CNVCD002 | 06.12.2010
format: CD | packaging: cd sleeve
duration: 44 minutes, 10 tracks
limited to 200 copies
price: 10.00 euros - shipping included
10 improvised sound collages by Wade Matthews
What this music is about and how it was made.
These are 10 virtual soundscapes selected from among 14 made in Madrid in late June and early July 2009, hence the name, Early Summer. They are improvised sound collages, real-time assemblages of field recordings (manipulated to greater or lesser degrees), noises, electroquotes and digital synthesis. The field recordings were made over the last two years in the San Francisco Bay area, La Mancha, and Madrid. The noises were recorded at my studio in Madrid. There is one electroquote, but it is significantly altered and might thus more accurately be called an “electro-misquote.” The digital synthesis was carried out in real time, that is, played as part of the process of improvising these pieces.
My setup contains two laptops, which I play simultaneously. The left one is for synthesis, the right one has all the field recordings and noises. The playing process involves triggering, stopping, filtering and mixing the recordings on the right computer while simultaneously playing the software synthesizer in the left computer. The results are sent to a pair of loudspeakers, each of which has a microphone in front of it. The mics are in turn sent to my recording setup. So these pieces are recorded in stereo, as is. There is no remixing and a minimum of touching up—basically just a couple of fades. I chose this setup, rather than multi-track recording, because I wanted the end result to really reflect the improvisatory nature of these pieces, avoiding the temptation to “recompose” them post-facto.
With some pieces I had a clear idea what materials I was going to work with and I simply began to play, triggering and stopping them according to how the piece evolved while simultaneously adding touches of synthesis, sometimes for structural reasons, other times simply as “sonic seasoning.” With other pieces, I had only one or perhaps two sounds in mind and simply began playing, adding other things as the piece went along. In all cases, there are two elements that I find especially interesting about working with the medium of sound collage:
The first is the possibility of non-integrated sound spaces. In these pieces, each of the field recordings, noises, and synthesized sounds occupies its own space. The field recordings, for example, occur in specific acoustic conditions that are clearly audible in the recordings. Thus, these sound collages combine not only sounds but also sound spaces. The sounds often coexist in time but not necessarily in audible space. At any given time, a particular sound may not be audibly in front of, behind or beside, another sound. Instead, it may be in another space altogether, a more distant one, or a closer one, a more resonant space or a dryer one. I find this sort of spatial counterpoint very interesting as it brings out the paradox of sounds, many of which are natural, coinciding in a way that has only become possible in “nature” in our time. Until quite recently, if we were in a particular sonic environment—say one with very little resonance like the inside of a crowded bus—then any sound we heard there would be directly affected by that acoustically dry setting. Likewise, any sounds we heard in a large train station would be marked by its reverberance—they might be closer or farther away, but they would all be in that space. Now, however, we can get on that crowded bus, shove a pair of earphones into our ears and simultaneously be listening to the bus noises and a recording of a string quartet performed at Carnegie Hall. The bus noises will enter our hearing and may even cover up the sound of the string quartet at some points, but the bus’s acoustic conditions—its lack of resonance—will in no way reduce the reverberant field of Carnegie Hall in which we are hearing the string quartet. Likewise, the resonance of that hall will add no reverberation whatsoever to the bus noises. This coexistence of different soundspaces in our auditory field is quite new and so I’ve enjoyed exploring it here.
The second is the chance to play beyond or against memory. Here, I am not interested in combining things I know will work. I want to combine sounds that may not work. More precisely—and this is the crux of the matter for me—I want to combine sounds that will work in ways I had not discovered beforehand. It’s not so much a matter of combining disparate materials and figuring out how to make them “work” as of using those unexpected combinations to redefine one’s personal definition of what it means to “work.”
One final observation about these pieces’ durations: I wanted to try making short pieces, aphorisms that just present an idea and let each listener draw his or her own conclusions about its possible ramifications. At best—and I hope to have succeeded to at least a small degree—they might be taken as sonic koans.
