- Composer(s): Jorge Antunes, Alastair Bannerman, Peter Batchelor, Steve Bradley, Chin-Chin Chen, jef chippewa, Ian Chuprun, Thomas Gerwin, Yves Gigon, Barbara Golden, Martin Gotfrit, Otto Joachim, Suk-Jun Kim, sylvi macCormac, Kevin MacLeod, Diana McIntosh, Dugal McKinnon, Adrian Moore, David Prior, Jean Routhier, Antti Sakari Saario, David Solursh, Jørgen Teller, Benjamin Thigpen, Todor Todoroff, Pascale Trudel, Hans Tutschku, chris wind, Daniel Zimbaldo, Gordon Fitzell, Martín Alejandro Fumarola, Annette Vande Gorne
- Cover image: Ian Chuprun
- Total duration: 147:24
Présence II is a great sonic escape from the daily bombardment of sound stresses such as traffic, construction, and neighborhood activity.
— Patricia Lynn Dirks, Computer Music Journal, no. 25:2, Friday, June 1, 2001
… current electroacoustic practice.
— Ross Bencina, Chroma, no. 30, Sunday, April 1, 2001
PEP 002 / 2000
- Label: CEC-PeP
2 × CDPEP 00220,00 CAD
Some Recommended Items
In the Press
Patricia Lynn Dirks, Computer Music Journal, no. 25:2, Friday, June 1, 2001Présence II is a great sonic escape from the daily bombardment of sound stresses such as traffic, construction, and neighborhood activity.
Ross Bencina, Chroma, no. 30, Sunday, April 1, 2001… current electroacoustic practice.
Grant Chu Covell, La Folia, Sunday, April 1, 2001
Rajmil Fischman, SAN Diffusion, Thursday, February 1, 2001… almost everyone may find something appealing in it.
François Couture, All-Music Guide, Monday, October 16, 2000… a nice overview of what is produced around the world…
Irving Bellemead, Splendid E-Zine, Monday, September 25, 2000… this really is an impressive, listenable collection of electronic music.
Présence II is an appropriate title for the Canadian Electroacoustic Community (CEC)/Productions Electro Productions (PeP) latest two compact disc set of electroacoustic compositions. By definition, “presence” is the state of being present (such as the listener’s physical presence) or a person or thing that is present (as there is a presence in the listening room when hearing this music). Présence II is an international collection of works from 13 countries: Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, England, Finland, France, Germany, Korea, Spain, Taiwan, and USA. It is the second self-funded CD project of CEC/PeP and features a total of 34 compositions by 32 composers. The first noticeable characteristic of this collection is the variety: works that deal with text and voice, the use and creation of new electronic sounds, rhythmic variations and soundscapes, and a single acoustic source exploration. Works on Présence II range in duration anywhere from 0:37 to 12:36.
La beauté indiscrète d’une note violette (1995) by Brazilian composer Jorge Antunes is the opening track of the first disc. The entire composition is an electroacoustic exploration and transformation of a single pitch, E. The fascinating timbral changes of octave material with the juxtaposition of a sung vocal sound on “no” make for an interesting work. Mr. Antunes bases this composition on his theory of Chromophonique, in which octaves of this particular pitch correspond to the color violet. Other works of the collection that were created from a single sound-source exploration include Gordon Fitzell’s Zipper Music II (1998) and Jørgen Teller’s H a e i o u y æ ø å pt. 2 (ex.). Mr. Teller’s excerpt is also a composition based on a single idea, in this case human laughter. He uses a more rhythmic approach through the juxtaposition of sound loops to accomplish his single-source exploration. There is something for every listener’s musical tastes on Présence II. While compositions that are relatively short in duration but definitely not in content make up the majority of the works, a few of them are excerpts from larger electroacoustic compositions. These include Hans Tutschku’s densely processed soundscape, extrémités lointaines (ex.) (1998), Dugal McKinnon’s sporadic electronic conversation of sounds, Horizont im Ohr (ex.) (1998), Martin Gotfrit’s timbral exploration of filtration, A Palaver with Procrustes (ex.) (1998), and Adrian Moore’s fast paced, vocally playful Soundbodies: Bodypart (1998). According to Mr. Moore, his featured excerpt is representative of a 55-min composition/installation/ collaboration for two singers, dancers, video, and electronic sounds entitled Soundbodies. Although Canadian composer Yves Gigon’s Éphémère (1997) is not an excerpt, it was created from a larger sound sculpture. This is a colorful composition both in the sonic material presented and the effective spatialization used to draw the sounds into a three-dimensional realm. Jef Chippewa’s DUO (1997– 1998) uses the acoustic sounds of a saxophone in playful communication with a synthesizer. The sonic illusions and transformations of original material along with impressive aural sound placement make for a very effective composition.
