Archives for category: Sound art


Habitats for metal plants
(Linear Obsessional 2014)

Review by David Vélez


‘Habitats for metal plants’ is a release based the humorous existence of metallic plants in Great Britain.

From the liner notes

‘Plants growing in these environments have, by means of Darwinian natural selection coupled with sheer determination to survive, managed to incorporate various metals into their very DNA. The resulting species display a variety of features only made possible at the point where biology and metallurgy combine.’


‘Abandoned Magnesium Works, Hartlepool’

This piece presents a metallic quality reminiscent of previous Whitehead works. The clanking, rattling and droning sounds lead the listener to a somber path where scale and resonance acquire gigantic proportions. By minute 5′ the piece enters a new stance where the sense of of scale varies drastically. On minute 5′ a series of harsh and noisy textures emerge establishing a microscopic and detailed perception of things. By minute 7′ the large scaled metallic sound return. In addition the sounds of voices and construction machines join the composition creating a horizon where ‘reality’ and illusion blend.

Although the premise of the release is humorous the pieces present a serious and deep listening experience with the exception of piece number three, ‘Trainsition’, which by combining a mouth harp and recordings from a social gathering, achieves some sort of ‘funny’ sonority.

‘Derelict Ball Bearing Factory, Sheffield’

The second piece seems to be less about matter and more about electronics, here we can perceive sounds produced by static and distortion, By minute 2′ a tonal sonority emerges like an emotional aura that takes over and then fades away. By minute 3′ the pieces changes drastically as they enter sounds produced by human voices and what seems like human activity -dragging, throwing-. By minute 5′ we can listen to more ‘musical sounds’ and specifically a drone that sets the mood for the piece. Later we get to listen to something that sounds like a violin mixed with drones and, again, human voices. This model continues and develop until minute 10:30 where some deaf and repetitive sounds arise to just disappear in a similar way than the engine of a car strops running.


The combination of a mouth harp and voices in this piece has a funny thing to it that makes sense with the whole premise of the work.


As someone who writes reviews of sound art and experimental music I am often exposed to new releases all the time. Releases submitted by new labels, through new means of distribution and by new artists presenting new new approaches… I think that the listener often has the sensibility and time to only focus on a few works and artists, and still he will recognize certain elements and approaches that will interest him more than others within the same body of work or even within the same piece.

I have been following the work of Chris Whithead for some time and when you sum his releases, as a listener, you can clearly perceive a formal direction, you tell the kind of formal questions that he is making. But here in particular one can perceive new approaches and questions. Through many points I noticed a greater emphasis on the isolation of certain individual sounds. I recognized too a very rewarding interest in melodic and harmonic patterns and in more musical sonorities in general . I could also tell a more experimental approach to the medium showing a developing interest in noise and distortion.


Subjectively speaking ‘Habitats for metal plants’ stands out because a very fortunate ‘cinematic’ narrative sense that I found on it and that I highly welcome. The sonorities and structure make me feel in front of a movie and more specifically in front of an avant garde film that presents a series of very odd and bizarre actions and images randomly linked and using a highly encoded and hidden symbolism full of appeal and meaning.



[Chris Whitehead]

Chris Whitehead website
Linear obsession website


PARTIAL -Joseph Clayton Mills, Noé Cuellar-
(Another Timbre 2014)

Review by Patrick Farmer

Written during a stint at the 03 Gallery in Oxford, with David Stent and Neil Chapman, where we wrote our occupation. Note the occasion to write outside of ones spaces.

Against the partition.

  1. Straw hats.
  2. A sky blue cloche hat.
  3. A TV set.
  4. Numbered pegs against a wooden board.
  5. Instructions for a central heating device.
  6. A black and white photograph of a Bavarian family fancy dress.

On top the third shelf from the right.

  1. Various life-sized models of ball and socket joints.
  2. 2.      Springs taken from a 20th century hotel lift. Made in Prague.
  3. Several faces of Parisian pneumatic clocks.
  4. Bergman’s Persona on VHS.
  5. A garden fork.
  6. FBI finger print card codes.

LL . . . . . Noteable of an interest in Proust.

   . . . . . . An obsession he had toward owning of a photograph of the people he loved.

Pings an inside of a violin; in terms of my Marcelism.

Firstly, behind the bead curtains, and down (I assume) doubtless through a door left half open, a flight of stairs quacking like ducks; a milieu re-creating activity, grounded in steam and hum.