[ Wade Matthews - Madrid, July 2009 ]
Une enveloppe de carton fermée par une languette, en bas et tout petit un titre isolé par une barre verticale sur un sticker transparent. A l'intérieur un carton plié, photo de sable bleuâtre au recto, liste des titres sur fond noir au verso, à l'intérieur un texte précis sur le mode de travail et les possibilités qu'il ouvre. Modèle d'objet disque qui fait que la musique nous parvient différente, mise en scène.
Matthews improvise ses "collages de sons" avec deux laptops, dans l'un il collecte des sons, avec l'autre il en opère la synthèse. Il joue en direct des deux ordinateurs, envoie le son sur des haut-parleurs dont le son, enregistré par deux micros, donne la pièce définitive.
Il y a du sacré, de l'alchimie dans le mode de travail et de présentation. Ça n'empêche pas une bonne dose de plaisir tout simple, le passage d'ambiances de quasi danse à des moments méditatifs, une attention aux sons pour eux-mêmes, sans arrière plan, quelque chose de très mesuré, de gourmand et de sobre. Une musique presque universelle, qui se coupe de toutes racines, de toute idéologie ? reste le son et sa profondeur ou au contraire sa qualité épidermique. Il serait faux de parler de vibrations dans ce cas, Matthews prend la matière des sons sans aucune métaphore et sans référence à ce qui les porte. A se demander comment il les assemble.
Dans son texte, il propose de prendre ses musiques comme des Koans, ces textes zen énigmatiques, sans valeur esthétique ni philosophique, qui n'attendent aucune résolution et sont seulement là pour maintenir alerte la capacité de questionnement. La suggestion est sans doute très pertinente. Des sons matériels sans épaisseur autre, une écoute déjà décrite par l'auteur de la musique, reste à la vivre.
[ Noël Tachet ]
Le Son Du Grisli
Au début de l'été 2009, Wade Matthews improvisait à Madrid, deux laptops en mains, des collages de sons captés à San Francisco. Early Summer est donc un disque sur lequel Wade Matthews questionne la distance entre son hier américain et son aujourd'hui madrilène.
Pour autant, on ne trouve pas sur Early Summer des enregistrements concrets, trop concrets. C'est que Wade refaçonne tout ce qu'il sort de ses boîtes avant de le mélanger. De son côté, l'auditeur témoignera avoir entendu passer une nuée d'insectes dans un grand coup de vent, marcher une personne dans la neige, communiquer des oiseaux et des droïdes, assister à une pièce de théâtre dont les personnages sont des percussionnistes jouant du marteau-piqueur. C'est vif et surréaliste en diable. Et c'est aussi diablement exaltant !
[ Pierre Cecile ]
The Watchful Ear
Tonight I have been listening to a new CD on the Con-V label by the French-born, Madrid-based American musician Wade Matthews. Early Summer is a solo disc, not Matthews' first, but the first that I have had chance to hear. Following my recent comments about the ways in which field recordings can be used in interesting, or often very dull ways, Matthews has a slightly unusual take on how to use them. This CD is made using two laptops simultaneously, their output sent to speakers and then recorded on microphones placed in front of them. Matthews plays field recordings on one of the machines, and manipulates digital synthesis programs on the other. The pieces here were recorded in a "live" improvised situation without any significant editing or any overdubbing later. This is how Matthews works live, and so the music on Early Summer essentially captures this same process, so giving the music here a certain immediacy.
The field recordings that are triggered across the ten shortish tracks here then are all quite different, but are rarely easily identifiable. They all seem to veer close to something easily recogniseable but never quite that easy to put your finger on it. Things scrape, gurgle, chirp and groan, sometimes with the field recordings coming and going, several sometimes appearing in one track, but only once does a human voice appear. Alongside these field recordings sit the digital scribbles, clicks and fizzes created by Matthews on the second machine. It is interesting that I choose to write 'alongside' there given how the two laptops are set up, but actually the sounds do feel like they are being made parallel to each other, with Matthews' sculpting sounds to sit alongside the field recordings as he might if he was playing alongside another musician. Rarely for someone working with field recordings, Wade Matthews strikes me as a musician that is most successfully creative when improvising, often with others (see my review of his recent contribution to the Erosions disc here) or in the case of this release, improvising along with field recordings. Mostly the digital synths work really well and Matthews is clearly adept enough in their use to be able to sculpt sounds quickly and accurately enough so that they offset the field recordings nicely. Here and there he has the tendency towards looping things a bit, such as in the second track here – the wonderfully titled Bagging, creaking, driving, dipping, laughing, chirping stop where a constantly folding and revolving semi-mechanical sound that reminds me (sorry if you are not British and/or under thirty-five) of Windy Miller's windmill churns its way right through the piece. This track though, as with all of them, is brief enough to not overdo the loops, which would probably put me off the album very quickly given half a chance.
