“Modular Works 2015Q1” reviewed by Vital Weekly

I know I get into deep trouble doing what I am about to do now: review a download only release. It will spawn mails that scream ‘me mine me mine too’, or ‘what has Jos Smolders that I don’t?’ (let’s see how many got this last sentence, and immediately mailed me when they read the caption ‘download by Cronica’ and ask ‘I me mine download too now’ – I’ll mail this sentence back to you). Smolders has more than just great music. I first met Jos Smolders early 1987 when his band THU20 played at V2, and so was my troupe, Kapotte Muziek. Being slightly older, he came across like a teacher, and spoke those words which rang until this day: ‘all of this noise you people produce is interesting, but when on earth will you start composing music with all of this noise’. That was a most important lesson, and over the years I often sat next to Jos, discussing the nature of a musical composition we’d be working on (as IMCA, then THU20, Wasm, but countless others also). But Jos being Jos, being much more into the future of music business hardly believes in the future of music being distributed on physical formats and rather has 96-bit audio on a website than 16 bit on shiny silver disc or black platter and hence his music is hardly reviewed in these pages. That is a shame, as when in the mid-80s Vital was a concern on a piece of paper, Jos was very much involved in writing (and spoke those other immortal words: ‘great magazine, though hard to read the language; what is it, English?’ Improvements may take some time or simply never happen) and always was keenly interested in where Vital went next, certainly when it came to the digital domain. Following his career with reel-to-reel machines and later computer technology, Smolders these days occupies himself with modular synthesizers, which seems like the new laptop (‘have modular, will travel’)? I see them everywhere these days and a lot of the times I want to ask these players: ‘when will you actually start to compose music with these modules?’ The modular synthesizer seems very much a tool for some mindless improvisation; flick on and off switches for any amount of time. Since 2014 Smolders has quarterly releases of works he composed in the three months before, using his modular set-up and this continues in 2015. Cronica Electronica from Portugal released these four pieces, composed by Smolders when he was working on remastering old work by Pierre Henry (see Vital Weekly 975), who is someone which is major source of inspiration for Smolders, along with Robert Hampson of Main; in fact three titles refer to the latter. These pieces are heavily edited I’d say, and culled from various sessions of expert knob-twiddling, but the true beauty is in the fact that Smolders actually composes music with these materials, and not have some machines producing sounds. There is the addition of field recordings, a squeaky chair in ‘For RH (Light)’ for instance, in a most fitting tribute to Henry or the field recordings of ‘TomTomTomTom’; that piece may seem the least composed but oddly enough the one that sounded more like the ‘old’ Smolders (say the collaboration he did with Yiorgis Sakellariou from a few years ago). Not an overtly long release, but one of great beauty. (FdW)

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