New Zealand Sonic Art Vol. II

New Zealand Sonic Art Vol. II:
Lissa Meridan; “twitter torniquet” (2000) – John Rimmer; “Ancestral Voices” (2000) – Daniel Beban; “Herakles” (1999) – Kit Powell; “Dapple Metal” (1996) – Craig Sengelow; “Funhouse” (2000) – Chris Cree Brown; Under Erebus” (2000).
The University of Waikato UWMD1201. Duration: 67:25.

As the title indicates, this is the second CD in a series of sonic art from New Zealand. Unfortunately one of the key persons of New Zealand sound art – Douglas Lilburn – passed away in 2001, and this issue is dedicated to him. He was born in 1915, and as early as 1945 he stated, in an address to the Cambridge (of New Zealand) Summer Music School:

I feel that a musician in this country must develop his awareness of the place he lives in, not attempting a mere imitation of nature in sound, but seeking its inner values, the manifestations of beauty and purpose it shows us from time to time, and perhaps using it as something against which he can test the validity of his own work.

Yes, if more people would heed this piece of advice, we’d hear much more qualified art of sounds. I feel Lilburn is very right in this respect, as I have trekked the mountains and glaciers of northern Lapland, bringing back with me shamanistic visions and the crude sense of rock and ice in my fingertips, trembling with the pure energy of the spirit of nature.

Douglas Lilburn
(Photo: Jane Ussher)

Ian Whalley, in his introduction to this CD, confirms that each piece of the release addresses different aspects of Douglas Lilburn’s ideas. It takes a visionary to have this impact on subsequent art. Lilburn was one – and since time is but an illusion of perception, he is one too, and his influence flowers and blossoms down the line of contemporeana.

Lissa Meridan opens the set with her piece “
twitter torniquet”. The work is new, having been premiered as late as 2001. It is based on an earlier instrumental micro-score.
The music opens nocturnally, as if seeping through dark heat, insects sweeping past in sudden, jerky, whining streaks of audio.
This reminds me of some good moments by François Bayle, or Bernard Parmegiani, and soon lures me into the world of Jean-Claude Risset; this New Zealand piece is very French!
Desert heat descends on the music, as long, arching gestures of hallucinatory thirst fan out across yellow horizons.
High pitches go glissandoing down into the subterranean worlds of infrasound, in a spooky, sub-space dominion. This could loose you in some treacherous depths…
Distant choir mimicries, covered by Time, by Age, have you visualize angelic processions behind the Time, behind the clouds. It is very beautiful, very imaginative, very… severe!
It has that Buddha character! I’ll study my Dalai lama tonight!

Lissa Meridan & Antonio Funiciello:
Elastic Horizon

Track 2 presents John Rimmer, who, like Lissa Meridan, was granted a place on the first issue if this series too. Rimmer is an important factor in New Zealand music, so he deserves this renewed confidence entrusted on him. His piece this time around is called “Ancestral Voices”. The title had me think of Australian Aborigines, but it has to do with Rimmer’s own ancestry, much closer up, namely his eight great-grandparents. Rimmer got the original idea to associate the eight ancestors with eight instruments, which he used to compose the parts. The instruments utilized include two Maori instruments; the putorino and the koauau, an Australian didgeridoo, a Chinese kuch’in, a Japanese shakuhachi, an Indian sitar, plus the European instruments marimba and piano. Rimmer lets these instruments materialize into the composition in male and female guises, in pairs with different characteristics. Throughout the fifth century hymn Caeli Deus Sanctissime is heard, right through the texture of the music, rendering it a historical, ancestral atmosphere.
The piece pries open an immediate atmosphere of layer upon layer of chronology, of time-layers that are pitch-layers, timbral fields in space, hovering mirages of times passed, people gone – or of shadowy figures and events of a distant future, when we are the ancestors…
The sounds sweep in like ultra-rapid mist of seascapes in a time-lapse recording, like sequences of the film
Koyaanisqatsi. The feeling inside the music is similar too, world and life observed from a theoretical viewpoint independent of time and space, which is when you see that all actions, events and beings; all history and all future, actually exist on the same level in an elastic place called NOW, which never ends, never starts – just IS… and Rimmer’s music bends like curving glass in the starshine…

Track 3 belongs to Daniel Beban, and sports the title “
Herakles”, starting on as a classical reference of early Greek anatomic preoccupation. Beban is a young (1977) guitarist and composer from Wellington. Other projects of his include a series of CDs sharing the over-arching title “Karanga Voices; New Zealand Heritage in Sound”, containing field recordings of auctioneers, race callers etcetera.
The source material for “
Herakles” is – oddly - derived from the world of weightlifters and squash players.
The sounds start loud and concrete, so watch your speakers! The increase in volume from track 2 is a bit too brute.
Soon the grunting and the sweating are permuted through electronic gear, later joined by surreal enlargements and magnifications of the details of certain aspects of the funky world of athletes, leading over into a gross Gargantuan realm of oozing bodily fluids and appalling muscular efforts. Very nice! It really swings too, when Beban sort of effortlessly toggles the bodily weights through the stinking audio of body fixation.