If your time is limited, there are even shorter works, such as Ian Chuprun’s word play, Reading Allowed (PA 11) (1998) and Jean Routhier’s pop-based Stereotyped Latter-Day Opinion (1999). The briefest composition on Présence II is Chris Wind’s to be led (1993), a 37- sec whimsical version of a waltz. Mr. Chuprun’s composition was written for the Birmingham ElectroAcoustic Sound Theatre (BEAST) Web site. It uses spoken phrases playfully processed to sound as if created with early computer music techniques. In keeping with the theme—electroacoustic works that employ the use of text and voice—British composer Alastair Bannerman’s manipulation and treatment of a young voice in his work, In th’air or th’earth (1997, revised 1998–1999) immediately summons up aural images of Karlheinz Stockhausen’s well-known Gesang der Jünglinge (1956). In this composition, the text, both sung and spoken, comes from Shakespeare’s play The Tempest. This is a well-composed and stimulating composition. Steve Bradley’s “volalle melodie vi to trot” / “fowl melody to trot” (1999) also employs text and voice. The spoken text in this composition is made to sound like an old phonograph recording juxtaposed with the voices of children at play. The treatment of word play in this work is reminiscent of compositions by Annette Vande Gorne as featured on her 1998 Impalpables, created with poet Werner Lambersy.
Présence II contains a number of works by composers who have received international recognition for their compositional achievements. It is also important to note that there are a fair number of women composers included in this collection. Chin- Chin Chen’s Points of No Return (1997) features a unique sound world highlighted by her placement of silence and subtle repetition, at times creating a drone-like background. This composition won First Prize in the Concorso Internazionale Luigi Russolo in Varese, Italy. One of my favorite works is Sylvi MacCormac’s Spirit Wheels: Journey (part 1 of a puppet opera) (1997). The way in which she uses the processed pennywhistle motif to enclose her composition produces a definite sense of arrival by the end. It is this, combined with the processing effects used on the spoken and sung voices, and the lyrical lines, that create a satisfying listening experience. If you are in the mood for a more acoustic realm, then Canadian composer Diana McIntosh’s Climb to Camp One (1989) will be to your liking. It is performed entirely on an amplified piano featuring the ambient sounds of the piano’s strings. This is combined with a rhythmic flare and a splash of vocal interjections to produce an entertaining, storytelling work. Pascale Trudel’s Ce n’est pas ici (1999) also features familiar acoustic material. In this case, sounds such as crackling fire, voices, thunder, and various other snippets of nature are presented on their own or juxtaposed, stimulating remembrances of sounds one might hear over a lifetime. Moving back into what is more commonly thought of as electroacoustic music, Belgian composer Annette Vande Gorne’s Amoroso: Vox Alia, 2e mouvement (1998) is a calming composition, a sonic study based on a Gregorian chant, highlighting the melodic, rhythmic, and timbral transformations of the voice.
Présence II definitely features a wide variety of compositional styles. For a taste of nostalgia, there is Argentinean composer Martin Alejandro Fumarola’s ARGOS (1988) and SET IN (1994). The first was created with a Yamaha DX7 and a reel-to-reel tape recorder, and the second with a Yamaha TG7 tone generator and a sequencing program. For more pop-based sounds incorporated into a composition, there is Finnish composer Antti Saario’s BSide (1998), whereas water sounds play an active role in Canadian composer Dave Solursh’s composition, We (1998). Effective use of aural placement of sounds can be heard in Mr. Chuprun’s journey of electronic sounds in To many moments passed (1998), which highlight this work’s rich sonic colors. Near the end of the second disc is Todor Todoroff’s serene employment of voice and breath sounds in Voices Part I (version stéréo) (1997). Daniel Zimbaldo’s meditative tapestry of electronic transformations rounds out this remarkable collection with Au-delà du miroir (1998).
