north east scotland's festival of new music

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Electroacoustic Fair Gigs 4&5

Written by Alan Cooper


On Saturday, 13 November, the MacRobert Building, home of Aberdeen University Music was transformed into a sensational "Theme Park of Sound". For nearly twelve hours the place was abuzz with workshops, installations and performances that explored electroacoustic music and indeed sound itself in all its mind-blowing diversity. I managed to get to the multiple events in time to catch the six o'clock and eight o'clock performances having previously attended Steve Bingham's concert in the Art Gallery. Actually, that proved a good prelude to the evening's events since it too included a fascinating use of electronics.

Between the two electroacoustic concerts I got an opportunity to look round the various installations which brought together visuals as well as sounds and I was struck by the astonishing contrasts between the different installations. Each room presented me with a world unique unto itself, something that reflected the sheer variety of imagination contained in the music of the eleven different composers in the two "Gigs" that I was privileged to attend.

Gig number four began with the world premiere of a piece entitled Tekahtoa by Diana Salazar. This was the only one of the eleven pieces I heard that included a live instrumental performer whose playing was personally shaped and contoured by Diana Salazar herself in charge of the electronics. In that respect this piece was really a duo and it featured that regular performer and good friend of the Sound Festival, wizard of the flute, Richard Craig. The instrument that he had brought with him did not look like any flute I had ever seen before. I was actually taller than Richard Craig himself. It was in fact a very rare musical animal, the contrabass flute. The titleTekahtoa is in fact an onomatopoeic play on the word tectonic referring to the shifting of the plates making up the earth's crust along with the t and k sounds that are most commonly used in articulations on the flute. In fact the sound world that this created did suggest that the earth was moving and that something overwhelming was happening. This was a masterful collaboration between Richard Craig and Diana Salazar - dare I refer in a rather more delicate way than in the original to a quote from Allen Ginsberg's poem Howl! - a line that got the poem banned for many years and say that this was "a vision of ultimate flute".

Black Velvet by Louise Rossiter used as its sound source a can of Guinness containing a "widget". From these quite sparse and simple beginnings Louise Rossiter had created a world of amazing depth and spaciousness. A vast hall filled with various mechanical echoes suddenly mutated into a station with a huge steam train - and all this from just a can of Guinness.

Welcome to Hasla was the title of a strangely dreamlike piece by Suk-Jun Kim. It is fascinating how some of these composers are able to suggest vast spaces in their music and here Suk-Jun Kim added the illusion of impetuous forward movement. He had us hurtling through his varied sound landscapes some of which he coloured most beautifully using the exotic oriental sounds of bells.

Miriama Young used lines of poetry in her composition 1000 Kisses. Suggestions of a cat purring gently or the cries of geese all bathed in the seductive sounds of water provided a marvellous counterpoint to the gently whispered words of the poem. There was definitely something dangerously voluptuous about this music.

Pete Stollery's Onset/Offset opened Gig No.5. It was generally a quite abstract piece in which it was difficult to discern the actual sound sources but there was certainly a sense of zooming traffic and as with all Stollery's music it was clearly shaped with a development section where the more amorphous sound world developed clear tonal and harmonic qualities and there was even at the end what I would call a nice coda.

Wunderkammer by Alistair MacDonald (no, not the choral conductor, just the same name) celebrated the life of Alfred Russel Wallace the Victorian explorer who brought back many specimens from the jungles of Malaysia and Indonesia preserved in glass jars. The glass jars being clinked together or perhaps the sounds of a marble being rolled around inside them gradually faded while the songs of exotic birds and other jungle sounds began to predominate before the glassy sounds returned to surround the jungle noises to remind us that what remains of the great explorer's life is his vast collection of glass jar specimens.

Hickory Dockery by Nicholas Virgo, another world premiere was a celebration of clocks and their mechanisms. Sounds of winding, chiming and the various escapements suggested clocks large and small and the piece ended with the chiming of church bells suggesting the largest clocks of all. Hickory Dockery was a nice title for this piece but as I listened to it I thought of "When Clocks Rule the World" and of course for people who are trying to get to work, or to Sound Festival concerts, indeed they do.

Sounds of water lapping the shore, the distant cries of a muezzin or perhaps eastern folk music, bustling streets by day or by night and a trip on the river were all sounds that Pippa Murphy built into her wonderfully atmospheric piece Caspian Retreat. She really did take us out of the darkened MacRobert lecture theatre and into far distant places.

Robert Dow's Uncertain Memories also contained a wealth of concrete sounds. Was this the memory of some distant Sunday with church bells, a visit to the park and to a museum? Its very mystery and as the title suggested, uncertainty was part of its special charm.

Simon Atkinson's Interiorities III was like a sound amoeba. It retained a general shape while quite a lot went on inside it. One of the special themes of Sound this year was minimalism and I felt this was a kind of electroacoustic minimalism.

The final work in the programme was Adrian Moore's Sustain, a Scottish premiere. In this piece I felt he was exploring certain correspondences in the shaping of quite different sound sources, the whine of an aeroplane engine revving down or the wind and rain in a storm. As he himself explained in his programme note, perhaps Sustain is not the most relevant title for a piece that contains such powerful suggestions of motion within sound.

All music affects listeners differently and perhaps what I heard listening to these various pieces was not at all that which the composer had intended. This is especially the case in electroacoustic music which has special qualities to tickle the imagination of the listener. What I can say with certainty however is that this music has the power to fine tune the ears in an amazing way. After the first of the two gigs I could quit clearly hear the ticking of the wrist watch belonging to the man sitting next to me. It did not happen after the second gig, not because the music was not as good but rather because the man with the watch had moved away to sit somewhere else.

  • published on 13 November 2010
  • written by Alan Cooper

Reproduced with permission of the author.

reviewed events
  Date Day Time Location Event Details
13Sat10.00 amAberdeenElectroacoustic Fair
13Sat 6.00 pmAberdeenGig 4 with Richard Craig, contrabass flute
13Sat 8.00 pmAberdeenGig 5 invisiblEARts