There is a nice physicality to the music, as if we can really hear Matthews twisting and moulding the sounds into shapes to fit alongside his field recordings. This sensation of immediacy is as apparent on the third track; Mouna finds a wall at Al Jeser. Why? as anywhere. On this piece a continually repeated line spoken in a foreign tongue is pitched against a similarly reoccurring air raid siren, over which a frantic scribble of digital slithers is drawn. I suspect that the voice and the siren alone would not interest me, as neither would the artificial sounds that accompany them, but together here, as one responds to the other in an urgently conversational way they work well, and keep me interested throughout the album.
A good one then, wrapped up in a very nice, understated package, a fully printed inner sleeve tucked neatly into an inconspicuous brown card pocket. Available here.
[ Richard Pinell ]
The Sound Projector
From Madrid, we got a copy of Early Summer (CON-V CNVCD 002) by the contemporary French-American composer Wade Matthews, on which he plays back a number of local field recordings made in that part of the world, processing and relaying them through his twin-laptop set-up over loudspeakers; I think what we hear is the document of a live performance of him doing this, hence the subtitle “improvised sound collages”. Among his concerns is an interesting in creating collisions, such as inserting small local sounds inside non-matching aural environments. He intends this as an aesthetic version of what everyone nowadays experiences when they play music through their earphones on a bus, unwittingly or otherwise combining string quartet music with the sounds of a bus motor and chatty passengers. He also wants to “play beyond or against memory”, by which he means he wants to explore and discover new combinations and play them back, whether or not they’re guaranteed to work. It’s all part of working against what you’re familiar with, which is good advice for any artist; but also shows Matthews’ commitment to spontaneity, excitement, genuine experimentation, risk-taking. All the above ambitions do show up in the work, but a brief skim has convinced me you need to be playing close attention to catch the multiple timbral inflections in this subtle and precise work. Very good.
[ Ed Pinset ]
Field recordings and percussive synthetic noise serve as the foundation for artist Wade Matthews' latest release. Early Summer is a collection of surprisingly short and diverse manipulations and improvised compositions by Matthews, released by Spanish non-profit label CONV. Matthews recorded the bulk of the project while working in Spain in June and July 2009, where he also works with collective art groups Alientos and Intermedia 28, among other projects.
The collection begins with an ominous drone, and as the natural sounds enter they open the themes that run throughout each piece. One of the thought-provoking aspects from the outset is the constant interplay between nature and mechanization, forming multiple dichotomies that develop throughout the release.
These dichotomies form a type of communication, where noises such as croaks and creaking wood are offset by synthetic backbeats and blips, sirens with barking dogs, wind with shipping horns. The synthetic sounds themselves are generally percussive, rather than sweeping, but their dense voicing fits perfectly with the field recordings. Sounds often enter for extremely short intervals, but the manner in which Matthews blends them with synthetic counterparts often creates similar patterns or rhythms throughout the various tracks.
Perception is forceful and intricate. Matthews investigates the illusions, sequences, and order of the world we sense in a highly intellectual manner; each listen will provide an opportunity to reflect on the manner in which we make connections in the world. From a distance, Matthews' pieces provide a rather coherent vision of the world at work, invoking the busy processes of nature and the tense beauty of their relationship with mechanization. Carefully scrutinized, Matthews' pieces suggest a type of surreality that is surprisingly at home beside some of the most common sounds we hear.
One of Matthews' points in creating this collection was to improvise sounds that might not logically follow one another, and at times the release can seem fragmented or underdeveloped. In this regard, the length of the individual pieces often suggests a glimpse at certain sonic relationships, rather than resolution. However, this is not detrimental to the release, and whatever difficulties are provided by the context and approach of the project also serve as a template for their resolution.