Kudos to the composers, producers, and anyone else involved in deciding the order that each extraordinary work appears on Présence II. I strongly believe that the organization of pieces of music (be it a concert, a recording, or a radio broadcast) is in itself a work of music on a macrocosmic level. In general, both discs of the set feature works that are complementary to one another when listened to in the order presented, creating a relaxing, calming listening experience. Présence II is a great sonic escape from the daily bombardment of sound stresses such as traffic, construction, and neighborhood activity. This is an excellent collection of current electroacoustic music, giving a presence of its own to the existing repertoire. For those who might be interested, Présence II is available for free with every CEC membership.
Consisting of 34 works by 32 composers from 11 different countries, the Présence II double CD compilation represents a diversity of current electroacoustic practice. It is the second such compilation to be produced by PeP — the “arms length” production team of the CEC (Canadian Electroacoustic Community). The production quality on these discs is generally high, although on my copy, track one of disc one suffered from noticeable clipping artefacts.
Disc one begins with Jorge Antunes’ La beauté indiscrète d’une note violette (1995) which uses sustained tones punctuated by vocal events to articulate a short study on the color violet, organised according to the composers Chromophonic theory. Alastair Bannerman’s In th’air or th’earth (1997-99) is a peaceful flow of sustained enharmonic gestures peppered with processed voices and spectral implosions. Points of No Return (1997) by Chin-Chin Chen is a beautifully shaped series of interrupted tension building episodes articulated by a variety of processed percussive sounds. Peter Batchelor writes of his ballistic rollercoaster ride Velocity (1996): “this piece involves an exploration of ways in which speed (or, conversely, stagnancy) might be implied through the use of sound.”
jef chippewa’s DUO (1997-98) explores a “correspondence of timbre and articulation” between the alto saxophone and analog synthetic sounds, Jef continues: “instead of a lethargic experience of linear continuity, and establishment of familiarity on a superficial level.” Ian Chuprun makes effective use of linear continuity in To many moments passed (1998), at one point a node of sustained tones warps through time, and erupts into an amazing pulsating rhythm, somewhat reminiscent of an idling Harley Davidson motorcycle. This is followed by Chuprun’s poignant etude Reading Allowed (PA 11) (1998) which processes the following spoken phrases “How do you want this read?” – “Am I supposed to read this like a child?” – “Let’s try this out here.”
In Zipper Music II (1998) Gordon Fitzell explores the musical potential of zipper sounds in an active dialog of dynamic spatial gestures. Martin Alejandro Fumarola’s ARGOS (1988) and SET IN (1994) are slowly unfolding journeys though a world of sustained tones, synthetic bells and in the case of ARGOS, unusual modulated bird call like sounds. Éphémere (1997) by Yves Gigon makes subtle use of processing and deep resonant reverberation to treat recordings of the percussed ‘Primordium’ sound sculpture.
I found the tracks on Présence II containing only mixed or minimally processed, recorded sound to provide an excellent contrast to the dense spectral masses of the more synthetic works. Steve Bradley’s fowl melody to trot combines domestic histrionics, french voice over and a variety of concréte hummings and tappings to address “the challenge of learning French growing up in a mediated psychic society.” Thomas Gerwin’s 6 Aphorisms (1998) presents a series of environmental snapshots, as does Pascale Trudel’s Ce n’est pas ici (1999.) Barbara Golden’s Whipping the Boys (1981-99) overlays pulsing analog tones with an informal discussion of recreational disciplinary activities. Spirit Wheels: Journey (part 1 of a puppet opera) (1997) by sylvi macCormac is an ethereal collage of voices, penny whistle, bells and bowed drones which I found to be one of the most striking works on these discs.
Disc two contains 22 tracks, ten of which are excerpts or movements taken from larger works, in many cases I would have liked to hear the full compositions – in some cases the pieces are available in full on other releases. Few of the tracks on disk two exceed four minutes in duration, some are edited in such a way that it’s easy to imagine that you are listening to a single composition – at least that was my initial experience of the first five tracks of disc 2. The disc begins with A Palaver with Procrustes (1998) by Martin Gotfrit, which consists of a variety of synthetic tones modulated at different rates according to the Fibonacci series. Otto Joachim’s Three Electronic Sketches (1984) taken from a larger cycle of 7 are interesting sonic scenes rendered using randomly modulated voltage controlled synthesisers. The sequence of analogesque tracks concludes with Suk Jun Kim’s structured composition Sudden Cry (1998).
