Review: Three Cities Project

event details:
UNIVERSITY OF ABERDEEN Saturday, 27 October 2012

Alan Cooper writes...

Back in April of this year, in Musa, Exchange Street, Aberdeen, the Three Cities Project mounted a special event designed to introduce some of the basic ideas driving an ongoing collaboration between three northern cities which are seaports as well as being centres of excellence in musical research. All three cities also play host to important music festivals, sound in Aberdeen, the Borealis Festival in Bergen and the Sound Ways Festival in St. Petersburg. At that event we were promised that the culmination of the ongoing work would be presented in a concert as part of this year’s sound Festival. This promise was fulfilled at a concert held in the monumental and resplendent interior of Aberdeen University’s Sir Duncan Rice Library.

Taking part in this concert were Ross Whyte, Suk-Jun Kim and Professor Pete Stollery. Although two other participants in the previous event, Trond Lossius and Mark Higgin were not able to be present in person this time, they were both there in spirit since their pieces were performed once again.

As Professor Stollery explained, the success of this venture means that the Three Cities Project will be continued although it has not yet been decided which areas of music will be explored in the future.

At the event in April, Professor Stollery explained the importance of the idea of place that runs throughout the project and how electro-acoustic composers can approach this in three quite different ways. Pieces in this concert were the clear fruit of these three different approaches. Vind, vann, helikoptre by Trond Lossius from Bergen represented possibly the simplest of these approaches, place at where the recorded sounds are left untouched by the composer. In this piece, sounds of a helicopter, of wind and especially of the water lapping against the shores of a bay near Bergen were used to create a graphic and atmospheric portrait of the bay rather as a visual artist might use a photograph. This of course does not mean that no artistry is involved in these activities. The choice of perspective, of light of angles and cropping of the photograph are just some of the processes employed by the visual artist and the artist in sound must make similar editing judgements. Thus for me, the abiding impression left by this piece was of the varied sounds of water which soon developed an abstract beauty of their own.

Heritage by Ross Whyte was the piece which opened the performance and here was a fine example of the second idea of place, place of where the composer alters the sounds he has recorded to produce a quite different sonic landscape that grows organically out of the original. Ross made his recordings during a visit to the Hermitage Art Gallery in St. Petersburg. To begin with, the sounds were left alone as in the piece by Trond Lossius, footsteps and echoing voices created an idea of the atmosphere as well as the vastness of the gallery but gradually long held musical notes began to arise building up to chords which could have come from tremolando strings or a choir of human voices. To begin with, the footsteps and voices of the recordings remained audible and were transformed into a kind of percussion element.

Crossing (Bergen) by Pete Stollery was an example of the third compositional technique, place for. Here Pete had used the sounds of a motorboat, which crosses the bay near Bergen to create a wholly abstract musical piece. If he had not told us what his sound source actually was, we would probably not have been able to guess what it was. This was the piece that came closest to what the uninitiated would probably call “real music” - tones and rhythms were finely distinguished in what was a beautifully constructed piece in purely musical terms without really needing any reference to the outside world.

In his piece Lift, Mark Higgin had achieved something rather different although using the same idea. Hear the sounds of a malfunctioning tap were transformed into the cries of seagulls or possibly more exotic birds and the subterranean roars of some huge angry beast.

It was Suk-Jun Kim who introduced the final element of the concert, the Three Cities (intermedia installation) developed by SERG (Sound Emporium Research Group), namely Pete Stollery, Ross Whyte and Suk-Jun Kim. The processing of sound and visuals is the work of Suk-Jun Kim. This is a splendid “contraption” sorry to use that term for an electronic miracle device way beyond my understanding. You stand before a multiple screen and depending upon where you are standing, the squares on the screen will display pictures and sounds from each of the cities in the project, Aberdeen, Bergen and St. Petersburg. The installation will be on display throughout the coming week. Do go and see it if you can. It is well worth it or even just to see the magnificent interior of the University’s new Library; fans of the Fritz Lang film Metropolis will be impressed if they simply stand in the entrance hall and look up.

© Alan Cooper 2012