By Diego Garro
Hosted in Phipps Hall in the imposing Creative Arts Building at Huddersfield University, Concert 12 was the last of the series of ICMC 2011 lunchtime events and, regrettably, failed to excite as much as the previous, thoroughly outstanding concerts. The medium-size venue, not more than functional in its architectural feel, boasted a state-of-the-art audio/video projection system capable of delivering pristinely accurate sonic detail. On occasion the power conveyed by the multi-channel system was excessive, a painful reminder that unlimited possibilities in the manipulation of amplitudes, frequencies and spectral densities can hurt an audience of audiophiles as much as it can transfix it.
The acousmatic works by Manuella Blackburn and Felipe Otondo were authentic sonic treats. Blackburn’s Karita Oto, inspired by the sonic and musical iconography of Tokyo, indulged unashamedly in phonographic tourism while crafting a joyful work of immaculate precision and compelling character. The superb quality of the microphone recordings, along with the attention given to their spatial presence, gave the myriad of dense streams an irresistibly charming, almost tactile feel: it was wood, skins and metal of a Japan suspended in time and space, tingling playfully, echoing who knows what ancient myths, roaring with all their might.
Otondo’s Ciguri exploits yet another cliché of the acousmatic genre (bell sounds). What initially appeared not much more than an étude on inharmonic spectra became a beautifully musical extravaganza of metallic resonances and polyrhythmically criss-crossing sequences, building a surprisingly lush sonic texture out of relatively simple timbres.
Blackburn’s and Otondo’s works (as well as David Berezan’s or Natasha Barrett’s, just to mention a few of those presented in this year’s conference) are a revealing testimony to the present position of the acousmatic-electroacoustic culture, its innovative propulsion perhaps ebbing away as the decades roll on, but still expressing musical gems in what we may regard as new ‘classics’ of the genre.
The audio-visual features in this concert were frankly disappointing, especially in view of the lofty standards set not only by the aforementioned acousmatic works but, more importantly, by the generally very high quality of all works presented throughout ICMC 2011, including much better accomplished audiovisual compositions and performances programmed during the other lunchtime concerts, evening shows and day-long listening marathons.
Mark Pilkington’s Cameradown utilised a technically effective, thoroughly detailed, and often extremely frantic audio and video montage. But these commendable qualities failed to disguise a sonically crude language and a visual design deprived of the morphological richness one would expect in a modern, technologically aided presentation.
Todor Todoroff and Laura Guerra’s Beyond the Divide was a work originally created as an intermedia presentation of electroacoustic sounds + dance, and one wonders whether it should have remained so. The version presented here (sounds + video track) featured high-resolution, strongly contrasted imagery that contemplatively explored some plastic, textural qualities of the actresses’ bodies and gestural motions, but quickly entangled itself into an over-conceptualised montage. The sonic and musical qualities of the soundtrack are side-lined, as the viewer’s attention is captured by the cold physicality of the women on the screen, their roles and their stories, whose meanings are all impossible to make sense of.
The version of Maurice Wright’s Darwiniana presented at the ICMC is a reduction for electroacoustic sounds and video track of a work originally written for ensemble, tape and visuals. Without the live musicians performing the score, the work loses its most engaging dramatic element, exposing the unrefined nature of its sounds and imagery, a fragmentary construction and an unmistakably passé character of both sonic and visual design.
Edgar Barroso’s Binary Opposition, the audiovisual work that closed the programme, showed a good degree of sonic cohesion albeit articulated through countless instances of broadband noises continuously fighting each other for spectral space within the mix. The video track, with its focus on saturated colours, provided a somewhat convincing counterpart for the unfocussed materials in the soundtrack, a sort of audio-visual spectral dissonance. The great variety of visual archetypes failed to assemble into a cohesive whole and the piece generally lacked as much definition in the audio as it lacked purpose in the video.
Diego Garro is a composer of electroacoustic music and video. He holds a lectureship at Keele University (UK) where he teaches Composition, Music Technology and Video Art.