It didn’t ping straight away – of which I am grateful, I doubt I’d have been listening directly. Behind the bead curtains is an apt involuntary memory and I am excited as always to be able to speak of a confluence of choices underneath the recall.

Noted above, a stretch at the 03 Gallery (part of a former prison closed in 96). I had attempted to write a little about Proust and Wagner before I began to write a little of this here. Proust’s adoration of Wagner, it seems to me, was akin to statues rolling downhill. That’s all I got. There is no cause when listening, this operates a slight imbalance between review and reaction – operating under the condition that it occupy as large a surface area as is necessary.


The ping drove into me in the form of a Boston Terrier called Marcel. I doubt I would have recognised him had it not been for Cecil, another Boston Terrier I had the pleasure to encounter whilst touring around North America several years ago. Cecil lived in Nashville. Marcel strayed around Brussels. Cecil humped every item of luggage, no matter how large he’d find a way on, that was made available to his tremendous horn. Marcel bumped into my left leg whilst I was out walking on the expansive Koolmijnenkaai / in all the time stared into this, our first meeting, a houseboat came and went, perhaps some Egyptian bean geese, and the lights of a vending machine blew. Marcel then slowly took to his heels, which I followed without thinking.


I can’t quite remember where we ended up, he’s dead now. As is Cecil. Wherever we did go we went there several times. Each day I would wait for him to pass me on the Koolmijnenkaai, and taking leaf, I would trail happily in his slow wake, rarely looking up. He was left alone, and didn’t bother anything. It’s remarkable to think that such a small and aged dog could have walked the length of such an obstreperous city whilst avoiding harm. Though as I type this I find myself doubting its validity.


The marks made initially harmonise with the bell of a typewriter. I am hastily running to the end of the line regardless of footwear or of how much I have to say in relation to where my listening is.

Our speed dislocates and there are several distinctions walking on its chippy veneer. Tonalities of species wander in a negligible side effect of cross-pollination, seeds and bolts fallen from a postulate of height. Likewise, several cups of water fall unchecked onto an impermeable exterior – pilling up and filling up the visible specks out in the distance.


 I like to think of a partial hesitancy in the postproduction, lending a hand to a conception of playful clay making. An upper limit sound of I love speech emerges that primarily thinks of bodily function, a matter of the void that all coffee drinkers learn to recognise.


 I followed in Marcel’s wake for the remaining week of my visit. Bypassing all sorts of exotic birds, grand renditions of the former colonial jerk, ruin and debauchery, miles and planks and estates of cedar – at any rate, I behaved myself in this game of cops and robbers, a-cock-and-bull-story of countless reproaches.


In truth I had no say in the matter. His moves were so calm and assured, content to be subject to my object swathes of anthropomorphism. I could think of little else during my stay and struggled to put it all away months after the event that would keep repeating.


On my last day we sat together in the doorway of a deteriorating greengrocers – the ledge hanging over our heads like an old man roused begrudgingly from his bed – for a long time, he said, I have been incapable of laughter. Marcel turned round and nonchalantly yawned in my face. Our ears beringed with fuzz.


Another Timbre website


Music for earbuds

(3Leaves 2013)

Review by David Vélez

From Stephen Cornford’s website

‘A series of works composed entirely from acoustic recordings of the feedback between a walkman tape-head and a pair of earbud headphones.’


Is not really easy to recognize the sources of the recordings captured for ‘Music for earbuds’ with the exception of the piece ’03’ where the listener can hear the distorted sounds of a natural environment inhabited by birds, insects and other animals. This difficulty leads to an exercise where one can imagine the causality of the sonorities projected in the noisy feedback sounds. For example ’01’ resembles a group of bees; on ’02’ the high pitched sonorities evoke the harsh buzz produced by cicadas. On ’04’ I picture sounds produced by either electric or mechanical means. Something similar happens with ’05’.

Excluding ’03’ and ’05’ the release presents a very repetitive and minimalistic narrative structure that works very well with its harsh sonorities.


What I find more interesting about ‘Music for earbuds’ is the method and process behind it, the exploration and instrumentation of the notion of feedback which sparks a poetic and metaphoric horizon of lecture in regard of the perceptual listening process. 

We often figure out a model where the world is outside us and the perception through which we perceive this world is inside us, but this model becomes ambiguous and complex when we consider the potential feedback between input and output. Maybe the sounds that we listen don’t occur where we think they occur; our notion of the outside world is mediated by an interpretation that our brain does of ‘external’ inputs.


Heraclitus said ‘You could not step twice into the same river’ so with this in mind it can be inferred that a sound will never repeat itself.