This project only scratches the surface of Matthews' improvisational career, and it should be noted that his website features articles that should help to further explain his musical vision, which may be helpful to enjoying the concepts present in his recordings. I believe that that will help the listener to appreciate the comprehensive manner in which Matthews views sound and performance. I feel that my own approach to these recordings remain incomplete, insofar as the manner in which I perceive the world will constantly inform each subsequent listen to these performances. In that regard, these recordings suggest a template as much as a completed performance.
[ Nicholas Zettel ]
I happened across Wade Matthews in an IHM thread about laptop improvisation a couple of years ago and finally took the plunge on ordering a couple of his titles – first his duet CD with percussionist Ingar Zach titled "Morke-Lys", and later his 'live in the studio' set titled "Early Summer", which was released this spring on Madrid's Con-V imprint. I had been enjoying the former title quite a bit, but I never quite know how to approach music which delves deeply into synthesis (Matthews improvises using a two-laptop setup, with one triggering a software synthesis system and the other manipulating field recordings). Perhaps because it's not my background, I find musics that deal with synthesis to an extreme degree sort of alienating – it could be all in my imagination but I always think there's some theoretical angle to it that I'm missing out on which limits my understanding of what's going on. In any case, I assumed that he primarily dealt with the synthesis side of his approach on "Morke-Lys" while percussionist Zach supplied many of the other textures, but comparing the two recordings I notice that Matthews seems to utilize a lot of rustling, rattling, ringing tones in his field recordings on "Early Summer" which I may have falsely attributed to his collaborator on the previous recording.
Throughout "Early Summer", which was improvised live and unedited in Matthews' studio and recorded directly to disk with two microphones placed in front of the monitors of his stereo setup, sounds of obviously synthetic origin are balanced out with resonant field recordings from often indeterminate sources. While sometimes the two approaches are easily parsed by the ear, often Matthews will conflate the two; for example, you might encounter stuttering sounds that might be the result of granular synthesis or of two balloons being rubbed together. The contrasting textures and spatial resonances of the different sounds are used to gripping effect as well; I noticed while listening, and this was confirmed in Matthews' informative liner notes, that there are a lot of intentional juxtapositions of spatial effects used, with extremely close-sounding events placed among others sounding like they were recorded in large, resonant spaces. The sixth track, a combination of ringing gong-like sounds with rattling close-recorded clicks and footsteps in gravel along with distant dogs barking, is a wonderful little piece which illustrates the different types of stratified sounds Matthews works with and the tension he excels at between tonal and non-harmonic sounds, sharp and lush textures, and different spatial qualities ranging from sounding like the sounds were born in the speakers themselves to distant resonance. Several times during the process of listening to "Early Summer" I found myself confronted with sounds that were just on the cusp of recognizability, with the sounds manipulated and abstracted just enough to make me think I knew what they were sourced from but found that I couldn't quite put my finger on it… An interesting way to play with the memory and perceptions of the listener if it was intentional… Beyond just throwing a bunch of field recordings at the listener and leaving it at that, it seems like there is a constant dialogue between what is recognizable and what is unrecognizable in these sounds, with both "sonic documents of a space" and fully abstracted textures present, but neither predominating, and both weaving in and out of Matthews' lacy webs of synthesis. Certainly glad I ordered this one, it's the best thing I've heard in months, and was worth the six weeks it took to get here from Madrid…
[ orangettecoleman ]
And here I was anticipating a soundtrack to the great Ozu film....but no, Matthews instead fashions 10 brief pieces by virtue of playing two laptops simultaneously, one laden with field recordings, the other for "synthesis". This improvisational approach lends a certain liveliness to the outcomes sometimes missing in "standard" usage of such recordings and, when it works, it works rather well. The first track is a good example of that, low hums and hisses leading to a spatially removed forest of clatter, frog croaks, vaguely watery clanks, etc. The first three or four cuts define the territory and have a nice variety; they may not challenge very much but offer an enjoyable experience. On the fifth track, "Se habla..pero no esta peritido hablar", some loop-y, synth like sounds (and sirens) intervene, pushing matters to too clear an area for my taste, though perhaps that was Matthews' point, to re-immerse the listener in the real, implicitly political world. Whatever the intention, it throws things a bit off-kilter for me, and the subsequent material, while solid enough, loses some of the glisten 'n' crackle I heard earlier on. Matthews made the conscious decision to present ten tracks, roughly four minutes each, but I think I'd rather have heard a full-length piece, listening to him navigate a larger structure. Maybe next time. As is, "Early Summer" is largely enjoyable and worth hearing, I just get the impression there's untapped resources somewhere.
