Electronic Noise Shootout, Winter 2024

Friday 9 February 2024

I feel like I’m rating different grades of sandpaper when writing listening notes on these. They’re all deliberately awkward music made from digital electronic synthesis and/or processing. Andreja Andric’s two Pocket Electronic Symphonies (Are-Verlag) use filtered and reprocessed noise as their sonic basis, with each piece performed by the composer using a combined variable sound generator and score coded into a javascript app loaded onto a smartphone. Conceptually, it’s irresistable: a lightweight and accessible source and interface without needing to rely on additional material stuff. Andric’s method resolves issues of live performance and those of determining form and structure through the use of the generated score, nudging the audio software beyond being little more than a noisy toy of a type often encountered in this genre. If the smartphone’s audio output is attenuated, Andric makes up for it with some dense and complex sounds. This complexity means it tends to the harsh side, but each piece carries its own compositional concerns well enough and makes a decent job of differentiating between passages with contrasting tones and textures. The two performances here were made some three years apart, inviting comparisons in approach while suggesting the basic setup could be expanded in different ways.

Release numbers four and six from Party Perfect!!! continue in the same vein of the label’s other releases with a maximum of noise and minimum of compromise (I’m guessing as I haven’t heard two or five). Ryu Hankil’s Envelope Demon is a lengthy, scratchy suite for digital synthesis, rolling back and forth over small bursts of sound that are subjected to various intensities of strangulation. It’s a piece worked on over several years but, even as it has reached a heightened state of refinement, some of the initial excitement may have been lost. With many unique electronic setups, their ingenuity is offset by inherent limitations in their premise, and so they end up with realisations where it seems as though every possible option has been worked out until the premise is exhausted; the question is thus rasied as to whether what we’ve heard is in fact a musical composition. I don’t know if that’s the case with Envelope Demon but after forty minutes it feels like it, something Andric’s Symphonies manage to avoid. Michael Speers’ four short pieces For David Stockard, on the other hand, suggest boundless invention concentrated into a very precise form. Very different from his earlier Green Spot Nectar of the Gods, the pieces exploit his canny observation of the similarities between percussion and electronics. It’s an area which still seems to be insufficiently explored, how these sound sources share common attributes of timbral and harmonic complexity as well as indeterminacy. Speers focuses on the roles of contact, friction and touch and how they influence each other in different media. Part Perfect No. 6 consists only of Stefan Maier’s piece Nervous Systems, which is unsual compared to his previous release and the PP label in general in making some concessions to the listener, with sounds given more gentle attacks and everything wrapped in a soothing cloak of reverb. Without the edginess it can’t help but be slightly disappointing, as the basic materials come across as much the same. Perhaps I’m disappointed this particular release doesn’t come with a zine or recipes.

What’s the dividing line between ‘art’ and ‘pop’ with this stuff? Why am I pigeonholing the next two as the latter as opposed to the former? Not because it’s all short stuff; definitely not because it could be considered remotely popular. Perhaps because there are discernible remnants of ‘deconstructed’ popular idioms, but then these pieces have reached such an advanced stage of disassembly that it’s a moot point. It’s probably the attitude behind it, as the motivation shifts from technical considerations to affective consequences. A glimmer of demotic, late romantic transcendentalism still peeps through, faint but as recognisable as in a love ballad or movie soundtrack. GAŁGAŁ describes his Ich schw​ö​re ich hab Angst (Abstand) in terms of ideas – freedom, individualism and vision. The eleven short tracks are constructed from edits of live improvisations with samplers and synthesis, and they start out feeling suitably scrappy and spontaneous but after a while settle into something more consistent and serious. I kept waiting for a change in direction to recapture that open-ended impression from the start, but once a certain type of anti-groove locks in GAŁGAŁ stays put. Reincanto / Real Bwoy (Artetetra) on the other hand keeps hopping back and forth between ideas as a way of preserving momentum. It’s a split release (it’s also available on cassette so I guess the concept stil makes sense) between Kinked and Señor Service respectively, apparently dealing with storytelling and ritual-type stuff. I’m hearing a nice little set of hyperactive sonic globs pulled from various corners of the electronic repetoire and repurposed into bite-sized morsels. The lack of consistency and continuity becomes their strength, appealing in the manner of kinetic junk scupltures with commensurate irreverence and insolence. Their purposeful refusal to groove just makes them seem even more arty. To tell them apart, Kinked works mostly with noise while Señor Service throws in mass media and kiddie sounds.

Noise versus Noise

Sunday 14 May 2023

I thought something had gone wrong. I’ve been taking a little noise holiday, away from the likes of Jürg Frey for a bit, and figured it was time to get around to the first compilation issued by Party Perfect!!!, another one of these composer collectives who take their irreverence seriously (see website for details). PP-01 begins with an untitled work by Michelle Lou: I know her stuff, right? Finely observed electroacoustic phenomena, that sort of thing. Instead my ears got blitzed with a barrage of harsh electronic noise that made me initially think I had a corrupt file or put on the wrong track. Turns out that Lou’s untitled is a four-part digital electronic suite of ruthlessly clipped and distorted audio that gleefully assaults the senses for forty-seven minutes. Parts of it sound like when you try loading a non-audio file into a media player to see what happens, and I’d like to think some sections are precisely that. When you get past the initial shock, you start to notice the details carved into this brutalist sound scuplture which, together with performative flourishes of bravado, sustain the piece beyond the deadening effect of relentless sonic bludgeoning (cited as an inspiration in the accompanying booklet). After Lou’s piece, there’s another two hours worth of electronic compositions by Stefan Maier, Michael Flora and Other Plastics, each just as abrasive and confrontational. The booklet includes recipes, too; they’re vegetarian, but one is for a barbecue sauce so…

Trombonist Henrik Munkeby Nørstebø has produced a pair of works on Dystopian Dancing that attempt to push solo performance techniques beyond the defined constraints of the instrument. The first was recorded in 2019 and exploits the close amplification of his trombone with air and microphone artifacts to produce unstable constructions that haphazardly flip between pitch and noise. Oversaturation and use of plastic mouthpieces and mutes add to the quasi-electronic atmosphere but in the second half it reverts to an improviser’s comfort zone of exploring extended low-end snorks to play for time. The second piece was made about a year later and projects material from the first into an electroacoustic collage that stays lively for longer, particularly when normal brass sounds re-emerge towards the end, commenting on the chaos with a queasy mock fanfare.

Noise of a completely different kind comes from Jacques Puech’s cabrette. A cabrette is a small French bagpipes, for when regular bagpipes aren’t irritating enough. Gravir / Canon pairs compositions for the instrument by Guilhem Lacroux and Yann Gourdon respectively. In the former Puech overdubs himself with constantly ascending scales at different rates over a steady, clacking rhythm that resembles a kind of folkloric take on James Tenney’s For Ann (Rising), but with the cool psychoacoustic effects replaced by a manic exhilaration that’s both uproarious and a little scary, especially as it just keeps on going. In Gourdon’s Canon Puech is joined by four other cabreteers to play overlapping patterns in a staggered formation as suggested by the title. The gestures are more relaxed here but even so it shares with Gravir the same dogged, obsessive pursuit of a compositional idea until the excessiveness becomes the point. That, with the massed nasal timbre of the pipes creates a bracing, febrile work that you can get a high out of if you’re in the right mood while simultaneously driving your housemates up the wall.