism are explored. Ascending and descending flourishes, which constantly increase or decrease in speed, are anchored by slowly evolving spectral complexes. One has the impression of the simultaneous presentation of several temporal levels which control and guide the listener in appreciating the unfolding of rich and evocative timbral transformations. Hot Air (1995) is concerned on one level with further implications of the concept of air (balloons, breath, heat). But it goes further in its conceptual base in drawing upon the idea of air as the propagator of sound itself and the resulting association of linkage from one sound to another. The most extreme examples of combinating unprocessed environmental recordings with radically transformed sound materials (often of these same original field recordings) to be found on the disc are at work in Hot Air. The iterative cracklings of a roaring fire, the explosive imagery of claps of thunder, the squeaking of rubber balloons, and the overhead squawking of geese, to name just a few natural sound phenomena which are used, are combined, alternated and linked with sinuous, angular and often granular-like transformed materials in an interplay of timbral and metaphorical exchanges.

Harrison’s music is a feast for the ear. It is decisively concerned with timbre, or to use Smalley’s term, spectromorphological design. Its premise and source is the rich inherent spectral and gestural character of natural sound from which models for exploration and extension arise. The works on this disc were produced at the studios of the GRM, GMEB, and the Universities of Birmingham and East Anglia and have garnered Jonty Harrison awards from Ars Electronica, Musica Nova and the ICMA.

Harrison’s music is a feast for the ear.

Review

R Seth Friedman, Factsheet Five, no. 64, Tuesday, July 14, 1998

Another compelling experimental recording from empreintes DIGITALes. Jonty Harrison makes heavy use of electronics and tape manipulation in a way that’s very old-school. However, unlike lots of the early experimental musique concrète, Harrison’s stuff is very lyrical, in a way that makes for a very enjoyable listening experience. Five tracks on this album, maxing out the disk at over 77 minutes. The final track Hot Air used samples from children’s ballons to create a mysteriouly textured piece. The production is chrystiline, allowing you to hear every nuance of this unique recording.

The production is chrystiline, allowing you to hear every nuance of this unique recording.

Review

André Mayer, Musicworks, no. 71, Monday, June 1, 1998

Articles indéfinis is not as varied a collection as Contes de la memoire, but it still amply displays Harrison’s importance. The disc begins with Pair / Impair, recorded in 1978, a manic depressive composition in which Harrison sought to reconcile dynamics and stasis. The electronic and acoustic tones on Pair / Impair still seem otherwordly over twenty years later.

The centrepiece of Articles indéfinis is … et ainsi de suite… (1992), an eleven-part suite of musique concrète. Harrison utilized wine glasses as his raw texture, then time-stretched and digitally manipulated the sounds to create a mesmerizing sonic canvas. The final piece, Hot Air (1995), is notable because it is a study of air — children’s balloons were merely a starting point for a complex exploration of the dynamics of breath and the energy needed to achieve it. The result essentially offers a wordless philosophical discussion on the concepts of air and heat.

Appleton and Harrison’s work can be truly held up as visionary; their influence can be heard in modern electronic bands such as Germany’s Mouse on Mars and Britain’s Autechre, which have taken raw, sometimes unpalatable sound experiments and forged engaging and more commercially viable equivalents.

Appleton and Harrison’s work can be truly held up as visionary

Review

Glenn McDonald, The War Against Silence, no. 143, Thursday, October 23, 1997

Noise is available in a wide range of noisinesses, from the subliminal ebb of ambient to the cacophonous roar of industrial noise, but one of its stranger manifestations is electroacoustic music, a form that appears, as best I can discern, to be the near-exclusive province of the Québec experimental label empreintes DIGITALes [produced by DIFFUSION i MéDIA]. The simplest generalization for this style, summarized on the first disc of the Sombient compilation A Storm of Drones, is that it is a lot like ambient, only not relaxing. If you imagine that Brian Eno’s Music for Airports is not a single album, but rather a compilation of isolated peaceful moments from other sources, like an abstract instrumental version of those Enya-heavy Pure Moods collections sold on late-night television, then electroacoustic could be the less-peaceful source material that got left out.

Most of Jonty Harrison’s Articles indéfinis sounds like the exasperated monologous rant of an R2D2 the size of a killer whale. Noises come in clusters, sudden and decisive, whipping through the stereo field and the human audio spectrum on impatient errands to somewhere else entirely. If stars were actually living creatures, existing simultaneously on time scales both faster and slower than our own, arguing with each other on topics beyond human comprehension, much less grammar, then this is what Fiorella Terenzi’s would hear in her radio telescopes.