[ Brian Olewnick ]
Quelques mois avant la sortie du duo Doneda et Rombolá (chroniqué ici), Con-v publiait déjà le deuxième album électronique et solo de Wade Matthews. Comme à son habitude, il nous livre ici de courtes pièces électroacoustiques et improvisées, aussi virtuoses que variées.
Ce qui frappe d'emblée durant ces dix pièces, c'est la diversité et la variété. Diversité des matériaux d'abord, car Matthews exploite de nombreuses sources allant des animaux aux marteaux-piqueurs en passant par des sirènes (pour ce qui est des field-recordings), et il génère parallèlement de nombreux sons numériques à partir de son laptop, synthétisant, modulant, agençant et superposant le tout grâce à un second ordinateur. Quant à la variété, je pense surtout à la multiplicité des environnements sonores qui vont de l'atmosphère saturée et harsh-noise à l'ambiance froide et minimale en passant parfois par l'univers indus. Néanmoins, ce tout est savamment agencé dans la mesure où nous ne savons jamais si c'est hétéromorphisme des sources sonores et des outils de manipulation qui aboutit à la variété des univers ou si ce sont les paysages qui nécessitent ces mises en œuvres hétéroclites.
Après, même si c'est parfois agréable de se laisser promener d'un univers à un autre, il ressort quand même de cette expérience onirique une impression d'évanescence et d'inachèvement. L'exploration de chaque paysage gagnerait en puissance, en intensité et en présence si elle était plus profonde et systématique, on aurait certainement moins l'impression de se balader dans une fête foraine électroacoustique. Au lieu de stimuler mon imagination comme Wade Matthews le souhaitait en jouant ces pièces, la durée réduite des pièces et donc le manque d'approfondissement de chaque idée me laissent plutôt un certain goût amer d'inachèvement.
Ceci-dit, malgré l'aspect collage surréaliste et zapping, il y a tout de même une certaine homogénéité dans le son comme dans l'ambiance qui assure la cohésion de l'ensemble, sans parler de l'aspect formellement musical (mélodie, rythme) souvent sous-jacent. L'ensemble de ces matériaux et de ces pièces en général est si savamment équilibré et agencé qu'il me paraît extrêmement difficile de s'ennuyer. Wade Matthews nous offre une architecture sonique virtuose et très riche (ce qui, hélas, ne l'empêche pas de manquer parfois de consistance) répartie en dix improvisations très marquées par la diversité et la multiplicité.
[ H.Julien ]
Following releases in MP3 size and CDR format, Con-V now moves into releasing CDs, no doubt thanks to the possibility of doing small editions in far east countries. Wade Matthews is a person to play two laptops, but who has strong ties to the world of improvisation to, for instance with releases on Another Timbre and Creative Sources. Two laptops doing two different things. On one he plays field recordings which he recorded in San Francisco, La Mancha and Madrid. In the left corner we find a laptop with processing possibilities, such as triggering, filtering etc. Both laptops are connected to a pair of speakers and the sound is picked up through microphones. I have no idea why not straight to a recorder. I have no idea what kind of synthesis Matthews uses, but no doubt its something along the lines of max/msp or audio mulch. Instead working on a long stretch, Matthews keeps his pieces short and to the point, say between three and five minutes. Its his interest to have these sounds, the field recordings and the processed sounds, play together, very much like listening to your walkman on the train: you hear the music and the train. Matthews looks for combinations of sounds that may not work and figure out some dialogue, rather than using combinations that he knows already. It delivers ten quite interesting pieces of music, in which is not not always, or perhaps hardly, to recognize the original field recording, unless of course some electric charges have been recorded. But then sometimes a speaker from a train station pops up, birds or rain sounds. The processed parts work actually quite well with these field recordings - things melt and blend together in quite a nice way. And because every track is quite short, Matthews had to think about the character of each piece, trying not to make it too similar but also not too different. Here too, he has succeeded pretty well, I think. Its almost like a pop album in some way. But of course never quite, real, pop music, but in its compositional approach it certainly is. Very nice album throughout.
