Pete Stollery:
Un son peut en cacher un autre

Pete StolleryUn son peut en cacher un autre
Empreintes DIGITALes IMED 0678 DVD AUDIO. Duration: 68:36

all photographs except when otherwise stated: ingvar loco nordin

01. Onset/Offset (1996) [5:31]
02. Peel (1997) [12:13]
03. Shioum (1994) [9:42]
04. Altered Images (1995) [11:52]
05. Shortstuff (1993) [9:43]
06. ABZ/A (1998) [5:05]
07. Vox Magna (2003) [12:35]

Pete Stollery
photographer unknown

Pete Stollery is well-known to the electroacoustic community, no least through his work at the Sonic Arts Network in the UK. He is the Director of the Electroacoustic Music Studio in Aberdeen, Scotland. Personally I’ve even had a correspondence with him once about the Scottish folk singer Hamish Imlach!

Many of the UK composers of electroacoustic music are distinguishable by their fluent, innovative style of composing, and their freedom of speech, so to say. The BEAST Birmingham Electroacoustic Sound Theater – may in part have to do with that certain resonance in the UK. Pete Stollery was one of its first members.

To establish the lines of evolution and tradition, I note that Stollery studied with Jonty Harrison at Birmingham University.

Pete Stollery collaborates with artists from other disciplines, like dance and sculpture.
He founded the group InvisiblEARts in 1996 with Alistair MacDonald, Robert Dow and Simon Atkinson, with the aim of performing acousmatic music throughout Scotland and make the art form more widely known.

Track 1. Onset/Offset (1996) [7:21]

This piece was released on Artemiy Artemiev’s Russian label
Electroshock in 1999, as part of their third release in the ongoing series Electroshock Presents.

The work deals with the interplay of recognizable sounds and the sonic qualities of these sounds per se. A brief introduction by Jonty Harrison is given in the booklet.

Stollery’s EA music is delivered and received at high altitudes. This is mountaineering electroacoustics, serving adventurous and curious people well, oxygen or no oxygen! It is clear that he is a very good climber, traversing the void in daring zigzags up granite walls in snowy landscapes, and like in mountain climbing, the minute details mean everything also in the execution of acousmatic music. The sound wisps away and walks a razor’s edge, like the climber daring the ridge between the South and North summit of Kebnekaise! There is a lot of air around the sound here! Below are the glaciers: Björling Glacier to the east, Rabot’s Glacier to the west.

Being inside these sounds that tweak and wisp and soar and bounce, is like being inside your own head, as your body engages its entire breathing capacity to squeeze the last molecule of oxygen out of the atmosphere, to keep your population of cells working, in these cold, thin-aired conditions. Your panting almost drowns the details of the music; the cold sweat behind your goggles dims your view of vast expanses below, as you enter a Shaman’s realm in your fearsome fatigue, envisioning all your lives lived and yet to live as a bead of pearls spiraling around the globe and winding on out into infinite space.

Stollery’s feeling for detail swings these sounds very, very close to your senses, skimming your corneas and your tympanic membranes in skidding, giddiuping performances that make you dizzy! The ordering and artistic handling of these miniatures in the scope of the whole piece is amazing. This is one of the traits of electroacoustic music that I enjoy the most; the sweet venomousness of persuasive danger; the soft-spoken harshness of incisive slits; the roundabout centrifugal force that throws you off-center and have you crawl in the grass like Nebuchadnezzar!

From another viewpoint this is entomological music, happening behind crusted leaves of yesteryear and in the cracks of existence, behind your ear, in the pleats of your bed sheets, in the wrinkles of your age! At times Pete Stollery’s
Onset/Offset is contact-miked lice! Hurray!

The parts of this piece that develop later rumble and ring like prolonged industrial processes on the Baltic coast or a flock of Lancaster bombers heading for Dresden on 13th February 1945 – but to me the most fitting illusion is that of a Shaman ride into the Bardo of afterlife and back – without any unnecessary rebirths yet to come. Splendid! Fantastic sound, amazing structural ideas standing their ground, delivering a daredevil deliverance of sonic scenarios!