Following sylvi macCormac’s previously mentioned Spirit Wheels: Journey (part 1 of a puppet opera), is Kevin MacLeod’s pacific (1998) in which pulsey and percussive textures slowly fade in and out to form a dialog. Climb to Camp One (1989) by Diana McIntosh is a slow performance from the inside of a piano – climbing equipment is used to percuss the piano’s body and excite its strings. Gritty pulse-like gestures articulate Dugal McKinnon’s Horizont im Ohr (1998), after which Adrian Moore’s Soundbodies: Bodypart (1998) congeals into a pulsating mass of vocal fragments, percussion and fast, syncopated melodies.
David Prior’s fifth movement from Somewhere Submarine (1996) for piano and tape combines a paced jazz-angular piano score with long decaying resonances on tape. Jean Routhier’s brief Stereotyped Latter-Day Opinion (1999) has it all: a throbbing beat with synth drones, glitches, and cats meowing. B-Side (1998) by Antti Saario begins with a series of drum fills, interspliced with concrete sounds, somewhere in the middle guitar feedback becomes seagulls – in the end there’s a rock-band rehearsal. Dave Solursh’s We (1998) presents a coulorful narrative of processed water, modulated noise and harsh synthesised tones. Jørgen Teller’s H a e i o u y æ å part 2 (1997) is an exercise in extreme laughter processing.
Ben Thigpen’s step, under (1998) features some intriguing comb-like resonances, which appear to bend in pitch as the amplitude of the excitation source changes. The cinematic Voices Part I (1997) by Todor Todoroff presents a subtle sequence of slow ambient resonances, punctuated at various times by voices and clunking metal. Hans Tutschku’s extrémités lointaines (1998) combines sounds collected from south-east Asia into an interesting scene sometimes involving stretched and processed dynamic gestures. Annette Vande Gorne’s Vox Alia: Amoroso (1998) is a subtle wash of heavily processed singing voices – a modal character with traces of sweeping filters. Chris Wand’s to be led (1993) presents a concise spoken text with accompaniment. Disc two concludes with Daniel Zimbaldo’s intense pulsating tone mass Au-delà du miroir.
In summary, this is a mammoth compilation of contemporary electroacoustic music. A large number of styles are represented, and the quality of the works presented is excellent. If you want to hear what’s been happening recently in electroacoustic studios around the globe, go grab yourself a copy of Présence II.
Presence II is a 2CD anthology of 34 works from 32 composers from 11 countries. The diversity is overwhelming and it’s hard to single out individual works. They’re all arranged alphabetically.
Where to start? Bradley’s “volalle melodie vi to trot” / “fowl melody to trot” is very, very disturbing: under or over a text that seems to be foreign language instruction we hear parents of young children at their wits end. Fitzell’s Zipper Music II (an earlier version is on DISContact! II below) is a nifty exploration of the sounds a zipper can make. McIntosh’s Climb to Camp One is built from the sounds of climbing equipment being used inside an amplified piano but it doesn’t recall ostensibly similar works by Cowell or Cage. I’m partial to the 3 short works by Joachim (the oldest works in the set) which explore the filtering of computer generated sounds. Solursh’s We extracts some neat noises out of water, while Teller’s H a e i o u y æ ø å pt. 2 (ex.) gets mileage from laughter. Of course I like the seemingly random collage effects of Trudel’s Ce n’est pas ici and am wonderfully at a loss to explain what the crowd noise, fire, marching band and nature noises are all about. There are many works here, and this is an easy anthology to pop in the CD player and savour.
Stepping back to 1997, Presence is a 2CD anthology of 23 composers. Some of the many good pieces that jump out are Tape Measure in which Steve Bradley has played a Verdi LP with a sewing machine needle attached to a tape measure. No, you can’t hear the Verdi, but it’s with childlike fascination that you will hear some micro-level gurgling and rumbling. James Harley contributes a long work, Voyage, a grand arc of sound, intricate and spacious. Monique Jean’s If finds an essay in a simple spoken phrase, and in Squeaky Chair Christopher K Koenigsberg finds a symphony in, yes, a squeaky chair. Jean Routhier’s Face à claques is a deviant piece of assemblage, something to do with things overheard we shouldn’t be privy to.
Also still available is DISContact! II from 1995 that offers 51 short works on 2 CDs. The CEC makes somewhat limited quantities of their productions and this one was reissued in 1997. This is an enriching anthology filled with works created by members of the CEC. The brief works pack in variety and contrast, as well as varieties of technique and sound worlds. Spoken political pieces, song settings, inscrutable noise works, musique concrète and collage are well represented and thriving in the hands of these composers.
Looking forward, the CEC has put out the call for inclusion in Presence III, so watch this space!