[ Frans de Waard ]
Early Summer [43:49] is another fine release by conv consisting of ten tracks with very clear comprehensive sleeve notes.
A while back I reviewed Enantio Droma, an Aural Terrains release, with Wade Matthews playing as one member of an improvising trio – the musicianship was impressive throughout, so I was eager to listen to this solo offering.
Unpacking the sleeve notes, I noticed that one of the overall aims was to present non-integrated spaces simultaneously. An example of this phenomenon (unless it's an activity) from real life would be when you listen to music recorded in a reverberant concert hall on a personal media device whilst sitting in a bus, where two different spatial sound worlds can exist in the listener's environment at the same time, that of the hall and that of the bus. I wonder though – in the case of the mp3 player/bus situation, you are 'really' immersed and embedded in the bus environment, of which sound is one element in a tightly bound experiential complex, with the environment equally embedded within you. At one level your life depends on the real environment. The mp3 environment is a representation, added to which you can take it or leave it. Furthermore, listening to two or more representations of different spaces or environments in a specific listening environment (headphones or stereo system) conflates the representations more than their differences differentiate them. We might now have one starting point for judging the success of the music, most of which, by the way, I thought was excellent,in case you think I'm about to rip into the album unfairly.
Second consideration – this needs to be listened to as a live album without an audience, a showcase of what to expect in an actual concert; at the same time a demonstration of technique and a document of one possible outcome using the material to hand.
In terms of juxtaposing incongruous spaces I've heard some good phonographic work recently which does similar things – field recordings, gathered as they are from a range of environments, obviously lend themselves well to this technique. The reason I mention this here is that, in my experience, spatial juxtaposition is (or was until recently) something of an unspoken taboo in some academic acousmatic circles, where the focus seemed to be on creating a convincing or 'legitimate' spatial universe. My problem here is that is all sorts of other illegitimate tactics seem to be acceptable: the wrong envelope on a descending aircraft, a back to front doppler effect, so why single out space as the field that demands naturalistic representation? But perhaps it's more a matter of having clear intentions in all departments. So I welcome and appreciate Wade's explanations and interests here.
On this album, what the the juxtaposition of non-integrated sound spaces did for me was to dissociate the less identifiable sounds in the mix from one particular interpretation, thereby encouraging more associations, and therefore increasing the connotative powers of the sounds.
Running through the tracks you'll be struck by the variety of sounds and by the techniques used to combine them. Another useful way of investigating the music might be to ask whether that variety is a strength or a weakness of the album. Most of the tracks are very linear, the sounds are well 'presented' in that they come and go in an orderly fashion. Indeed I'd have expected this limitation, if it is a limitation, given the twin computer live mixing method. Several of the pieces, track 1 and track 7 in particular, reminded me of 'old school' musique concrète, with their broad brush strokes and bold presentations of recorded material. These pieces also had some mystery about them.
The field recordings in general merit some attention. By track 3 the cleanliness of the recordings has become very striking. It would be revealing to find out why Matthews has leaned towards this foley-clean aesthetic in which noise and gristle seem to be eliminated – this is one of the more interesting discussions in music using field recordings, particularly with the current prestige around realistic and hyper-realistic representations, not to mention issues around the craft of processing.
But for me the importance of this album lies in how successfully field recordings and electronics are combined. Some of the electronics were too derivative for my taste, meaning that they carried too much baggage: an edgy electronic loop on track 2 which I'd say sounded like IDM (intelligent dance music) if I could get my head round 'intelligent' and 'dance music' in the same phrase (no disrespect to dance music, but you don't go there to do much thinking do you?); a bleepy electronic loop at the beginning of track 5 which made me wonder where we were heading; the too obvious use of delay effects. At times like these I struggled to piece it all together. Then old skool wobbly intrusions, as if young Jimmy (or Grandad) had got a hold of the TR-303 for a good blast. The techno synth lines at the end of track 5 reminded me of Carl Craig and some of the excellent Detroit techno of the early '90s, except that this is 2011…
Despite all that, some of the crunchy, gristly sounds, hard to identify, but of the 'real' environment, were beautifully foregrounded throughout most of the album. The less intrusive electronic pedals and softer background material contrasted perfectly, no mean feat in a live mixing environment. I was drawn towards those passages where an investigation of the raw material of the sounds became a priority, where patterns of growth and evolution were prioritised over and above the linear unfolding of a bundle of sounds. My main criticism here is that many of the sounds, in particular the crunchy field recordings, given their richness, were not given enough time or space in which to unfold.
