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sound/music CD reviews

 Da Contents H2

May 1 2013
Jon Rose

April 3 2013
zephyr quartet
a rain from the shadows

July 17 2012
the wired lab
wired open day 2009

May 22 2012
ros bandt, johannes s sistermanns

March 20 2012
new weird australia editions: thomas williams vs scissor lock, spartak
jewelz & nippon

October 25 2011
avantwhatever label collection
gulbenkoglu gorfinkel; ben byrne; alex white; ivan lysiak

May 24 2011
disintegration: mutation

May 10 2011
blip (jim denley, mike majkowksi)

listen to the weather

March 22 2011
difference engine

November 22 2010
artefacts of australian experimental music volume II 1974-1983

September 20 2010
clocked out
the wide alley

September 7 2010
clocked out
foreign objects

August 23 2010
matt chaumont

July 26 2010
sky needle
time hammer

May 10 2010
mike majkowski
ink on paper

November 6 2009
new weird australia vols 1 & 2

October 26 2009
clare cooper & chris abrahams
germ studies

July 17 2009
erdem helvacioglu
wounded breath

rice corpse
mrs rice

April 28 2009
james rushford

joel stern
objects, masks, props

January 22 2009
loren chasse
the footpath

mark cauvin

December 12 2007
the splinter orchestra

October 24 2007
artefacts of australian experimental music 1930-1973

August 28 2007
akathistos fragments


various artists produced by le tuan hung; dindy vaughan
on the wings of a butterfly: cross-cultural music by australian composers; up the creek

May 1 2006
ai yamamoto

camilla hannan
more songs about factories

found: quantity of sheep

philip brophy

rod cooper

December 1 2005
anthony pateras
mutant theatre

December 1 2005
charlie charlie & will guthrie
la respiration des saintes & building blocks

dj olive

new belief system

jodi rose & guest artists
singing bridges: vibrations/variations

lawrence english

lawrence english
ghost towns

michael j schumacher
room pieces

robin fox
backscatter dvd


the necks
mosquito/see through

tim o'dwyer
multiple repeat

guns, cars & guitars

warp: various artists
warp vision: the videos 1989-2004

zane trow
for those who hear actual voices


Decibel, Disintegration: Mutation Decibel, Disintegration: Mutation
hellosquare recordings, CD, cube046

In their manifesto, Decibel state that they “seek to dissolve any division between sound art, installation and music.” Their CD Disintegration: Mutation represents more than just sound. To appreciate it fully, you must read the liner notes, visit their webpage and preferably see a performance either on YouTube or, ideally, live.

Decibel blend acoustic instruments (strings, woodwinds) with electronics (keyboards, turntables, Max MSP processing and networking) and you can watch their scrolling graphic scores online, adding a significant dimension to the appreciation of the music. I’ve not seen them live, but it’s clear that Decibel performances are dramatic presentations and the abstract sounds are given degrees of meaning or emphasis depending on the depth of the listener’s engagement.

Track 1 is Decibel founder Cat Hope’s composition “In the Cut,” for cello, bass clarinet, bass guitar and a turntable playing a specially made recording of a descending tone. “In the Cut” uses pitch, texture and timbre to chilling effect. Inspired by the eponymous Susanna Moore novel (which became a Jane Campion film), it starts with a squealing violin note that’s joined by cello and clarinet. The pitches slowly fall, the instruments eventually detune and the sound becomes chaotic, suggesting entropic decay, as if music itself is collapsing. Behind the arrhythmic, sinking line is a low, droning, all-consuming rumble. Music like this is best heard on a PA at high volume to add visceral impact.

Track 2, Hope’s “Kuklinski’s Dream,” begins with an ethereal, breathy whisper that segues into the more strident and densely woven timbres of bass clarinet and strings that echo and mock the eerie whispering sound. The dreaminess of the high-pitched opening becomes nightmarish when we discover that the sound source is the bowing of knife blades, referencing the murder-weapon of late Mafia hitman Richard Kuklinski, after whom the work is named. The sight of the bow hairs being shredded in live performance would add a macabre visual element—a musical instrument that self-annihilates. The graphic score is based on fragments of Kuklinski’s signature so that the work, for three carving knives, bass clarinet, double bass, cello and processing, directly embodies his persona as well as his apparatus. Whereas “In the Cut” represented entropy through pitch and distortion, “Kuklinski’s Dream” represents murder.

Lindsay Vickery’s “Transit of Venus” is a gently developing progression of tones and timbres involving live processing and performer-specific click tracks that, together with the graphic score, guide the pitch, dynamics, textures and time periods. Hope’s double bass creates a bubbling sensation that sits below the fluttering violin and pizzicato cello, and each instrumental voice ebbs and flows intriguingly as the work unfolds. The final work is Vickery’s “Antibody,” which was evidently inspired by biological mutation, and in which Malcolm Riddoch’s organic looking online visual representation maps the harmonics graphically, showing how they grow outward from the central tone. The same visual representation could be made for any sonic event, but it seems essential to the concept for this work. The sound is a densely layered haze of momentary gestures and structural threads, and the cello line is especially interesting. The longest track at 14 minutes, for alto flute, bass clarinet, violin, cello, keyboard and processor, it has an engagingly quizzical musicality.

Whereas Decibel has previously foregrounded works by other composers, this CD comprises compositions by its members demonstrating their manifesto. Hope’s compositions contrast with Vickery’s in the nature of the inspiration for the work. Hers have great psychological and theatrical impact, while the lush complexity of his suggests a more conventional musicality, as you focus on the timbres, textures, resonances and formal development. Both composers continue the interrogation of sound in space and the possibilities for the generation and realisation of sound, though the CD format unfortunately restricts spatial awareness. They also mix improvisation with graphic scores, programmed electronics and click tracks, making for a highly complex set of performance parameters, though these are undetectable when listening to the CD, as is any aleatoric variability from performance to performance.

Disintegration: Mutation is absorbing and resolved work that extends the aesthetic that has emerged over recent years in blending the sonically possible into the demandingly-but-satisfyingly musical. The CD’s title suggests Decibel’s approach —the disintegration of conventional music and the mutation of sound into new forms.

Chris Reid

See also Darren Jorgensen’s review of Decibel’s performance of Alvin Lucier’s work in RT97; Jonathon Marshall’s review of Decibel’s Tape It! performance in RT94; and download a sample from RealTime’s SoundCapsule #1.

© Chris Reid; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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