With 34 works from 32 composers, this double CD compilation situates the listener in what could be compared to strolling through a colourful town market, with its confluence of colours, tastes and smells. The pieces on offer address a variety of musical concerns, and present a number of different approaches to the latter. They come in different ‘shapes and sizes,’ from a 37” miniature to a three movement work lasting over 12 minutes. Of these some are complete works and some are excerpts.
Although strict classification into genres and styles is impossible and undesirable, it may make some sense to group the pieces in this collection according to common concerns and general approaches within which their materials are developed and structured. Of course, overlapping will be inevitable and works may belong to more than one group. Nevertheless, grouping is still a worthwhile pursuit since it will hopefully give the reader a reasonable idea of what to expect and provide first time listeners with signposts to the various ‘goods on offer in this town market’. With this in mind, lets begin our ‘stroll’…
Our first stop will take us to works constructed by virtue of the timbral qualities of their materials — even when they use sounds of recognisable sources. Velocity, by Peter Batchelor, begins in the lower ends of the spectrum, with a single massive ‘wave’, which is then expanded into a complex textural set–up. The spectrum is slowly expanded to include wider bandwidths, alternating between the stasis of textural material and the activity of strong gestures reminiscent of the original opening. As Batchelor himself proposes in the programme notes, this work explores just such type of contrast: the sonification of movement and stagnation. Towards the last quarter of the work, the interaction between the two types of material seems to become more intricate: instead of simply giving way to their counterpart, static and dynamic sections seem to engender each other, to be the cause of their antithetical manifestation.
A similar concern, albeit with a different approach, is found in pacific, by Kevin MacLeod. The general tendency of this work is one of transition from activity to stasis, beginning with a hectic counterpoint of sounds, followed by a serene section, articulated by means of noise based gestures against a high pitched background. A low frequency drone brings this work to its conclusion. On the other hand, the main force articulating Points of No Return, by Chin–Chin Chen, is the superimposition of two types of material according to their timbral content. Initially, a pitched sound (roughly E), is set ‘in the spotlight’. Then, the sound evolves into a variety of textural and gestural complexes. The interesting feature of this section is that it is all related to a basic pitch, roughly between A# and B: even when unpitched material is used (belonging to a different sonic category, as explained in the programme notes) there seems to be an underlying basic drone unifying the passage. In fact, pitch becomes a structural device, delimiting sections and giving a sense of progression when, after the abrupt end of the first section at ca. 2’, a drone takes over and different harmonic fields are created by superimposing short allusions to other pitches.
In step, under (excerpt), by Ben Thigpen, a group of low frequency sounds evolve into a set of appealing grainy textures and high frequency pitched strata which dissolves slowly into silence. It is worth paying attention to the intricate resonant decay characteristic of most sonic material in this work. Zipper Music II, by Gordon Fitzell, achieves an admirable timbral variety out of sounds produced by a mere zipper, articulated successfully into a coherent musical flow. Even background noises are used effectively. ARGOS, by Martín Alejandro Fumarola, effectively employs a limited number of materials to produce a convincing shape; contrasting long evolving textures with sharper gestures. At the same time, the ear is drawn to the inner details of the gradual evolution of the long textures. Au–delà du miroir, by Daniel Zimbaldo, consists of a single sound mass which emerges very slowly out of ‘nothingness’, swells into a climax — displaying evolving internal details of its timbral architecture — and then fades out also very slowly into ‘nothingness’.
In spite of its use of recordings of water and the allusion of its title to the role of this element in our constitution, Dave Solursh’s We is articulated by virtue of the timbral qualities of its materials, including untouched as well as processed samples, thus achieving a wide and attractive sonic palette. This material is well organised into a clear structure which could be described as consisting of a number of ‘waves’, each with its own spectral characteristics and temporal articulation. As an illustration of the latter, there are different types of onset, from waves which start abruptly to others which emerge slowly out of silence. Éphémère, by Yves Gigon refers to the mayfly. However, the articulation of its sonic world falls within the abstract category, rather like programmatic music using orchestral instruments. In any case, it is an interesting and unconventional presentation of the ‘ephemera’. In the first place, it defies the immediate image one may have of the mayfly as a lightweight living organism inhabiting high frequency spheres: the piece presents slowly evolving aural images at the low end of the spectrum. Could it be that the whole work is actually presented from the perspective of the mayfly, for whom routine human objects may appear heavy and large? — it is also interesting to read in the programme note that the gestation of this ‘fleeting moment’ was the result of a long process towards maturity. To many moments passed is a touching work by Ian Chuprun: described by the composer as a ‘celebration and lament’, the delicate manipulation of sonic material is indeed moving and, mysteriously, in spite of its abstract material, it does leave a sensation of longing. Its ‘controlled eruptions’ give a definite shape to the composition, subtly containing the energy that attempts to burst from within and maintaining an elegant sense of flow of the discourse. Perhaps its ‘human’ attributes are aided by fleeting moments containing material which may be considered to resemble — or perhaps even originate from — vocal utterances.