Track 2. Peel (1997) [12:13]

“Peel back the layers – what’s under the surface? The roulette wheel spins and we follow”. That’s how Stollery’s colleague Alistair MacDonald describes the beginning of this piece. He elaborates further, and much in a vein that I’m familiar with doing myself, with seemingly un-connected associations and analogies, which is the only way, really, to convey a feeling or an impression of something as abstract as electroacoustic art music.

It begins with a crash-landing in a drawer, it seems. Something unusual sweeps out of the skies, shoots through an open window and enters the socks neatly stacked in the drawer, sweeping past you ear on the way. It’s like the beginning of Olaf Stapledon’s
Star Maker, as he stands on the hill above his house, with electric light shining out of its windows and the stars of the Milky Way glimmering in all their splendor, as time and space opens up around him and transforms him into God Almighty or at least as far into his likeness as you can reach. Or it could be a sonic illustration to that place in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy where the war fleet of a distant star comes to attack humanity, only to be gulped and eaten by a little dog, because of a simple miscalculation of size…

In fact, the music begins with a swooping sound, indicating fast motion, followed by small, confused sounds – like a minimal alien getting entangled in socks…

The continuing events distantly resembles Rolf Enström’s
Tjidtjag & Tjidtjaggaise, a Prix Italia winner from 1987 (and one of my absolute favorites!), in which Enström utilizes the voice of Saami yoiker Jonas Steggo, which is transformed and permuted in such a way that it comes to constitute the various layers of consciousness in a Shaman ride, such as the one I’ve touched upon earlier in this text. The phasing in and phasing out of auditive focus is a common trait for Enström and Stollery. This brings great excitement to the listening.

Pete Stollery also applies – vigorously – the case of the spinning coin, absolutely naturalistic to begin with, but then gradually veering off into a realm of unreality and sorcery. You almost feel fooled, as if you’ve been lured deep into the forest by some mean wizard, in your perceptive fixation on this intense spinning.

Later many other classes of sound appear, from various expressions of society, also in mixed forms, i.e., with abstract sounds hopping around like the dots you may see just before you faint, around more palpable sounds of streetcars or buses that rumble through the center of attention in fumes and pneumatic transmission of power.

As this particular part of
Peel, which I took for a spinning coin, comes to a halt, I realize that it actually was a roulette wheel, even talked about in MacDonald’s own introduction… So much for my discernment of source sounds…

High pitch bird song – so high-pitched that it’s almost inaudible to the aging reviewer – combines with the crackling tour-de-force of a falling giant of the woods; a tall tree brought down by planetary gravity. Through some inching and wrangling state-of-the-art soundscaping, the sound of this falling tree is suddenly perceived, in my ears, as a watery, marine event, like closely miked small waves dancing in and out over pebbles of an Alaskan shore… Wondrous artistry of the sonorities from Pete Stollery!

This is just one fourth into the piece, but I’ll leave it at that, absolutely sure that there are just too many curious sound events to describe in
Peel if I continue, and move over to the next track.

Track 3. Shioum (1994) [9:42]

Simon Atkinson describes his impressions of
Shioum in the CD booklet. It’s just as abstract as the other introductions I’ve read about Stollery’s art, and that in itself says something important about this art; that it is pure sound, usually, wit no programmatic aims – in the best sense abstract art music, acousmatic music, the way I like it most. You can only talk about this art through talking around it, dancing around it, like tribesmen dancing around the fire.

The beginning, rising gradually in volume, gives the faint impression of a stirring crowd through wobbling filters of time and age, of many voices lost in the collective ringing of human vocal cords in a plaza or – thinking about a text-sound piece by Alvin Curran called
For Julian – the open space in front of the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem – or for that matter, the circular motion of millions of pilgrims around the Ka'abah. It could as well be the lightly manipulated sound of water across pebbles in a creek. It’s massive or peaceful, all depending on at what distance you decide you hear it!

It’s like an angelic choir in some kind of distress, accompanied by occasional, tumbling dark sounds, like large rocks falling away off slopes – perhaps the sounds you’re supposed to hear at a certain stage of dying, as the elements dissolve into consciousness, according to Tibetan Buddhism.

