New release: Jos Smolders’s “Submerge-Emerge”

Stéphane Mallarmé’s poem Un Coup De Des Jamais N’Abolira Le Hasard (1897) immediately fascinated me when I first encountered it during my teenage years. At the time, you could always get my attention by showing me something(anything) out of the ordinary. Modern art, unpopular music, crazy movies; all was absorbed by eyes and ears. When I first learned about Mallarmé’s poem, my fascination wasn’t focused on the words, though. My knowledge of the French language was very limited, and I didn’t really grasp (or even try to) what was written. Instead, my interest was peaked by the unusual way it was printed. I don’t think I spent more than 30 minutes revelling over it. But it was stored somewhere inside my brain.

Fast forward forty years. While researching a project on concrete poetry, I came across this poem again. This time I decide to try and understand what the words are all about. What I already knew was that the text deals with the idea that every thought leads to another one and, to Mallarmé, this can be any thought. We all know how our mind can wander like it’s a vessel drifting through space and time. Except that in the 19th century, those notions weren’t part of the thought processes of people’s minds. 

Reading the poem, one gets easily lost. These are no firm and consistent sentences. It’s not a sequence of sentences telling a story, and there is no clearly definable plot. We read parts of sentences; shards, associations, broken down sentences. Some words are printed bigger than others and, spread across multiple pages, the title of the poem is displayed. And remember, we were in the 19th century when society was organised by much more strict rules of engagement in literature, when sonnets were written using strict rules of metre and rhyme. So, what is going on here? Who is this guy Mallarmé? A bored school teacher turned poet, journalist and critic and translator of the works of Edgar Allan Poe. How did he end up writing a poem like this? 

All of these questions started piling up in my head. I began searching the web and quickly found an interesting essay and a series of facsimile prints of the final proofs. My search for more background on Mallarmé led to a short biography. And so, after more than 40 years I got a grasp of what is inside and behind that surface. To tell you the truth, it still is, for the most part, a mystery. Perhaps that has to do with the 21st-century mind that is looking at the expression of a late 19th-century mind. My brain always tries to analyse the things that I encounter and Mallarmé in his poetry more and more veered towards associative and hermetic wordplay.

At the time – early 2017 – I was actually finishing an album that focused on all of my water and sea-related field recordings. While reading the text and its background more closely suddenly, the contours of a potential musical project centred around this poem started to emerge.

So, I thought, perhaps I should not try and get to the bottom of what is actually written down? Maybe I should just let myself be taken into the maelstrom of thoughts that are presented?
After all, I wasn’t doing academic research. I was just fascinated by the poem, first by its visual presentation and then by the stream of images of vessels on an endless ocean, of tiny ships tossed around in giant storms, of shipwrecks at the bottom of the sea, of ships’ captains helplessly overwhelmed by thoughts and realisations.

The process:

Work started some time early 2016 when early on i decided that the poem was to be recited. It was going to be a work of significant proportions, representing the endlessness of the journey. And every plate of the poem gets its own track. I asked my dear friend Valerie Vivancos to recite the poem, to which she agreed, and I sent her the text with sparse instructions. This wasn’t an easy task because of the fragmented nature of the text, and her performance was excellent.

The other material consists of electronic sounds from my modular system and field recordings of harbours, beaches, ships’ motors, storms, waves breaking on the rocks, the quiet lapping of waves on a small French beach. I was already working with sea sounds right before Mallarmé came to my attention, so the poem harmonically interfered with that project.
When I look back at the notes I took while constructing the music of this album, I see my struggle to translate the poem into music. The central theme of the poem, at least what I got out of it, is that of a creator/artist (the captain) sailing the endless ocean on his ship. The ocean represents the creative state of mind. Sometimes there are prevailing winds. On other occasions huge gales toss the ship around with towering waves moving everyone off course, if not sinking the lot. And then there are the doldrums, the parts where, yes, the sea is calm, but there is no wind, and you’re not getting anywhere. Looking back at my own experience as an artist, I have seen all these weather conditions as well. Sometimes working on my music is smooth sailing, sometimes you’re getting nowhere. 

The struggle I mention above mostly deals with how strict or how liberal I should take the structure of the poem. Like I read somewhere that each plate consisting of two pages was divided into four sections where the words were spread out according to the number of syllables used. I have been thinking about how to use that structural principle in the music as well, but I concluded that it was an operation as much impossible as it was futile. Some things just cannot be translated from one art form into another without compromise or corruption. 