A difficulty that we all face, I believe, in listening to music which mixes field recordings and electronics, is that we have to change listening strategies 'on the fly'. The technique of playing similar sounds off one another is fine if we've been lulled into a listening strategy where we don't question the sound sources very much but if very obviously representational sounds make their appearance in a 'pure' electronic environment for example, they risk being taken as a dash of humour, irony or worse. Furthermore, although we are treated throughout the album to a wide range of musical moods and attitudes, which works overall, this agenda is sometimes overshadowed by the impression of putting too much variety into the mix which is a bit like letting a bull loose in a foley shop.
In conclusion then, the concept and its execution worked best when the sounds were given time to breathe. This album takes on the a difficult task of combining field recordings and electronics and makes a strong statement in doing so. My main question is why one would take on such disparate sound sources in the limited environment of a live mix. Usually a conceptual solution comes to the rescue, but it needs to be strong and resilient at the same time. The danger is that you end up throwing together a bunch of 'cool sounds' though here Matthews is far too musical and far too clever to fall too deeply into that trap – this is work of a very high standard despite me picking away at it. Would I want to hear this music in live performance? Yes I would, even though I've never been one to rush out to a laptop performance.
Finally, with the exception of one or two of the electronic sounds sounding somewhat 'tired' there's a wonderful freshness throughout the album. It's also of relevance (to me) that most of the music is unable to be appropriated by the bad guys, which adds value.
Matthews suggests that we might listen to his pieces as 'sonic koans', which isn't a bad suggestion, though I felt less inclined to yield to the intuitive, the contemplative or to seek out and discover insights, the province the koan, than to sit back enjoy an expert display of the art of rhetoric – in essence much more Cicero than Bodhidharma.
Finally, I thought I'd squeeze in my regular rant with something I don't understand. There's a photograph of the artist on the sleeve. He's accompanied by two Apple laptops, logos loud and clear. Lots of electronic/digital/new media artists like to be photographed with Apple. It's a cherished brand. This worries me greatly
I saw a video clip recently of two artists onstage brandishing two iPhones each, moving them around to take advantage of tilt sensors which seemed to determine which sounds were made, how they were mixed, maybe even processed. The devices had been programmed using very fancy customised software. Was I watching a performance or an advertisement? The fact that one of the artists used to be artistic 'ambassador' for Apple France answers many of my questions about the push on Apple products. But 'ambassador'? Is Apple a nation state? For greater clarity always follow the money. Once at a symposium in a UK University all the home crowd were glued to their Apple laptops, only breaking concentration very occasionally, to do one of two things – talk in Klingon about various coding options for very obscure purposes, or attend to the perfomances and papers being delivered, which I thought was very charitable given the importance of the work they must have been doing. I wondered for a long time after that about the name of the hosting institution, 'Culture Lab'.
Continuing with intersections of ideology, socio-politics and art brought together in the humble commodity, there are three sayings, verging on slogans, which again cause me to worry greatly:-
I love my iPhone (or other digital device of your choosing) – commodity with dodgy mode of production as human substitute – sad.
I can't live without my iPhone – commodity with dodgy mode of production as life support mechanism – sad and pathetic.
I'd die for my iPhone – commodity with dodgy mode of production as faith – sad, pathetic and highly dangerous.
And really commodities like these, over-fetishised and taken too seriously, come to function as a kind of colostomy bag – essential for the normal functioning of the user perhaps, somewhat unpleasant socially for the rest of us. A mullet for the early 21st century.