This scary torment is relieved by a stillness surrounding the falling trajectories of electronic birdsong, screwing themselves into the world of matter, originating in some better place. This fascinating warbling at the outer rim of reality takes off and scouts into sheer unreality, where it is transformed into metallic tumble weeds rolling cross empty, turned-away plains of obscure dusk states of mind; a Western Texas hidden deep inside a Dali painting, if the thought is possible.

The combination of piercing, shrill beak binaries on a backdrop of dark, threatening voodoo viciousness is very effective, keeping your listening attention focused. Stollery’s
Shioum is dreamy, visionary, and involuntary, somehow, like the little tics of your eyelid or a sudden itch that you can’t control: the irrational core of everything rational – and the bottom line is sheer beauty, be it thunderous or meek, colorful or ominously dark.

Far into the piece Stollery surprises me with a drone that moves in long, outdrawn, wavy motions along the duration – with chirps strewn here an there like the irregular but constant turning on and off of electric lights in windows of a big fall city of the Western world.

This drone, slowly slipping downwards along seamless micro tonalities, is brutally cut short by an explosion of harsh bucket sounds and a flickering chirp flock of ecstasies, like fireworks opening in the guise of flowers blooming in a second. Another, more distant – physically and metaphysically – drone slides along the upper layer of the atmosphere, grainy and glowing with the picked-up energy of starshine, the bombardment of cosmic radiation, turning, imperceptibly, into high-pitch female vocals; a Stockhausenesque
Angel Procession across dark territories…

Track 4. Altered Images (1995) [11:52]

Joseph Anderson says in his introduction to the piece in the booklet that he sees the composer, in this piece, “as [a] conjurer seeking a sacred, primal experience”. And he goes on: “Am I hearing? Am I dreaming? I am listening”. This rhymes pretty well with my impressions of Pete Stollery’s music as reviewed above. Precisely, indeed!

Little trickling sounds open this event; echoing through the tubular worlds of extra dimensions of quantum mechanics; echoing through rolled-up dimensions of scientific imagery – or has he lowered his microphone down a sewage pipe, adding just a fraction of filtering?

Soon the sound tightens considerably, all around you, like a G-suit in a fighter plane loop! The sound all but crushes you… until relief is administered in soothing, withdrawn curiosities across the spotted emergence of a returning conscience as the plane levels out and soars… as the music levels out and soars…

Cut-up sound events follow, like the permuted speech of sound poetic deliberations. Shreds of audio flicker by like splinters of heat shield debris off of a doomed space shuttle. At times you hear the distant rumble of some flying machine passing way up above the clouds, towards far-off continents in the night.

Very dark, rumbling motions – in this music! - through the clay deep below your feet, below your lawn, below your asphalt highways and your mighty runways – remind me of Åke Hodell’s devastating
The Way to Nepal. Again the shamanistic realms open up, as so often in Pete Stollery’s soundworld; secret places, hidden rooms in your consciousness, spiral staircases in the back of your mind, sleepy gardens with hammocks; Beatleslands: “I’m only sleeping…”

Aha! Surprise! Them ugly goblins come charging from behind the trees in the dark October garden! The rain sounds like peas dropping on the cement floor near the dunghill of a childhood farm in Sweden! Everything is changing, always. This is the law of impermanence. That goes for Stollery’s music too, changing, changing: horse carriages through rainy evenings of London, poverty and cruelty scribbled in lengthy novels…

Track 5. Shortstuff (1993) [9:43]

This is one of the pieces I already had of Stollery, on a DAT tape from quite a few years ago – but now I can’t find the tape, and thus don’t know from where I got the piece, if it was from off of a Swedish radio broadcast (likely) or from somewhere else. (In the 1980s and 90s, Swedish art music radio was very good, intensely interesting, with producers like Folke Rabe and Berndt Berndtsson, but since then Swedish radio has gone downhill, now showing a blank and stupid face; a brat face of no visions, as public service looses its identity). However, that is only the second piece I found on some media at home by Stollery, the other being
Onset/Offset on a Russian CD – so the man doesn’t seem to have published himself very much, which is strange, as the content of this Audio DVD is so good.