Anyway, this album took more than five years to record, compile, rethink, leave it alone, get back, reform, cut, add, alter, and finish this beast that at times itself became an ocean of sound and form. It is time to cut the ropes to this vessel and sail on. I hope it inspires, because “toute pensée émet un coup de dés”!

Jos Smolders

Submerge-Emerge is now available as a limited-release double CD directly from Crónica, also for stream or download.

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“GML Variations” reviewed by Silence and Sound

Miguel Carvalhais et Pedro Tudela, le duo derrière @c, offrent au gamelan l’occasion de se libérer de l’étreinte des hommes, d’évoluer en tant qu’instrument programmé en mode random, donnant à entendre une musique créée au contact de la robotique.

Né d’une commande pour une exposition à la Casa da Música (Porto), GML Variations a aussi donné l’envie à ses créateurs d’aller plus loin et de prendre la matière première pour la retravailler et en décupler les possibilités, créant d’autres propositions toutes issues de la même source. 

Six morceaux aux perspectives différentes mais s’enracinant dans les enregistrements de GML 123, chevauchant des territoires aux effets réverbérés et aux inversions de bandes, oubliant leurs origines pour sombrer dans un magma de sonorités captivantes à la matrice originelle commune.

@c continue de nous surprendre à chaque projet, entrainant l’auditeur à l’intérieur de surfaces poreuses, éprises de liberté et de dangerosité, d’expérimentations et d’incisions, coupant dans l’espace dans lequel ils évoluent, une cohorte de sonorités équilibristes. Très fortement recommandé. Roland Torres

via Silence and Sound

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Dan Powell’s “Four Walks at Old Chapel” reviewed by Vital Weekly

A few weeks ago I reviewed a CDR by Muster, a duo of James O’Sullivan and Dan Powell. Now the latter appears in a solo capacity. He’s also part of The Static Memories and Nil. I don’t think I heard his solo work before, so I had no idea what to expect. The recordings here were made at the old Chapel Farm, which is “an adventure in living, which aims to bring people close to the fundamentals of human existence: the creation of food and shelter” Powell visits the place since 2011 with his family and in 2018 he and his daughter collected objects and “gathered them together in a straw bale hut suspended over a stream in a wooded valley which the farm’s owners made available for us to use.
He recorded small performances with them, brushing, scraping and rubbing them to produce a wide range of intimate sounds.” All of this, combined with field recordings went into the computer back home and re-worked all of these into the four tracks that we find on this cassette. It is a most enjoyable release, of musique concrète proportions, but Powell created something quite playful. It is not about some strict rules of composition, nor does it rely too much on granular synthesis as his more serious peers would do. With Powell’s version we hear the field recordings as they were when committed to tape, we hear the cracking and rubbing upon objects, and we encounter small transformations of this, set in a more performance setting, which adds a delicate live electronics feeling to the music. It keeps everything with a beautiful vibrancy together. He overlays his original material with additional electronic material, feedback here, a big, fat drone there, or cut-up collage techniques using the good ol’ reel-to-reel machine, adds to the energy and variety of the music, and together with a powerful as well as colourful thirty minutes. (FdW)

via Vital Weekly

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Francisco López & Miguel A. García’s “Ekkert Nafn” reviewed by African Paper

Francisco López und sein auch unter dem Namen Xedh bekannter Kollege Miguel A. García sind leidenschaftliche Versteckspieler, stets auf der Suche nach alltäglichen Geräuschen mit interessierter Kehrseite, oder nach dem Potenzial dessen, was man herkömmlichen akustischen und elektronischen Instrumenten entlocken kann. Versteckspieler sind sie deshalb, weil bei ihnen selten Klänge in wiedererkennbarer Form ihren Weg auf einen Track finden, sondern durch mehrere Stufen digitaler Unkenntlichmachung geschickt werden.

García hat zudem ein Faible für ganz ähnlich aufgeschnappte und verfremdete Wortbildungen, die er gern als mehrdeutige (oder nur scheinbar sinnhaltige) Titel verwendet. “Ekkert Nafn” klingt wie ein Personenname, ist allerdings die isländische Übersetzung von “No Name”, der Titel eines der beiden Stücke auf dem vorliegenden Album, auf dem beide Künstler das gleiche zusammen angesammelte Klangmaterial einer jeweils eigenen Chiffrierung unterzogen haben.