Track 4 is “
Dapple Metal” from Kit Powell. Powell is an experienced composer who feels comfortable with all kinds of serious music. He has composed choral music (both sung and spoken), orchestral and chamber music, brass band music, theatre music and electroacoustic music. He has a special affinity for chance operations and music with found objects.
For “
Dapple Metal” he basically consulted the metal foundry recordings of Martin Neukom at the Swiss Computer Music Center.
Powell found that the original source sounds were so good and intriguing that he hesitated to tamper with them at all, but finally reached the decision to do the opposite, i.e. really change them around. He did this in various ways, but one revealing method was to make very loud source sounds very low in his piece, while on the other hand enlarge and amplify small dots and blots in the source material.
Isolated gushes of steam (?) wheeze out at different locations in the sounding space, in a fashion quite reminiscent – soundwise and though the spatial distribution – of early Belgian and German electronic pieces by Henri Pousseur, Konrad Boehmer and Gottfried Michael Koenig.
The short blots of steam power hit like showers of meteorites, until they gradually take on vague timbral, modal properties, tending to arrange themselves in some kind of order, seamlessly drifting from a plasma state into a precipitous materialization of pointillist audio.
Haphazard cut-outs of helium-light elves’ organs in the green-scale of summer magic seep through tiny cracks in the sturdy wall of stark reality that blocks our subconscious view into the worlds of mysteries and Lilliputian enchantment, where almost invisible twitter birds sweep past, back and forth, cutting the air like fairytale Apus apus (Swift; Martinet noir).

Apus apus & Apus melba

Vibratory, rhythmical occurrences whisper by, inconspicuously, barely touching your nose tip and the hairs on your ears while breezing by your situation in lush fingertip flybys!
This sound world holds your attention with its enticing sparseness and its fragility of line.
Kit Powell uses his material in a very clever artisanship. I’m inspired greatly by this piece. This is high quality sound art, on pair with the best of electroacoustics, even historically. Enjoy!

Track 5 introduces Craig Sengelow’s “
Funhouse”. This composer is fairly young (1971), but he has already worked quite a bit in the areas of orchestral and electroacoustic composition, while he has also performed with and composed for various rock and improvisation groups, and much of his time has been devoted to composing for dance, theatre and film.
The title of this piece refers to the classical amusement park funhouses, in the sense that Sengelow has intended to play around with the sounds in a similar way that your senses get tricked in a fun fair funhouse.
Another important property of this work is its juxtaposition of urban-rural, of human past and present, of nature versus superficial construction, in that the source sounds stem from two wildly different areas; New Zealand wilderness with native birds and the London subway!
The early sounds of “
Funhouse” transport me to childhood marshes and bogs deep inside Swedish coniferous forests of the 1950s, where Black Grouses (Tetrao tetrix) play and court in a rippling texture of continuous calls.
The jingle jangle early morning frost feel carries over into an eerie steel frame sequence of screeching railway cars – but the origins of the sounds are crossbred to produce a sonic guise with steel claws and feathery wings, its beak pointing away from the past, towards a cyborg future of steel skeletons and birds’ poetry.
Temporal fluctuations in the tapestry of sounds stretch in elastic infra-layers of bulging, nauseating glissandi, mosquito suckers turning into elephant trunks, reality swelling abruptly and shrinking back hastily in unforeseeable patterns.
Sengelow paints many colors simultaneously, in layered sweeps across the sonic canvas, opening wide expanses of alien plains of the unconscious, in a space-walk by the Planetary Dream Collector (Terry Riley; “
Cadenza On the Night Plain”).
The bee-swarms of a hypnotic rest in a summer’s garden beneath the apple trees lift your life force in a vibrating, hovering, elevated suspension, as diamond-like fragments of extra-gardenous reality glitter by in meaningless obtrusions.
The steel-birds of futurism sharpen their metallic beaks on the subway rails, as hallucinatory voices call across the void between your brain-halves.

Chris Cree Brown gets to round off this very interesting New Zealand compilation on track 6 with his work “
Under Erebus”.
The history behind the piece involves a trip to Antarctica, which C. C. Brown did in November of 1999, as partaker of the Artists to Antarctica program. (Reviewer’s remark: I do hope they will bring a poet along for the first mission to Mars; that is the only way to convey the experience on a deeper level to humanity).
Brown’s account of the sounds used for his piece contains walking on snow, polar wind, radio communications, Weddell seals, an Adelie penguin rookery etcetera.
A peculiar beginning of the piece sports Brown’s left foot treading the snow at the very left of the sound space, while his right foot is heard at far right! It feels like piggybacking Mr. Brown!
The music conveys impressions of desolation, which must be very accurate, considering the environment. Friendly radio communications on a backdrop of Antarctica killer blazes paint a thoughtful picture of the human situation in space and time.
The alien beauty of such a position silhouettes the dreams of human souls against a void of blackness and piercing starshine, where simultaneity is just a hypothetical concept of bewilderment, with no actual deep space relevance.
You can sense the continents moving in the dark.

Life is a marvelous lookout tower in the space-time continuum!