The conditions on which we listen to a certain sound will never repeat themselves, and I am not only talking about the conditions of a constantly changing physical wold but I am also talking about the developing semantic monologue of our thoughts that inexorably feedbacks with the environmental sources of sound. I also think about the ever-fluctuating mood of the listener that draws a mirroring process with the external resonances.

The usually soothing and relaxing sound of a quiet creek can become sinister and dreadful approached from a dramatic or anxious perspective; in the same way a haunting scream acquire a complete different emotional meaning given the chance and context.

The subjective and contextual aspects in the beholder’s perspective are essential in the construction of a sound.

For instance when I listen to ’03’ I hear this natural environment inhabited by animals, but I hear it in a distorted way; the artificial and eerie textures point to a sense of mediation. This is not just a natural environment but a natural environment interpreted and mirrored.


I have no idea if there is a relation between all the things that I wrote on this review and what Cornford might had in mind when he composed ‘Music for earbuds’. I also don’t know how much of what I wrote would have been written if I didn’t learned about the process behind the work. Still this is a release that very likely echoes in its formality the beautiful poetry of its process.


[Stephen Cornford, photo courtesy of Luca Ghedini for Eventi]

Stephen Cornford website
3Leaves website


Kamchatka. JIM HAYNES
(Contour Editions 2012)

Review by Maria Papadomanolaki

Haynes’s work sits between the static and the turbulent. While giving you the impression of non-movement, it’s inner and micro perplexities embrace the ear and the mind with an intent. One that to me sounds like a call to repurpose it’s constituent parts and transpose them to the trivialities of the room I sit in, to make its aural space resound through the walls of mine. Kamchatka experiments with this in-between timespace that sets foot on the fields of the emotional, the psychological and the imagined; a compromise, or rather an attempt, to synthesize sonic traces in order to project, to tell a story and to involve us in the creation of it.

Like messengers that define the space across that moment of compromised listening, the two long form compositions, sustain themselves in time, drone-like as they are while freeing up possibilities for contemplation.


The sound of a Russian steppe forms the vessel of an experience, distilled from Hayne’s gestures and crafted waves. Shortwave inflicted fragments of sound take the shape of voices of men after their brief encounter with the repetitive squeeks and screeches of  “Lilith”, a (demonic) figure that hovers throughout the first piece, titled after her.

Haynes lets the materials he rusts escape his hands and assume their own unidentifiable soundworld. He imagines Kamchatka, a remote land covered in volcanoes, rocks and sea and shortwave radio is the best transporter to accommodate such a fabrication, like phantoms that traverse the latitudes and longitudes of a severely solitary landscape.

Rocks. Hills. Plains

The second piece alludes even more to such an unconventional travel through ghostly stretches of land. “Rocks. Hills. Plains” constantly moves me with an undercurrent turbulence that negates balance, like feet involuntarily sinking into thick masses of snow. A few minutes later I hear the ambiguous troglodyte hum of non-movement melting with the icy coating into shapeless streams of matter. The piece concludes and the transmission chain is abruptly left open: no meanings, no messages for me to construe.  But then again, as Tarkovsky once said, If you look for a meaning, you’ll miss everything that happens, so you can as well disregard whatever you just read and simply listen.


[Jim Haynes; photo courtesy of Decoder]

Jim Haynes website
Contour Editions website


Blank tape positive
(Contour Editions 2013)

Review by David Vélez


from the liner notes:

‘Blank Tape Positive focuses on the modification of magnetic tape and playback machines as a substantial material for sonic sources. This exploration has been ongoing for many years in Richard Garet’s studio practice by applying extended techniques to magnetic tape and extensively deconstructing the physical playback object, with methods that not only manipulate the natural conditions of the machine, but also its constrained mechanisms. These approaches tackle the playback device as material in itself by turning it inside out, by decontextualizing it, and by mutating the capabilities of its functionality. In due course the magnetic tape is modified, the machine is also modified; subsequently nothing plays properly or does what it was built or designed to do.’


There is something about the physical manipulation of matter that allows for an artist to imprint his emotions into something irreversible, tangible and personal.

There is something poetic about the appropriation and reinterpretation of obsolete objects and devices that helps an artist to materialize his research and instrumental processes into something where he can genuinely project himself.

Today many of the sounds and images that are presented to us establish in some way a material and perceptual bridge to the past, they evoke memories that are loaded with extict experiences and dissapeared things.

Obsolescence gives to things the possibility to be reutilized while exploring unwanted and unnecessarily elements product of the shortcomings of dated technology.