Auf López’ die erste Seite ausfüllendem Stück “No Name” kann man den Ursprung der verwendeten Sounds allenfalls gelegentlich erahnen, zumindest bei dem grillen- oder zikadenartigen Zirpen, das exponiert auf dunklem Fundament die gut halbstündige Komposition eröffnet. In mehreren Anläufen bricht klirrender, rumpelnder und manchmal auch tosender Lärm ins Setting ein, und wenn es nach dem größten Bruch plötzlich sehr ruhig wird, erscheinen einem die plastischen Sounds – hallunterlegtes Hauchen, geloopte Perkussion, stylische Elektrosunds etc. – noch klarer als zuvor. Arbeitet Lopez mit der Hervorhebung klanglicher Materialität, so ist García ein großer Wirkungsästet und setzt auf etwas, das auch in Lopez’ Beitrag im Kleinen steckt: Hypnotik und Spannung. Dasmag an dem Wind liegen, der eine ganze Zeitlang durch den Raum heult und fegt und schon dadurch eine endzeitliche Bedrohlichkeit evoziert. Aber das Resultat ist – nicht nur in der wie aufgeklebt wirkenden Melodie- und Beatansätzen – durchweg monotoner und so von einer trancehaften Qualität.

Ob beide auch Sounds aussortiert haben oder ob die Resultate nur durch die jeweilige Bearbeitung so unterschiedlich ausgefallen sind, muss Geheimnis bleiben. Dass man aber auch immer wieder Gemeinsames findet, schafft eine subtile Klammer, die aus der Kollaboration dann doch eine zusammenhängende Sachen macht. (A.Kaudaht)

via African Paper

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Roel Meelkop’s “Crossmodulated” reviewed by Bad Alchemy

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“GML Variations” reviewed by Gonzo Circus

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Øyvind Brandtsegg’s “Nancarrow Biotope” reviewed by Bad Alchemy

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“Deriva” reviewed by Bad Alchemy

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New release: @c’s “GML Variations”

The new @c album, GML Variations is now available to download or stream. There are also still some copies available of the limited release CD in a gatefold sleeve, so get them while you can.

GML Variations started with a commission to compose a piece for the Robotic Gamelan of Casa da Música, in Porto, to be presented with other works in a public showing spanning several days. GML 123 was a generative system that controlled the actuators in the Robotic Gamelan while projecting several other sounds into the very resonant space of Casa da Música’s foyer. The piece was presented in January 2018 and shortly afterwards recorded in the same location. After receiving the recording, we found ourselves being drawn to it over and over and, as often happens to us, we started experimenting: revisiting the original composition, manipulating its recordings and creating new material, eventually developing the four variations and coda that complete this album.

During this process, we were unearthing echoes and memories of the first composition, transforming the original sounds to the limits of recognition, and finding structures that were already latent in, but were not expressed by, the initial piece. These pieces are therefore not six independent compositions but rather six different perspectives over a single work, six ways of listening to it.

In the course of this work, we developed a seventh piece, Jeden, Dwa, Osiem (dla Małgorzaty), published in the compilation Intermediale: Simulacra Soundscape 3. We also performed versions of the variations in a stream for Audiotalaia during the first lockdown of 2020, in a performance with André Rangel at Rivoli, Porto (in which we worked on for almost a year, and that we first had to postpone and ultimately cancel because of the pandemic), and in a concert at Passos Manuel, Porto (released as the GML Vars. Live single). GML Variations closes this cycle of work, at least until we find ourselves drawn to this material again.

Pedro Tudela and Miguel Carvalhais collaborate as @c since 2000, composing, performing, and creating sound installations. They have released and performed extensively, often collaborating with other artists and collectives in a practice marked by radical experimentalism with computational sound. In 2003 they established Crónica, a label dedicated to experimental music and sound art, that they have run since.

Tracklist:

  1. GML 123 (9:45)
  2. GML var. 1 (7:06)
  3. GML var. 2 (17:30)
  4. GML var. 3 (10:12)
  5. GML var. 4 (30:02)
  6. GML coda (4:59)

All pieces composed by Miguel Carvalhais and Pedro Tudela. GML 123 was commissioned in 2018 by José Alberto Gomes and Digitópia for the Robotic Gamelan of Casa da Música in Porto (developed by Rui Penha, José Luís Azevedo, and Miguel Ferraz). GML 123 was recorded by Tiago Ângelo in 2018 at Casa da Música. GML vars. 1–4 and GML coda were composed in 2019 and 2020.

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Jos Smolders’s “Submerge-Emerge” reviewed by Gonzo Circus

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