Randall Smith: L'oreille voit

Randall Smith“L’oreille voit” (“The Ear Sees”):
La volière” (The Aviary”) (1994) – “The Black Museum” (1993) – “Ruptures” (1991) – “Counterblast” (1990) – “The Face of the Waters” (1988)
empreintes DIGITALES IMED-9416-CD. Duration: 55:44

Like so many others Randall Smith (1960) was lured into the realm of electroacoustics by the illustrious sound art of Groupe de Recherches Musicales in France (incidentally, initially pushed towards them by brother Chuck!), whom, I might reveal, also steered me in that same direction with those seductive vinyls that opened up secret gardens to us…

La volière” (“The Aviary”) (1994) opens the set with a crunchy bird-crushing sweep of the electronic devices, applying a birdsong layer of dubious ingredients, just barely covering the electric topography with a semi-natural film of nature-reminiscent audio…

The rolling-forth of sound is filled with little details, thinning out into clearly detectible fragments of sonic events, sort of echoing nature and its feathered dinosaur-evolutionaries with beaks in dreamy estates of the mind… while we’re entering into an enchanted space where the exchange between natural and synthesized becomes unimportant, and where even chattering remains of human talk are hinted at in Randall Smith’s very skillful and imaginative, spatial sound world.
It is hard to keep track of – and make any sense (in an artistic way) of so many simultaneous events – but Smith holds the stick firmly and flies us just a few inches above the forest floor, across meadows with bronze age mounds and above the surface of meandering rivers, dodging dragonflies which glitter in cobalt blue and shimmering red in the dusk under leafy crowns stooping down to the water… Magnificent! You actually smell the rich fragrances of an insect world in the imago of fall! Aaah… I want to remain in this dreamy vision yet a while… in this thin layer of breathables that surround our lofty home in space… a natural habitat for sages and sagas… rolling forth across the cosmic manège, while the angels watch and marvel…

Slowly the contours of the hypnotic land(sound)scape take on the appearance of circuits and semi-conductive devices, as the wonders of nature merge with the technical dreams of Homo Sapiens (once sadly out-maneuvering their comrades; the Neanderthals), transforming the meadow to a shadowy hall of assuring points of light and the comfy sound of computer fans and wheezing hard drives; we’re home!

The Black Museum” (1993) is – says the composer – “a collection of experimental artifacts or sound objects”. He goes on to state: “This piece emphasizes a strong dynamic structure which brings together the use of such elements as the ephemeral, the fleeting, the use of rushes and sudden outbursts.”
Randall Smith has dedicated “
The Black Museum” to the history of Groupe de Recherches Musicales.
The work consists of nine movements of short duration. The whole piece is 15 minutes long. Smith especially thanks Robert Normandeau for allowing him to borrow a door sound from Normandeau’s well-known work “
Rumeurs” (which won Normandeau a prize at Bourges in 1988 at the 16th Electroacoustic Music Competition). “The Black Museum” has also won a lot of recognition, for example a mention at the 18th Electroacoustic Music Competition of Bourges and the First Prize at the 15th International Luigi Russollo Competition in Varese, Italy in 1993.

Chuck Yeager with his X-1 rocket plane

It has a grainy, turbo-prop, over-the-clouds feeling for a short while, until a threatening murmur shifts our attention to bowing, panning illusions of long forgotten and died-down camp fires, regressing us to scouting years of our youths… The log cabin feeling stays on for a bit under the sweeping crackling and windy gushes of a national park forest fire, but wait… maybe it’s not a fire… maybe it’s the roar from the first supersonic flight with old hero Chuck Yeager; his X-1 rocket plane still hanging up there in those lofty regions in our remembrances on the 14th of October 1947… (on the 67th birthday of Vilhelm Ekelund, Swedish hero of the extended aphorism… i.e. the aphoristic essay or the essayistic aphorism…)

Chuck Yeager

Precipitational percussions emerge in a mimicry of light drizzle in gravel road water puddles, in a reverberation I associate to some expertise electroacoustics by Jean-Claude Risset.
It all gets very spatial and hectic for a while, as unlikely sounds well back and forth and all around, but the view is shifting so fast and so often that it is impossible to keep track, as, much to our amusement, we’re falling down an illusive slope in the sky on a downward drift, until the jet engine picks up just short of the corn field and carries us up in a sling-shot feel of gravitational pull.
Bardo state creatures toss and turn in wheezing and blurting expressions, trying to scare us off our straight and determined passage towards enlightenment and deliverance, and echoes of 2nd World War anti-aircraft defense artillery outside the concert hall in Berlin during a performance of Beethoven’s
Emperor Concerto with the Berlin Radio Orchestra conducted by Artur Rother and with Walter Gieseking at the piano in late 1944 stereo thrill us as Randall Smith’s “Black Museum” oozes down towards the conclusion in the echoing dusk of antique pottery in somebody’s desolate backyard in the Americas… but behold – it’s all in my fantasy, awoken and stirred by the magnitude of sounds inside the murky corners of the Black Museum!

