Summer Shorts (1)

Sunday 20 August 2023

John Eagle: erosion and growth (Sawyer Editions). A long, sombre work for piano and percussion that falls into unmarked sections, each containing a specific texture. At first it’s just Eagle scraping stones and tiles, later succeeded by pianist Jack Yarbrough playing high, staccato chords. From there on the piano plays tentatively through a succession of slow, reflective near-patterns, with some interludes of grey noise percussion. Somehow it all relates to recordings Eagle made of a waterfall and then electronically processed, filtered and analysed to render up pitch data. We’re told “the resultant composition contains only acoustic sounds” but soon after piano and percussion are finally united an electric-sounding drone fills the background for the remainder of the piece. The means and the ends seem incongruous to each other, which leads you into the extra-musical game of reconciling what you’re told about the emotional context of the initial recording with the comparatively unemotional music. The results as yet are inconclusive.

Andrey Guryanov: Anthems (Abstand). Guryanov digitally torments the opening chords of multiple archival recordings of the various national anthems that have served the Soviet Union and Russia since 1917, claiming to build each track out of a microscopic analysis of the opening’s incidental details and technological flaws. He claims personal and international history as the grounding for his research, yet the music resembles Eagle’s composition insofar as it seeks to make a factual element into an external jusitfication for the music’s existence in its final state. Eagle takes this old idea onto a new tangent, while Guryanov uses it to produce gloomy dark ambient electronica complete with what sounds like occasional drum pads amongst the glitchy greyness, weighed down with a need for political relevance. Inevitably, the last track draws upon Ukraine.

Hunter Brown: Stoppages Vol. 1 [∞] (Party Perfect!!! PP-03). While some computer-assisted composition uses code as a form of inspiration (sup.), Hunter Brown’s Stoppages series means to interrogate the electronic guts of the computer process itself. Brown picks up David Tudor’s ideas on the generation and transmission of electronic sound and runs with them into new digital territory, pushing the idea of synthesis and glitching further than most. The set of pieces here were created by a digital feedback circuit designed to overload the computer’s CPU, maxing out its physical limits in attempting to reproduce sound. The results are alarming, particularly when the system flatlines and your hi-fi’s level meters are pegged by silence. Apparently unedited, each piece is defined by the amount of time it took before the programme crashed, creating inexplicably arbitrary structures of sound and silence. When the frequency spectrum looks like this, you know it’s uncompromising:

Scott Solter & Rohner Segnitz: The Murals (Bathysphere). Don’t let the J-card fool you; this is slick. Solter and Segnitz work up a mélange of techniques from ambient and glitchcore without ever lapsing into a particular genre. When I replay it in my head I remember it as the professionalism in execution and tastefulness in arrangement as somehow cancelling out their respective shortcomings, creating the world’s wildest library music. As to why this would be a bad thing, it’s probably because people with this much skill could create something more ambitious to challenge the listener (this is not the same as confrontation). Then I play it again and decide I’m thinking too much: it’s saved by the sureness of approach, building each piece from an initial sound and developing it in creative ways, without recourse to any big ideas.