sometimes witty book reviews
Found: Supporting new music composers
Run time: approx 40 mins
Rain, storm, disorientation and resonance: for me, that’s this EP in four words. Being a classical musician living in the 21st century, I always like to try and push my auditory boundaries. Since meeting Inti Figgis-Vizueta last year, I have been fortunate enough to start following their composition journey – which is always surprising, and actually, quite charming. I jumped at the chance to review their latest compositional offerings in their new EP: Experimental Projects A
Because of my intense period of training in the classical western tradition, I am (unfortunately) always wary of works which use non-traditional sound sources. And Figgis-Vizueta has them everywhere: field recordings of rain, horses, fire engines, footsteps coupled with disklavier, organ, distorted and prepared pianos – cor anglais. I was perhaps slightly intimidated as I clicked ‘play’. And I’ll admit, for the first few seconds of gap of dunloe I was worried for my ongoing aural interest with this EP. But then, I decided try following Figgis-Vizueta’s thought experiments, rather than discerning any arching narratives on the first go. I decided to just let Experimental Projects A be what it would.
I was met with gap of dunloe: something atmospheric, eerie, surreal – like a modern re-imagining of a Chekov-esque soundscape. The sometimes surprising but not disjunct series of noises in this opening track gradually drew me into this sound-experience. This controlled release of sound sources, is somehow unsettling – compellingly so. Open reinforces the experimental aspect of this EP while exploring a luxurious depth of resonance, reminiscent of the aesthetic of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Rain invokes a dystopic mindset with what feels like acid-rain falling on everyday objects, affected by the distant sirens and hollow tin percussion. Then, the perfect and precise introduction of thunder. Post thunder, the listener encounters a pleasant suspension in space and echoes. When heard in order on the EP, the organ tones of the next piece, Beating, have a strong sci-fi feel leading on from the post-apocalyptic soundscapes of the previous works. The pulsing of close pitches and timbres is intriguingly explored, as are the overtone and harmonics cleverly timed throughout the sequence. Though this sounds too perfect to be performed in one take, astonishingly Beating was recorded not only in one take, but in recital. By this stage of the EP, I was beginning to appreciate the composer’s quite evident skill and sensitivity.
My favourite track, are these our streets?, confirmed my suspicion. Taking in the timbres and textures of a walk through a Salvadorian neighbourhood, this piece successfully conveys the composer’s intention of ‘intense dysphoria and dissonance’. The highly suggestive tones are beautifully woven through the insistent bass beats and field recording of footsteps. This is a wonderfully cut, stretched and stitched tapestry that somehow also remains pleasantly minimalist. Soundscape and instruments are balanced across ranges and tones. In particular, the bus sound informing the fundamental of the second half of the piece is very aurally satisfying.
Flashback to a beautiful moment rounds out this collection as the most tentatively pitch/melody driven project on the EP. Though the recordings are not as finely balanced as are these our streets?, the traditional and non-traditional sound-sources are well matched. I particularly appreciated the exploration of ‘imperfect sound’; be it less than traditionally perfect instrumental sound production or less-than-industrially-ideal field sampling (i.e. cor anglais with deliberate distortion; fuzzy field recordings). The sparse, open, repeated but defiantly tonal piano chords were are a surprising end to this piece. For me in this part of the globe, they were reminiscent of 1970s/80s Australian film soundscapes.
This is a satisfying listening experience – the order of the album is well selected, and on a meta-level extends the balance-and-build intention of each of the individual pieces. My highlight is definitely are these our streets? Telling a story in sounds is difficult, but Figgis-Vizueta has gone beyond that, telling a history and future of a community as well.
Listening suggestion: I would recommend experiencing this collection in the composer’s order, in a quiet space, with the weight of a grey afternoon pressing in on the window.