Of course I'm not suggesting that Wade Matthews is up to anything, but I have noticed that musical artists in particular love to be associated with the Apple brand as if it confers something of its smug designer aura to the possessor, much like the caressed stratocaster of old (didn't a bloke once marry his strat?). All this going on despite the violence and coercion that surely goes into the production of many Apple products. I mean, have your gadgets, but keep your head down. I go along with Sartre who said that a scientist is only an intellectual if he signs the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. You can join the dots yourself on that one.
Not that I would expect anyone to boycott a certain product just because somebody had been exploited in the making of it – otherwise we'd be naked, starving or, worse, without our beloved mobiles. Yet when, the very day after we all discover that Apple's Chinese production factories are in fact sweatshops, bourgeois 'cultural' doxosophers like Stephen Fry make a public fuss of queuing up and slavering ove the yummy new iPad, my heart sinks.
Who would have believed you could find so much angst wrapped up in a tiny little commodity?
Revisiting 'Early Summer'
Shortly after publishing a review of Wade Matthews Early Summer on this blog, I was delighted to receive an email from Wade in which he set out a comprehensive explanation of his methods, his conceptual approach and his improvisational aesthetic. As he took the time to clarify many of the points I raised, and to set me right on a few of them, it's only fair, out of respect for the artist, that I take some time to share some of our discussion. This type of dialogue, which unfolds through detailed correspondence, is, to my mind, the lifeblood of discourse around new music, the only problem being, if it is a problem, that none of it can be appropriated by the privileged institutions who officially manage such discourse.
The one thing to be kept in mind throughout an appreciation of this album is that it's a live improvisation, albeit without an audience. This is challenging and I know it from experience. Some might even ask if it's worth doing. Derek Bailey, for example, insisted on the superiority of live performance over the recording. I always wondered whether it might not be better to compose the work out of the best takes, given that there was no external pressure to make the album on the fly. But then you don't really have an improvisation as such. In Matthew's case, the emphasis is firmly on playing the instruments, the laptops, the software and the two midi expression pedals (the left foot controls the volume of the synthesized sounds, the right food controls the overall volume of the field recordings) After all the preparation, pre-production and dummy runs, the technical realisation is still daunting, the creation of the instrument in its combination of hard- and software, and finally the act of playing the instrument. In the artist's own words, Early Summer is an ongoing process. This is crucial. First it shows that he means business, as opposed to churning out the results of a random experiment. Secondly, it shows humility and courage at the same time.
Getting down to the details, I wasn't in the least surprised to find that every aspect of the music was firmly under control, and that there was an answer for every one of my questions, for example the 'foley-clean aesthetic' that had intrigued me was a deliberate choice relating to specific representational concerns. Furthermore, I was given insights into the conceptual depth underlying some of the pieces, concepts nonetheless held subordinate to the improvising moment. Finally many carefully considered analogies were struck with historical and contemporary visual arts practice.
Some of my original assumptions about the sounds were wide of the mark: some of the loops weren't loops at all (though some were), delay effects hadn't been used and I was mistaken in my identification of some of the sounds as electronic, though after you've processed a recorded sound, who's to tell? But what's important here, and what Matthews stresses throughout, is that we're listening to a musical language under development, played on musical instruments, and that it takes hard work, time and patience to find your own voice. If I may quote from our correspondence:-
'For any musician, but especially for (free) improvisers, developing one's language on an instrument somehow has to combine what the instrument is capable of and how the musician can use that to get closer to him or herself. I believe Miles Davis said "sometimes you have to play a long time before you sound like yourself." And I think this is especially true with extremely intractable instruments such as laptops. I use "intractable" to stress how much the laptop seems to want to sound like itself, to impose its own sound. I also think that considering it an instrument, rather than simply a device for use in music making, might help to cast light on another reason why so many laptop players sound so similar: they simply haven't been playing long enough to know how to control their instrument.'
There's an ongoing big debate around the laptop-as-instrument. Up until now, I've never been convinced, by my own efforts or by anyone else's for that matter, but following some of the privileged insights I've had in examining Early Summer and learning about Wade Matthews totally committed individual approach, I'm much more open to the notion that a laptop can indeed serve as a musical instrument
Finally, let's all look forward to the next phase of Wade's explorations in the form of a projected release as one half of a duo alongside Alfredo Costa Monteiro. Soon, we hope.
[ James Wyness ]
CON-V EDITION | 2015