Moving on in our ‘stroll’ we come across a group of works with more overt use of vocal utterances in order to articulate their discourse. Nevertheless the latter is still abstract, since the voice is treated for its intrinsic sonic value rather than for the semantic meaning of its utterances. Todor Todoroff’s Voices Part I (version stéréo), combines the voice with sounds of a percussive nature, treating it with various types of resonation and feedback loops. This results in a serene and contemplative environment in which sounds develop and evolve giving the impression of timelessness, as pointed out by the composer in the programme notes. Alastair Bannerman’s In th’air or th’earth hovers between the recognisable and the abstract, the real and the surreal environment of unintelligible but definitely human utterance. The voice evaporates and re–materialises, this device being used in the structuring of the work. It begins with delicate high frequency streams which slowly give way to the voice material, a preamble of the dream–like atmosphere of this work, which may be compared to a slow–evolving storm, surrounding and involving the listener with the beauty of sounds and textures achieved by means of processing of the voice, changing its texture and timbral content, and giving the impression that the it is constantly changing its shape. This work ends with a passage resembling the beginning; this time, instead of materialising into vocal utterance, it only reaches intermediate stages of transformation, reminiscences of the latter. Annette Vande Gorne’s Amoroso, the second movement of a longer work entitled Vox Alia provides a different treatment of the voice, creating long streams of pulsating ‘pitch beads’ which, nevertheless, leave traces of the original vocal sung material: sometimes these traces consist of a voice, while in other occasions, a flock of voices float in the sonic air, dissolving into the more ethereal abstract entities, allowing a short glimpse of a ghost of an Ave Maria before transforming again into abstract eddies of sound. ,H a e i o u y æ ø å pt. 2 by Jørgen Teller, is an excerpt from a set of three longer versions — including a 30 minute piece, an installation and a work for radio — which concentrates on laughter. Samples are processed mainly by looping and granulation, producing various superimposed textures.
Turning our heads in a different direction, we find Dugal McKinnon’s Horizont im Ohr (excerpt), a work which contains exclusively ‘abstract’ materials. Paradoxically, it appeals to the senses with great intensity. Perhaps the best description of this excerpt may be found in McKinnon’s own evocation of ‘the sensual physicality of the acousmatic’. Indeed, the sounds in this work are of extreme beauty and sensuality and their organisation results in discourse of a natural physicality which may be compared to dance movement. This brings us to Soundbodies: Bodypart, by Adrian Moore, an excerpt which was actually composed with dancers in mind, amalgamating impeccably and with great effect a number of disparate sources, such as vocal utterances including breath and sighs, instrumental sounds and abstract electroacoustic material. Moore’s energetic statement seems to create what may perhaps be defined as a ‘frantic dance of live’, and, to a certain extend, may be understood as a statement which, far from being abstract, actually re–presents physical reality, whether it alludes to real objects or social conventions.
Threading away from the purely abstract we encounter Hans Tutschku’s extrémités lointaines, which seems to play with the expectations generated by the alternation between the abstract and the mimetic or anecdotal (in the sense of re–presenting physical reality). In fact, it seems to be articulated within a continuum which spans from absolute recognition to absolute abstraction. Its delicate treatment of environmental sounds from south–east Asia threads an imaginary space between recognisable and purely sonic landscapes, achieving a successful balance between these and so maintaining the tension and interest of the work. Towards the end, this tension is resolved sweepingly into a complex of pulsating pitches: a chord. However, when one feels that the final destination has been reached and the concluding sonic landscape is set, a further twist in the pitched complex subtly reveals a closing far East scene.