Noises come in clusters, sudden and decisive, whipping through the stereo field and the human audio spectrum…

Gravikords, Whirlies & Pyrophones

Dwight Loop, The Sun-News, no. 9:3, Saturday, February 1, 1997

The definition of “objet sonore” or as French composer’s definition of a ‘sound object’ was that through the process of “écoute réduite” (or ‘reduced listening’) is that one hear sound material purely as sound, divorced from any association with its physical origins-in other words, what is significant about a violin is that particular sound and not its “violin-ness.” English composer Jonty Harrison’s Articles indéfinis (empreintes DIGITALes, IMED 9627) will take you to a sound design that finds its home in many traditional experimental styles. This is unusually crafted sound for the discriminating ear.

Recension

Pär Thörn, Storno, no. 3, Wednesday, January 1, 1997

C’est le temps des récoltes

François Tousignant, Le Devoir, Saturday, October 19, 1996

Amateurs de découvertes, vous allez être servis. L’insolite, l’original et le neuf sont ici au rendez-vous avec la plus grande efficacité et l’art dans ce qu’il a de plus attirant et gratifiant. Le Britannique Jonty Harrison nous emmène en voyage comme seul sait le faire un électroacousticien de haute-voltige. Murmures de cloches, bulles synthétiques, dialogues des sons de tout genres se répercutant d’un haut-parleur à l’autre, sont les artifices de son langage. C’est le degré un de la séduction, celui qui force la deuxième écoute. Alors, on entre dans un univers qui titille le cerveau, chatouille l’oreille, fascine le cœur et ravit l’auditeur.

Naturellement, il ne s’agit pas de musique d’atmosphère; il est question de sonorités mises en forme (et parfois déformées, quel bonheur) dans ce qu’elles ont de plus subtil et ténu. Le compositeur s’intéresse à une texture, à une couleur, la manipule, la fait voyager, lui associe quelques objets sonores qui la mettent en relief, lui font parcourir un itinéraire original et qui révèle un sens à la fois ludique et intelligent.

… et ainsi de suite… en est un bel exemple; pendant les vingt minutes de cette «suite», aucun moment d’ennui ni méme de lassitude. Si vous voulez apprivoiser la musique sur bande, c’est par là qu’il vous faut commencer. Harrison n’agresse pas, il séduit, et le charme britannique est irrésistible, vous le savez bien.

L’univers sonore est volontairement restreint. Cela permet de se repérer plus facilement et surtout de suivre le processus ou, plus justement, la surprise dans l’évolution des processus. Il ne faut pas confondre cette notion avec celle de procédé. Le procédé ennuie par sa répétitivité et la prévisibilité même avec laquelle un événement qui se voudrait surprise; le processus, lui, permet d’établir un réseau et de s’en écarter pour créer la véritable surprise, même nuancée et fine, et stimuler l’attention, donc, en musique, l’émotion.

Cette petite collection de perles rares arrive comme un bain de fraîcheur dans un univers qui parfois semble uniformément morne. C’est qu’au lieu de faire une démonstration savante de son esthétique, le compositeur s’adresse d’abord au côté inquisiteur de l’oreille, l’oreille qui cherche, curieuse. Et qui trouve! C’est cela le plus beau.

Petite anecdote cocasse et humoristique: on indique que ce disque est «produit au Québec, made in Canada». Comprenne ce qu’il veut qui le pourra.

L’insolite, l’original et le neuf sont ici au rendez-vous avec la plus grande efficacité et l’art dans ce qu’il a de plus attirant et gratifiant.

Critique

Jérôme Noetinger, Revue & Corrigée, no. 29, Sunday, September 1, 1996

Du plaisir, il y en a à l’écoute des pièces du compositeur anglais Jonty Harrison. Rebondissements et jaillissements en tout genre caractérisent les événements sonores ici présents. On pense parfois au Parmegiani de De natura sonorum par la confrontation de différentes textures sonores. Jonty Harrison travaille aussi sur l’ambiguïté de la source sonore, l’aller-retour permanent entre le son pur et sa source, l’anecdote. On regrettera cependant certains systématismes de composition.

Rebondissements et jaillissements en tout genre…

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