When Pierre Schaeffer asserted that musique concrète would provoke musicians to discard old habits vis-à-vis sound and return to actual experience, he helped point the way toward a paradoxical sound art where the concrete becomes abstract and seemingly simple sounds instead reveal themselves to be complex objects. Although very different from each other, two recordings, one electronic and one acoustic, meet on the common ground of Schaeffer’s paradox.
The concrete element in Phantoms, the album by Italian sound artist Sonologyst, is the pre-recorded material that serves as the foundation for Sonologyst’s explorations of sound structure and timbre. The album’s evocative soundscapes are made up of apparently old and more recent recordings of voice, non-Western music, and other, less identifiable sources, which are looped and broken up into cyclical and/or textural objects seasoned with Sonologyst’s own electronic tones. Phantoms clearly is descended from classic musique concrete, but it is tweaked and shaped by contemporary technologies and sensibility.
By contrast Gristle, by the American double bassists Kyle Motl and Zach Rowden, is grounded in the concrete reality of the raw sounds issuing from acoustic instruments. Both Motl and Rowden have long demonstrated a facility for coaxing new and startling sounds from their instruments through the application of foreign objects and unconventional techniques; put together here, the effect is exponential rather than simply additive. Not surprisingly, Gristle documents a vortex of sound in an idiolect far removed from the double bass’s ordinary voice, as Motl and Rowden forcibly extract overtones from plucked and bowed tones, exposing them as the sometimes knotty complexes that they secretly are. Although purely acoustic, Gristle does what Schaeffer declared that musique concrète would do: nothing less than bring to awareness the appearance and development of sound forms and colors.