Tuesday, February 20, 2024

two kinds of avant-electronic

There's two kinds of early electronic composition and musique concrete type that I really really love, and can't get enough of... 

First is the kind I associate with the late '50s and the 1960s, with this echoey, heavy-reverb sound, and a sense of sinister space

This is a later-than-that example, it's actually from the end of the 1970s, so consequently a bit cleaner sounding - less misty - but it does have the quality of sound-blips receding into the recesses of the cosmos 

This one from 1964 by the same composer is a bit more like it

As is this, again by Andres Lewin-Richter, but this time in collab with opera singer Anna Ricci

Quite a lot of Radiphonic type stuff has this vibe, also Matsuo Ohno's work, the Dutch chappies at the Philips studio, and some of the Columbia-Princeton lot

 With the early stuff, a lot of it is down to plate reverb,  I think - vibrations off sheet metal

And the second type of avant-electronic / tape-magic I really dig, can't get enough of?

That is a kind that peaks a little later on, in the 1970s. The soundspace is drier - and brighter (almost shadowless).  Hard to describe, but it really feels like a totally new language for music is being invented - yet it's oddly palatable, not grating or dissonant.  There's a slippery, trickly way to how sounds distribute themselves in space.  The plinks and blips and labial plops, it's like the language of  an alien lifeform. Here's a good example - the entire album, tracks by both Bulent Arel and Daria Semegen

More Semegen crinkletronica

This piece by Iván Patachich also coming from the same place

As is this - actually much earlier (1959) - example by one of the Dutch chappies, Henk Badings. A bit clunkier but has some of the 'alien language' properties and that shadowless sound-stage

Yet another example, more glowing and less clearly contoured (although the Ann Southam I would really like to play here is actually "The Reprieve" - which you can hear here)

And this by Morton Subotnik is kind of in the same zone as Arel / Semegen but more sproingy and percussively agitated 

Now this piece by Edgardo Canton has qualities of both "types" - it's foggy, murky, but it also has the trickly alien-language quality

Edgardo Canton, Andres Lewin-Richter, Matsuo Ohno, Iván Patachich, and Arel / Semegen are all in the Creel Pone canon, although Electronic Music For Dance I came across independently, on vinyl, before it got  Creeled. 

Both types, I seem to have a bottomless appetite for...

Now I wonder if I can distinguish any other strands... 

I know what I don't have a bottomless appetite for - and that I find a bit ear-chafing.... It's when composers -including some whose 1960s-1970s work I love - enter the digital age. There's a sort of common sound-palette, an over-arching macro-texture, that every composer seems to succumb to, because of the nature of the technology. Lots of sibilant, wispy, high-frequency sounds. A glassiness too. Too much detail, too much miniaturized motion in the soundscape.  Too much to take in. It's exhausting in the same way that CGI and post-Pixar animation is. But mostly it just tickles the ears, all that wispiness - and it feels samey, like everyone has the same basic palette.  

But not samey in the way that the Two Types stuff is samey-but-good. 

Examples of digi-wispi-tronika

This one especially from about 9 minutes in 

This from Bernie P especially from about 12.30 mins in

This too

Here's what I wrote some years ago about the evolution of Parmegiani from the tape-snipping phantasmagorias of his early work to the digital-superpowers phase: 

"Some of this Rabelaisian rawness seems to fade as Parmegiani's work enters the digital era. He was among the first at GRM to embrace the new technology, but admits that although the shift from "scissors to mouse" involved huge gains on the time-saving and hassle-reduction fronts, there were also obscure losses. 

"Listening to "Sons-Jeux", a piece whose original 1998 version was made to commemorate musique concrete's 50th Anniversary, there are spectacular effects in terms of the transformation of material: insect sounds turn into human voices and a babble of agitated male speech gets whisked into an iridescent foam of voice-cellules
(like molecular gastronomy if human souls were its raw ingredients). 

"Yet permeating the seemingly infinite variety of textures is a hard-to-put-your-finger-on homogeneity, like garments that are wildly different in shape yet cut from the identical fabric. For some reason, digital technology seems to exacerbate concrete's already-existing bias towards certain sound-textures--plinky liquidity, slithery sibilance (perhaps because these sorts of sounds least resemble those of acoustic instrumental provenance?).

"Returning to the earlier analogy [with Parmegiani's pre-composer work as photomontagist), you could say that digital sound parallels the advances in animation made by the likes of Pixar (plus all those action thrillers so CGI-riddled they are virtually animations incorporating human actors). Massive increments in terms of mindblowing verging-on-3D effects, microscopic detail and sheer density of simultaneous events are offset by the loss of analogue grain, an insidious seamlessness and sameyness. 

"Whereas the Sixties and Seventies Parmegiani regularly provokes the I-can't-believe-my-ears of a true sound-sorcerer in action, some of the latterday pieces approach numbing overload."


  1. There's a good list here from the pianist Belle Chen of her favorite contemporary classical tracks, including a couple of electronic pieces that get away from that wispiness: https://dmy.co/10-best/10-best-modern-classical-tracks-according-to-belle-chen
    From two familiar names: Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith and Mica Levi.

    1. From the same publication: the bass player of Ride picks his favorite shoegaze tracks. It's a great selection! https://dmy.co/10-best/10-best-shoegaze-classics-according-to-ride

    2. Nice one re Belle Chen, will check out.

      I came across that bassist from Ride list - good commentaries he has too.


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