Ruptures” (1991) brings us still further back inside the oeuvre of Randall Smith in this reversed review of his electroacoustics (strictly obeying the order of the CD!).
The force that broke out in “
Rupture” was a kind of impulse that was set off by the rupture of the old world in 1989, when the Berlin Wall broke and the Communist World simply disintegrated like an illusion… That really was a mind-blower for humanity!
Static gets the piece moving, in a surge upwards, as purring, startling incidents shift over in oozing, boiling audios in some kind of mechanical workshop feel… for a little while, until a sudden silence introduces thuds, bangs, squeaks and spatial percussive statements out of the corners of our western world kitchens… perhaps…
Again we’re faced with such a speedy shift of influx that you actually feel the need to go back to listen again at a slower speed, were it at all possible…
Maybe the rupturing worlds are this confusing, this over-whelming, as the old breaks down and the new sticks its head up out of the rubble, trying to figure out what to do next, when in charge, with all those heavy expectations… and a fire finishes off what’s left of the watchtower’s of the old world… with all its redundant detente… and glasnost gone berserk…
Heavy weights crackle and shift, as giant warehouses open up to the forces of democratic compulsion… Let’s have a feast on packing and wrapping and adhesive tape! It sounds like Lapland glaciers shifting and turning as sea gulls of the North Sea, way out to the West, circle the platforms of the oil drillers of Norway… Truly a most fascinating sound world, to be enjoyed at loud volumes! Scare the wits out of your neighbors!

Angelic choirs shifting over into the calls of sea birds appear in “
Counterblast” (1990), which draws its inspiration from Marshall McLuhan. Smith: “My intention was to set out and then transform sounds into larger sonic/perceptual experiences similar to the way McLuhan’s worlds would come at me from the page. […] The use of dynamic range is analogous to McLuhan’s use of bold text fonts enhancing the meaning of key words. The piece draws for its sound sources from concrete and synthesized sounds. These two different sound sources are intended to be perceived in such a way that they ‘counter’ one another as if each is attempting to prevail over the other.”
Further on in the piece deep vibrations make you feel like you’re sitting in the back of the bus as the vehicle halts, the infrasound blocking out all other sounds, engulfing them, gulping them, as the seat vibrates ticklish beneath you…
As the environment has changed over to brittle ice breaking up all around you – accompanied, absurdly, by summer birds – you find yourself in some fairytale, with little ones with brown voices dancing around you in a ceremonial act of offering – and you’re probably the offering! The little ones close in on you, and as they push you slowly drift down into a funnel of unconsciousness, where the world stops and your Bardo passage starts, as the rope and tackle of the ferry across Styx grind and whine…

The Face of the Waters” (1988) is the oldest of the pieces of the CD, and therefore also the last. The description that Smith provides is interesting. He says that he built the piece on ideas from the sounds of water, and that he used sounding objects like broken springs in a Chesterfield, glass objects and light bulbs. Anything is useful for an electro-acoustician! However, Smith underlines that he used no real water sounds; the water simply provided the ideas! Watch out, Aquarius! You’re being manipulated by sound wizards who tap in on your elusive magic…
A steady glassy rhythm – reminiscent of brittle gamelan (shiny, with golden surfaces) – trickle down your auditory meatus like a glittering brook of a childhood spring, with sunlight reflecting off wet pebbles in the stream… The rhythmic, bulging, wavy progression reminds me a little of earlier examples out of Groupe de Recherches Musicales’ ventures, like Bernard Parmegiani’s “
La roue Ferris” (1971).
This is probably the most “beautiful” of the pieces on the CD, with extremely colorful and munchy incidents, kept in line by a steady, forceful movement. The music changes character down the line, since it consists of four movements – but the overall imagery is arching the whole piece. Slower passages give rise to the voices of frogs and locusts, and it all gets very nocturnal, very late-autumn hot and dark. It’s classical! I think of Jean-Claude Risset, François Bayle and Luc Ferrari with portable tape-recorders under leafy crowns in distant late night corners of the park, bordering the open farm fields! Beautiful!