AMN Reviews: Sarah Hughes – accidents of matter or of space

Sarah Hughes: accidents of matter or of space [Suppedaneum Number One]

This new CD by composer/improviser Sarah Hughes is a documentary recording in a sense that goes beyond the usual manner in which a sound recording is a document of the events it captures. As hinted at in the title, accidents of matter or of space is an audio preservation of moments encapsulating the specifics of a physical space and divisible units of time.

Nowhere is the documentary aspect more to the forefront than in Criggion (after only), the CD’s opening track. Criggion (after only) is a solo improvisation for Hughes on zither, recorded at an abandoned and partly demolished radio station in Powys, Wales. A typically thoughtful performance, Hughes’s improvisation, with its subtle dynamics and well-spaced sound gestures, somehow communicates the melancholy of the slow encroachment of the natural world on the dilapidated ruin of the transmission facility. The sounds surrounding the zither have a suspenseful quality—one can imagine, and perhaps is in fact hearing, doors creaking back and forth as wind blows through empty rooms. This piece, consistent with much of Hughes’ work, is as much about the contingencies of place as it is about the sounds produced by the performer. It is a highly porous kind of work, one that opens itself up to the sounds—and indeed life—external to itself, in an ongoing exchange of aural currents.

In addition to the Criggion improvisation are three different versions of Hughes’ composition (can never exceed unity) for five players, performed by Rhodri Davies on harp, Neil Davidson on guitar, Jane Dickson on piano, Patrick Farmer on electronics, and Dimitra Lazaridou-Chatzigoga on zither. The score, which is included with the CD, is an elegantly spare piece based on time proportion in which each musician is given a duration in which to play, the durations being based on a succession of ratios of two to one. The three versions are themselves arranged roughly according to the same ratio, the first being 20 minutes in length, the second 10 minutes, and the third four minutes plus. Each take is distinctively its own, differing in terms of textures and dynamics as well as in length.