Following our footsteps we now approach the overtly anecdotal, offering music in which source and landscape recognition are an essential part of the structure and discourse. Antti Saario’s B–Side sweeps the listener into a variety of environments, from pop drumming to factory ambiences and imaginary scenes created using feedback noises and normally discarded sounds (such as noise, clicks and pops) with great effect as an integral part of the discourse. This vertiginous journey is ended with a rapid transition into silence, resembling a radio receiver which is suddenly shut off. Stereotyped Latter-Day Opinion, by Jean Routhier, the second shortest work in this compilation, provides a witty collage of disparate sounds which blend into a rhythmic pattern. Ce n’est pas ici, by Pascale Trudel consists of a succession of broken scenes in the manner of flashbacks or akin to changing channels on a television set. In a sense, the best description of this work is summarised in the succinct programme note: ‘I / remember / pieces of time / that / compose / life’. Finally, taking the anecdotal to its ultimate manifestation, we find ourselves aurally ‘gazing’ at the documentary world pioneered by Luc Ferrari: 6 Aphorisms, by Thomas Gerwin consists of short ‘sound environments’ from field recordings on location, taken from an interactive installation produced by the composer.
A different type of anecdotal approach uses spoken and sung texts for their semantic and social meaning. The use of the word in Steve Bradley’s “volalle melodie vi to trot” / “fowl melody to trot” is explicit and its meaning is crucial in order to apprehend this satirical commentary on society, which superimposes the neutral presentation of rules for proper French pronunciation on the gradual loss of temper (and sanity) of ‘normal’ parents dealing with their child’s behaviour. After a rather abrupt beginning it becomes clear that the crackles and pops of the French tutorial are intentional. Is this, perhaps, another allusion to the parents’ state of mind or even to the sanity of modern life? On the other hand, Whipping the Boys, by Barbara Golden seems to adopt a documentary approach, making subdued comments about some corporal punishment inflicted on male individuals and, at the same time, presenting reality within the sonic world of the analogue synthesiser. sylvi macCormac’s Spirit Wheels: Journey (part 1 of a puppet opera), begins and ends with the sound of a solo aerophone. The beginning is followed by percussion instruments and voices relying spiritual messages from various doctrines. chris wind’s to be led, the shortest work in this compilation, consists of the reading of text underpinned by a reversed sample of a Straussian waltz. The text, read by a female voice is ‘self explanatory’.
Reading Allowed (PA 11), by Ian Chuprun uses text and may be considered to be anecdotal. However, the possible distraction from musical content is balanced and ultimately driven by abstract processed material, so that the reading of text appears rather as an iconic allusion to the source material and to the intention of the piece. The use of clichés such as speed/pitch change and vocoding seem to acquire intentional significance when related to the allusion ‘to the parallel between web art and early computer music developments’ mentioned in the programme notes.
Our imaginary stroll takes us now to a group of works which owe their structure and discourse to the articulation of pitch. In fact, although Jorge Antunes’ La beauté indiscrète d’une note violette uses a sung phoneme, it actually applies the composer’s theoretical developments on the relationships between sound and colour and derives its unity from being built on diverse articulations of the pitch class E. Martin Gotfrit’s A Palaver with Procrustes (excerpt) is also concerned with pitch, but this time as the result of a tuned filtering process based on the Fibonacci series, beginning at the lower end of the spectrum, reaching higher frequencies and descending back slowly. In contrast with the previous two works, A Palaver with Procrustes, by Martín Alejandro Fumarola presents complexes of different pitches creating contour instead of focusing on the internal characteristics of a single tone or elaborating on a single pitch class. Timbral identity is mainly defined by the characteristics of the synthesiser used. The result is an almost contemplative discourse which purposefully avoids strong gestures.
Work within the domain of pitch using synthesised material brings us close to the character of the next group of pieces, which may be seen to have a direct ascendance to the origins of elektronische musik. The first of Three Electronic Sketches, by Otto Joachim uses transpositions of a single iterative sound typology in order to create its discourse. The transposition affects the timbral content as well as the relative height of the sound. The second sketch uses pitched material akin to that produced using random processes. The final sketch combines pitched material with iterative sounds reminiscent of the first sketch, acting as a synthesis of the previous two movements. Suk Jun Kim’s last two movements of sudden cry begin with a low frequency drone from which transpositions of an iterative texture emerge. After reaching a climax in which the bandwidth is extended to reach higher parts of the spectrum, the work descends back to the low frequency echelons.
