Friday, July 24, 2009

Åke Hodell - Verbal Brainwash And Other Works (Fylkingen, 2000)

Madness runs rampant in the works of Åke Hodell. Hodell became interested in sound and its relations with the voice after an injury soured the fighter pilot's opinions on the military. He's most at home in a swirl of farm sounds, explosives, and the fancy footwork of an auctioneer. The text-sound pieces here, dating between 1963 and 1977, tout Hodell's many splendors, a bizarre middle ground of the absurd and the political without even the slightest hesitation to drive the point home a thousand times over. Hodell is deeply intimate with the exponential relation between how many times something is repeated and how hilarious it can be. And he's managed to transpose that to how impacting and poignant an idea can become. Only he knew what separated these text-sound works from his radioplays, but there is an undeniably theatrical thread to each piece. Only he could think to tell the history of the great 20th century wars through the sounds of its ammunitions.

The trouble that Hodell brews within his works is best viewed through his eyes. One need turn only to his notes on "Mr Smith In Rhodesia" to truly grasp that this is a man in a world all his own:

My composition Mr Smith in Rhodesia was written during the late fall of 1969 and was recorded in the beginning of March 1970, at EMS (Electroacoustic Music Studio) and at the Swedish Radio. We needed five black children around 11-12 years of age for the recording, but this turned out to be impossible. Therefore, we contacted the English school in Stockholm and found five white children of the same age group. They were to read some simple texts in genuine Oxford English; this was important because black children in English-speaking African schools were indoctrinated through the use of Oxford English and its built-in political values, not least in relation to the colonial belief in the justification of the apartheid system.

The children came to the Swedish Radio one afternoon. Under the guidance of an Englishman, they recorded the texts on tape. So that they wouldn´t be bored in the studio, we gave them lemonade and biscuits. They were of course also paid for their work. Imagine our surprise a few weeks later when we found out about the scandal caused by this recording. When they returned home, the children told their unknowing parents that they had been a part of a composition which was directed against Prime Minister Ian Smith´s white dictatorship in Rhodesia. The parents were shocked, turning first to the British Embassy in Stockholm, then to English newspapers and the BBC.

The Daily Telegraph put the news on its front page, where a creative reporter was allowed to write the article. The five children, whose age had now sunk to 6-7 years old, were bribed by candy and later tricked into appearing in an anti-American opera at the Modern Museum in Stockholm. At the end of the opera, they were placed in front of a wall and forced to say, "Mr Smith is a murderer." The reporter neglected to mention that the children also said, "Mr Smith is our friend and father", "Mr Smith gives us food and clothing" etc.

The Swedish tabloids reported the scandal in large headlines. The British Embassy protested to the Swedish Broadcasting Corporation (SR), after which SR´s program director at the time, Nils-Olof Franzén, explained in an interview that the recording would be destroyed, which it was. Fylkingen, which was co-producer of the recording, was not satisfied, and financed a new recording in England involving children whose parents were quite positive towards the political content of the piece. This is the version which was presented at Fylkingen´s and the Swedish Radio´s festival at the Modern Museum in April 1970. In spite of this new recording, the piece had since then been banned from transmission on the Swedish Radio, but from this performance on, the ban was lifted.

It wasn't until I played this on the radio only to have the girl taking over for me storm away muttering "This is driving me crazy that I realized how deeply I adore this man.

Brainwash and
Other Works

Monday, July 20, 2009

Pierre Bastien - Eggs Air Sister Steel (In-Poly-Sons, 1996)

Here in one fell swoop, Pierre Bastien pays tribute to Charles Ray, Thelonius Monk, and Brian Eno. While I think there is a misconception as to what extent his Mechanium orchestra are involved in his works, there is no denying that Bastien's ear for song is unlike any other. In keeping with the title's plan on Raymond Queneau's Exercises in Style, Bastien offers thirteen variations on a basic theme with aid from the Mechanium and several musicians on piano, accordion, strings, and percussion. Where the mechanized instruments are what people hone in on with Bastien, his knack for pairing eastern and western instruments into imaginative song forms is certainly worth equal attention.

Eggs Air Sister Steel

Laurent Pernice - Humus - Musiques Immobiles 5-15 (Monochrome Vision, 2004)

French composer Laurent Pernice recorded these ten pieces in Marseille between 1999 and 2001. He began each with a simple process, toying with an instrument until he arrived at some sound or approach that stepped beyond that instrument's usual parameters. Passages from these experiments are then looped and processed, creating undulating masses that lie on the brink of stasis. Though Pernice begins primarily with acoustic sources, the outcome sounds unmistakably electronic. The pieces that incorporate dips into extremely low frequencies are particularly effective, carrying an energy less present in many of these hovering works.

Humus - Musiques Immobiles

Christine Groult - L'Heure Alors S'Incline (Metamkine, 1993)

A favorite from the Cinéma pour l’oreille series here, realized by GRM alum Christine Groult in 1991 as an homage to Luigi Nono, who had passed shortly prior. Groult has great pacing and dynamics throughout, building at first from what seems to be softly blown flute with an emphasis on the breath. As momentum builds, the softness of the breath sounds fall to a much rougher texture. Over the course of nearly nineteen minutes, Groult shifts from gentle to abrasive to deep and glacial, closing with an almost pastoral passage. Each development is done with a carefully executed fluidity that works more to draw the listener in than send the piece bursting outward.

L'Heure Alors S'Incline...

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Mirror - Pedestrian / Nocturne 7" (Three Poplars, 2000)

The second release on Heemann and Chalk's Three Poplars label bears the distinct honor of being the sole Mirror 7" (to my knowledge at least). What more, the A side "Pedestrian" features Chalk engaged in straight guitar passages, guiding the track with mbira-like loping figures. Underneath there still lies that current of atmosphere supplied by Heemann's synth work. On the B side, "Nocturne" is filled with sustained tones the likes of which populate their longer sides. Often the use of near stasis sounds has the effect of disorienting the listener to the lapse of time. Where this is usually sought during longer works, Heemann and Chalk use it here to widen the impact of a shorter piece as the mass shifts from an initial rumble into slightly higher registers.

Pedestrian / Nocturne