Shortstuff is a wonder of efficiency and crude, crisp statements! Adrian Moore (who soon will appear with his own CD - Rêve de l’aube - on Empreintes DIGITALes, talks, in his booklet introduction, about “clear spatial trajectories and tight gestures in counterpoint with dark spaces and the small textural sounds of the night.” I wish I had said that!

The piece is made up of very brief incidents surrounded by silence. Like Adrian Moore said, the spatial property is important, as the sudden short strikes hit here and there, hither and thither across the sound space. I always enjoyed this method, often practiced in earlier electronic music, like, say, in Morton Subotnick’s
Silver Apples of the Moon and in even earlier stuff like Gottfried Michael Koenig’s works Funktion Rot, Grau, Violett, Blau and Indigo (1968 – 69). It’s simple but very effective, and a pleasure to hear. It sort of tickles your perception in a special way. It’s a rhythmic thing, albeit crooked and wicked, irregular in a wonderfully nauseating way!

Further up ahead, in the latter part of the piece, different strands of sonics merge to form a fuller, more coherent band of nuances, at times thickening to fill your allotted space in time completely, at a choking danger distance!

This is high-class, high-end audio candy! Enjoy!

Track 6. ABZ/A (1998) [5:05]

For the first time we’re introduced into a real world, populated encounter, where guys talk about sandwiches. Not bad, after these slingshots through space and time and various hypothetical dimensions.

Of course, this can’t last in a Stollery world! He keeps the common, recognizable sounds of human voices in normal, everyday situations – but he permeates these normalities with his electroacoustic elaborations and deliberations.
Somehow it feels like we’re visiting a museum on a planet in the vicinity of Betelgeuse, where one has collected some live samples from planet Earth. The rest of the sounds we hear, into which the Earth samples are brought, are the natural insanities of… Betelgeuse and its celestial neighbors…

Towards the end some extremely tightening and accelerating densities of sound spellbind you, as you race towards extinction on a ray of dwindling light. You hear a chaos organ somewhere in your lower chakras consuming asteroids and other celestial misfits, like a stone crusher at the far end of everything, in full view of the guests at the Restaurant at the End of the Universe… a musical black hole in the form of an asteroid-munching chaos organ! That’s Stollery, for you, boys and girls! After that, only some few flakes of reality as we know it fall by like sooty shreds of newspapers from a neglected and finally decomposed world of shallow minds and stupid causes…

Track 7. Vox Magna (2003) [12:35]

Robert Dow explains a few things about
Vox Magna in the booklet, saying, for instance, that the piece “comprises a set of fragmented recollections, a piecing together of the failing memory of an industrial era…” and so forth. I wish I’d said that too! It seems we’re a few outcasts that think in similar terms about Pete Stollery’s music. It brings us abstractors together!

First: a recurring motion, heavy weights and great masses passing through tunnels. Then: a sparse rain, just a thin drizzle… Roaring, undeterminable loud sounds, brute, engulf you, as an engine, perhaps a helicopter engine, winds down, the blades sweeping around and around in a slowing motion.

Robert Dow’s words of industrial remembrances may be right on, because I also hear those indications, stirring my own recollections of the many years I worked in the steelworks of Oxelösund on the Baltic coast in the 1960s and 70s. I see those giant shadows up brick walls, from workers welding somewhere at the bottom of large halls that could have been the living room of dirty giants of the Earth.

Old industries mean brute force and brute sounds, and Stollery delivers, but not just with close, dangerous horrors, but just as often with a distant rumbling noise that just hints at the illnesses risked: lung cancer, loss of hearing, injury caused by crushing and squeezing etcetera, plus the ever-present silicosis. The advantage of jobs in those disastrous places always was the money. Steel industry (in Sweden: my experience) paid well, and still pays very well.

mixes the sounds of industrial environments with their echoes in the minds of the workers; their unruly dreams of relentless weights closing in, or of 1500 degree Centigrade iron pouring out of a blast-furnace at the center of their skulls.…

This is energizing electroacoustics, engaging the iron and steel trade of the 1960s and 70s to ensure the brute force needed to conclude this greatly appreciated and vastly enjoyable and exciting CD of acousmatic sound art from Pete Stollery in Aberdeen.