Obsolescence also means imminent disappearance and today there seems to be a great praise of working with rare things of which they aren’t many left and this paradoxically occurs in an actual formal quest for the novelty…

On the late 80’s and early 90’s there was an obsession with the future, an obsession with the XXI century, an obsession with computers and software and the possibilities they offered…

…and now that we are there, that we are in the future, we are interested on things that we can find on junkyards, garage sales, pawnshops or antique shops…

In sound art the contemporary times can present a nostalgic approach, an interest in dated processes and media that when brought back acquire a complete new meaning.

The future is now the archeology of our memories.


The thoughts presented in the previous chapter came to my mind while listening to ‘Blank tape positive’ and reading its liner notes.

‘Blank tape positive’ illustrates in its final result this media and material exploration of the obsolete. The textures, the volumes, the reverberations, the rhythmic patterns…they present a nostalgic character that gives to this work a strong aesthetic value.

Here process and result go hand-in-hand as a way to achieve formal success. Here the exploration of history and archeology of media and the subsequent personal appropriation pays off, offering to the listener an incredible experience full of signification and profound emotional content.

But of course, there is substance behind the surface; on ‘Blank tape positive’ Garet also does a great job when it comes to construct emotional structures and formally work with tension and expectations, keeping the listener attentive and immersed throughout the entire release.

‘Blank tape positive’ joins ‘L’avenir’ and ‘Silver’ as the works of Garet that have left the bigger impression on me in terms of my sensible experience.


[Richard Garet; photo courtesy of Mandragoras Space]

Richard Garet website
Contour Editions website


Big Wad Excisions. COPPICE
(Quakebasket Records 2013)

Review by Caity Kerr

Here are some lines from the promotional literature:-

…have now blasted open the gates for them to rip through the status quo of musical law, and help redefine the future of music.

Aiming for an ‘impression of transparency’

All throughout Big Wad Excisions, you can hear music coming into being.

I’d give that one out of three only because I’d like to hear more about the impression of transparency’ which could be an interesting musical project. The rest is unfathomable nonsense, at least that’s my opinion for what it’s worth – if you want people to take your music seriously, then write something serious and meaningful about your music. The caveat is that the musicians possibly didn’t write this themselves. Make of that what you will, but statements like these really belong of the back cover of popular novels. On a brighter note, the music compensates for this unfortunate rhetorical display.

Coppice are a duo – their previous album Holes/Tract, music for pumps, bellows, customized boomboxes and electromagnetics, has been described as hard to pigeonhole and contemporary without playing to fashionable idioms. It would be interesting to consider whether Big Wad Excisions sustains the very high musical standards of the earlier album. The strengths, or strength of this duo has been the art of walking a very fine line between making the very best of severely restricted resources, as in the finest of contemporary instrumental free improvisation, and collapsing into monotony. They spend most of their time walking on the right side of this line, throwing in something of added value in their underlying conceptual approach to music.

So moving from an album like Holes/Tract to a new album, if Coppice don’t choose to stick to what they know best, it would seem as if they have two alternative paths. One would be into some of the aimless and timbrally impoverished music that we find in some (only some) free improvisational circles or sects. The other would be into the more ambient fuzzy world of F*****z and the like where the music sounds like the aural equivalent of masturbating in a bath of lubricating jelly. Big Wad Excisions avoids the first pitfall but at the risk of being harsh I sense that one piece seems to tinker with the machinery of the second. If you listen to the music you’ll see what I mean. They stray uncharacteristically into what I’d call the ‘ambient fuzz’ zone, though the earlier album had one piece which came over as less resourceful or successful than the others for more or less the same reason. Fortunately though for the most part we can listen to the same fine mix of austerity, attention to instrumental detail and (apparent) contrast and blending of concrète, instrumental and electronic sound, to name but some of the attributes that made Holes/Tract such an original offering.

Snuck Keel [5:00] is a tight timbral investigation, dominated by a fast iterative sound with some interesting polyrhythmic investigations in the simple layering of sounds. At times it could be a field recording of a generator, though the detail reveals the underlying human agency. With repeated listening this piece rewards and almost mesmerises the listener at times, though the exercise is simple – you enjoy listening out for changes within a seemingly regular periodic pattern.

Impulses for Elaborated Turbulence (Excised) [2:27] is a wonderful piece – interesting in its brief conceptual plan and execution. We hear static, hisses and electronic glitches. With pauses. Then the baton seems (though I might be wrong) to be handed over to the acoustic instrumentalist, the bellows and reed department, for some delightful puffing and springy sounds. A brilliant and original miniature in many ways.