As we approach the end of our ‘stroll’ we encounter a group of works which involve performances using instruments. Somewhere Submarine (5th Movement) , by David Prior is the last of a suite of five pieces for piano and tape. It contrasts rhythmic gestures of piano sounds against slow moving chords. The latter also act as a muffled reverberant background to the former akin to a scene in the depth. Climb to Camp One, by Diana McIntosh offers a recording of a performance of this work, which represents a mountain climb through difficult conditions. The performance requires application of various climbing tools to the interior of a piano and includes the use of the voice of the performer, resulting in a variety of textural and gestural sonorities enhanced by the natural resonance of the instrument. This piece combines various of the characteristics of encountered above, such as its relation to other media (music theatre), the use of timbral complexes and the introduction of anecdotal material — for instance, in the representation of shortness of breath resulting from the effort of ascending a mountain by actual breathing of the performer mimicked in the rhythm with which the piano is articulated.
DUO, by jef chippewa achieves a remarkable integration of the production of sound in a saxophone with the output of an analog synthesiser. Except for one instance, saxophone gestures initiate long ‘phrases’ within which the two poles interact to create a synergetic world in which both are able to coexist and interact. This work concerns itself with timbral affinity and, as such, brings us back full circle to where we started our short tour through Presence II.
It is inevitable that, given the variety on offer, each listener will have her/his own preferences. Certain works may appeal to some and not to others. While it is difficult to imagine that one can find everything to one’s taste, Presence II may have the virtue of being like our town market analogy: almost everyone may find something appealing in it.
Présence II is a 2-CD set of electroacoustic music released by Productions électro Productions, an arm of the Canadian Electroacoustic Community (CEC). The scope of the music presented here is very wide: established composers and newcomers, 60-second snapshots and large-scale works (the longest piece is 12 minutes), typical musique concrète and approaches closer to real-time performance. A third of the composers are Canadian, another third come from England, the rest from France, Belgium, Germany and South America. Some pieces date from the mid-80s (Otto Joachim’s Three Electronic Sketches) but most material is fairly recent (1997-1999).
Présence II offers a nice overview of what is produced around the world in terms of electroacoustics, but it remains a very straight compilation: no attempt has been made at giving the record its own identity. Tracks are presented in alphabetical orders of their composers, without any regards to compatibilities, interesting contrasts, etc. It might be democratic but since there is no continuity in the program, the listener must reset his attention 36 times. Still, Présence II documents a number of valuable composers like Alastair Bannerman, Gordon Fitzell, Barbara Golden, Jean Routhier and Ben Thigpen that are cruelly under-recorded.
Pretty much anyone with a functioning cochlea will find something to like on this massive collection of recent electroacoustic works from the Canadian Electroacoustic Community (Communauté électroacoustique canadienne). 34 pieces from 32 composers in 11 countries can seem a bit daunting at first, but a taste for surprising sounds and liberal use of your CD player’s fast-forward and skip-track buttons will get you through. And you’ll be the better for the journey!
The packaging for this two CD set is a bit odd — the discs don’t really fit in the sleeve, and the large booklet is at odds with its container. The cover image is nice, though. The booklet, written in English and French, is thorough and useful, with a brief introduction to the CDs and composer-written notes for each of the pieces.
It would be difficult to put together 34 different pieces of music and not be struck by how different they are (although Short Music for Short People managed pretty well!). Still, it’s worth mentioning that regardless of your preconceptions of the CEC/acousmatic scene (you do have preconceptions, don’t you? Heathen.), these discs represent an impressive range of styles, sounds and techniques, all within the rough boundaries of the acousmatic genre. That means there’s no punk rock or dance music here, although several of the pieces do get pretty grungy and/or rhythmic.
A few semi-randomly picked highlights:
Adrian Moore’s Soundbodies: Bodypart (1998) is full of suggestive, out-of-body voices, zipping around like jacked up goblins. Antti Saario’s B-Side (1998) manages to be both funky and mysterious. Au-delà du miroir (1998) by Daniel Zimbaldo is a long, lovely arch. Steve Bradley’s “volalle melodie vi to trot” / “fowl melody to trot” (1999) is a strange, crackling collage of voices and fuzz. DUO (1997-98) by jef chippewa is a balloonaphobe’s nightmare. Gordon Fitzell’s Zipper Music II (1998) is just as much fun as its name implies.
Although a few of the pieces here are a bit too acousmatic for my taste (a ball rolls, a door slams, a baby cries, a train toots), this really is an impressive, listenable collection of electronic music. If you’ve been wondering what this “electroacoustic” thing that you keep hearing about is, or if you’re just looking to add a chunk of contemporary electronic music to your collection, then Presence II would be a fine place to start.