Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Liner Notes for Matthew Shlomowitz and Peter Ablinger

I wrote an essay for the liner notes of a great new CD of contemporary classical compositions by Matthew Shlomowitz and Peter Ablinger (click here for more info). The music is really worth a listen - both composers reconstruct and play with samples in absorbing and complex ways - Shlomowitz by comparing, contrasting and paralleling material between a piano and a sampler, Ablinger by replicating vocal samples on a piano in various different ways. Have a listen and read extracts from my essay below:

Matthew Shlomowitz - '1. Free Sound' from Popular Contexts

Peter Ablinger - 'Hanna Schygulla' from Voices and Piano

When first listening to the works of Matthew Shlomowitz and Peter Ablinger, it's tempting to reach for a well-worn concept and say that they take music or sound and 'deconstruct' it - but this would be a mistake. It's common to hear of how works playfully pick things apart piece by piece and layer by layer, whether found objects or objects of tradition, in gestures interpreted as knowing, self-aware, ironic. The work of Shlomowitz and Ablinger is more interesting - it reconstructs music, not merely by getting back to basics or back to where we came from, but one note at a time. The interest lies not just in what they manage to achieve, but in the nature of the task itself and the scope of its foundations.

Shlomowitz and Ablinger seem less 'knowing' than open-mindedly learning as they generate their material - composing as if beginning from an almost pre-intellectual or even pre-human starting point. They approach the world of music and sound like an intelligent but newborn child, a blank slate whose complex and confusing surroundings must be parsed and understood moment upon moment. Or like a pet starling, picking up sonic objects like household noises and human speech from its environment, perfectly replicating them, and incorporating them into its song wholly or in fragments but with little apparent understanding of their everyday meaning... Or like a complex artificial intelligence, designed in a lab, algorithmically building a knowledge base by tracking the trajectories of its stimuli, analysing spectral data, and haltingly interacting with technicians...

Emma by Chuck Close, an artist whose work was a point of comparison in the notes

Performances of the work of Matthew Shlomowitz (b. 1975) are often met with well-intentioned laughter - it's the natural reaction to suddenly hearing recognisable or banal sounds in rapid combination within a concert setting. His work is playful and flippant in this way, but sooner or later it asks to be taken more seriously. As the frisson of meaning in the sound effects dies down, as the 'jokes' outstay their welcomes, it's the processes of form and syntax that take centre stage, the purity of the latter all the more surprising given the down-to-earth nature of the former...

Each of the Voices and Piano pieces can be thought of as a photograph of somebody's face overlaid with a system of lines and shapes that is uniquely generated according to particular architectural rules, suggesting a structure in the face not obvious beforehand. Discovering this process anew in each piece is what makes hearing them so beguiling. In some, such as 'Amanaulik' and 'Alberto Giacometti', the texture is wrapped very closely and tightly around the voice, almost masking it. So scrunched and fine-grained is it in the latter that they evoke the thin but turbulent bronze sculptures of the eponymous artist. In 'Jacques Brel' and 'Carmen Baliero', Ablinger constructs a halo of pitches at some distance from the pitch of the recording. The latter features staccato pitches high above the voice, which is talking about the rain in Buenos Aires, and it's as if the raindrops were falling from the clouds in straight lines and constructing Baliero's voice where they fell...

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