Sop [16:12] is the one risky track in the album, which wanders into dubious territory. The dominance of the tonal material seems to jar with the austerity and tightness of the rest of their work. This kind of music gets dangerously close to the material which gets appropriated by those untouchable insurance corporations for an animated feel-good tv advertisement.

Hoist Spell [7:14]  has elements of the excellence of the duo’s core strengths mixed in with hints of the dubious peregrinations of the previous track, though to be fair the tonal layers are a little more functional and integrated within the overall piece.

Overall I’d recommend Coppice’s work to anyone interested in new and original music. Their work is often very exciting, occasionally unique and original. I’d say that for two people to realise the strengths and weaknesses of their resources and yet to play most often to their strengths is evidence of excellent musicality and listening skills – what more could you ask for?

[Joseph Kramer: left,  Noé Cuéllar: right.
Photograph: Nathan Keay, 2011 from Coppice’s website]

Coppice website
Quakebasket website


Before me


Review by David Vélez


I am reviewing this piece based on material sent by Richard Garet and the MOMA, and also based on documentation that I have collected over the past month. Unfortunately I couldn’t attend to the ‘A contemporary score’ exhibition but I feel entitled to write about this work that for some weeks have captured my attention.

As a reviewer and spectator I believe that I can choose not to take into consideration the motivation, ideas and concepts that the artist might have had behind the construction of a certain work; sometimes I prefer it this way in order to detach my experience from any external source other than the work itself and its formal presentation.

A powerful and successful piece of art should work without the need of an accompanying text. A work of art should be a catalyzer for personal experiences and interpretations operating as a fertile territory where metaphors and intimate individual lectures can grow.

When I enjoy a work of art in some way it becomes mine in the process.

The work

The best way for me to talk about this installation is to first dissect it into parts:

There is a transparent marble placed in a circular metal plate with a profile.

The plate is placed on a turntable that makes it rotate generating centrifuge force.

The marble spins around its axis because of the friction but remains in the same place constrained by its own rotation and the profile of the metallic plate.

The needle of the turntable is ‘reading’ the profile of the metallic plate, and the sound of  the spinning marble is taken by a microphone.

The two transducers (needle and mic) are connected to an amplifier and the subsequent speakers that finally project the sound. The projected sound of of the needle reading the metallic profiles of the plate and the marble spinning are calibrated so they don’t conceal the natural sound of the spinning marble.


Meaning and intensity.

The spinning marble is the formal and metaphorical core of the work spinning around while apparently immobile making for movement and stillness to occur simultaneously.

I feel empathy for the marble and its effortless condition while the friction and wearing out occurs. I feel a morbid pleasure to see the marble failing in its effort to advance.

The profile that constrains the marble is also keeping it from falling into the empty void. So many lectures can be inferred here.

This work points to the tragedy of this absurd display of effortless effort. Here a universe of meaning is revealed by this non-linear narrative construction of ideas and forms.


[‘Before me’ photo courtesy of the MOMA]

Zoom out: the reduced acoustics

Now we have these interconnected devices (the microphone, the needle, the turntable, the amplifier, the speakers) and the mediation occurring  by these electromechanical processes.

A mediation that zooms out from the  structural mechanical core of the work to its electronic periphery.

The sound. A sound that eventually detaches from its physical and creative and conceptual casualty.

We appropriate it. We make it ours when we take the sound and convert it into things and places shaped by our imagination.

On “Before me’ the hearing process seems to melt events and things into one simultaneous sound.

The marble, the needle, the mediation, the distortion, the signal loss. All of these elements produce this individual and beautiful sound, yet harsh and challenging.

A sound that contains all things and a sound that is also contained in all things.

A sound that is dooming like the effortless doomed marble.

A sound that is pleasant and joyful as our empathy with the marble’s tragedy.


In a universe under constant displacement, change and movement, I nevertheless remain in the same place through my entire life: I am always here.

Some visual aspects

Richard Garet picked mostly old sound equipment for this installation but this is a subject that for some reason I didn’t not focus much through my research. I just assume this wasn’t just a visual consideration but that sound-media decisions were also involved on this process.


‘Before me’ is a great example of how to deal with all the formal and conceptual aspects involved in sound art installations and how the effective correlation between them allows for meaningful pleasant personal lectures and experiences in the audience.


[Richard Garet; photo courtesy of Mandragoras Space]

* Upper photo courtesy of Feast of Music

Richard Garet website
MOMA piece website


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