AMN Reviews: Beatriz Ferreyra and Natasha Barrett – Souvenirs Cachés / Innermost (2021; Persistence of Sound)

Since I’ve reviewed single releases by both of these composers recently, I was highly anticipating this split release that has just become available on Persistence of Sound.  Given my high regard for both, this was like a present just for me (yay!!!).  Thus, my excitement when I first heard about this project was quite high, and now that it’s here, I can say that the wait was well worth it!

Leaving my own personal biases aside, anything new by Ferreyra should reach “event” status by people following the Acousmatic space, and on this release, we get one long-form work, Souvenirs Cachés (2021) (Hidden Memories) at about 13 minutes, and a shorter work Murmureln (2003) at about 4 minutes.  Souvenirs Cachés has the composer mining her own back catalog of stored sounds and using those fragments as building blocks for this new creation.

It is also one of the strongest pieces I’ve heard from her.  It presents itself (to my ears) as a running narrative by flautist Hernan Gomez forging a path through an ever-morphing landscape.  The (sometimes barely recognizable) flute weaves a passage that we can latch ourselves onto, acting at times as a guide, or at other times, a life preserver.  This tether is welcome, because “Hic sunt dracones”.  Stay focused, look forward and whatever you do, don’t stray from the path.  Surrounding your stony byway is a vortex of chaos.  Lovecraftian wraiths and phantasms are everywhere…beckoning, enticing…pathetically calling, no…demanding whatever is left of your damaged soul.  Souvenirs Cachés is Ferreyra at her battery-acid best and as the piece ends, with blowing winds and bleating cries…it’s up to you whether you escaped, sanity intact or capitulated to that unholy cacophony.

So, what do you do for an encore after that?  Well, you add a little light-hearted humor, that’s what.  Her second, shorter piece, Murmureln does just that.  Billed as a danceable electroacoustic piece, Murmureln stitches hundreds of mono-syllabic bursts along with the occasional longer wordless vocal, none being longer than a few seconds, into an instantly recognizable Tango rhythm.  Interspersed within are tiny samples of “real” Tango by famous Argentine composers including Astor Piazzolla.  Ferreyra has worked in this style before, achieving sort of an information overload effect for short periods of time.  See her previous release on Persistence of Sound, Huellas Entreveradas in the short piece Deux dents dehors which also had that frenetic jump-cut feel.  Overall, even the most attentive, dedicated listener will have a difficult time processing one sound to the next since it’s happening so fast.  After several listens, I finally decided to approach it as one large macro soundscape, which very well may be the intent anyway.  Either way, it’s a fascinating 4 minutes.

Innermost (2019) is Natasha Barrett’s contribution, clocking in at almost 19 minutes.  Per the composer:  “The materials for Innermost stem from two major Norwegian outdoor public events, absent of protest, political rally or violence, and amassing the free expression of individuals. Innermost is about inner individuality finding outward expression and commonality. Our inner state is often reflected in our posture and the way we move – or our gait. Innermost reveals, plays with, and develops this expression in sound. Yet a darker tone underlies the work: the materials are created by applying the latest processing techniques for image and sound recognition, already in use for mass population surveillance and tracking.”

The piece was made in collaboration with digital 3D video artist Marc Downie to be experienced in 3D ambisonics, but for this release, it was mixed down for stereo listening.  I’ve heard quite a few binaural recordings by Barrett recently so I found myself pining to hear Innermost in that format, but honestly, this stereo version sounds stunning, especially at louder volumes.  I guess I’ve just become spoiled lately since many of her recent releases have become available in the binaural format.

The piece itself, like many of Barrett’s works, was and still continues to be an uphill climb for me.  I have no doubt that once it clicks, it will click hard so I’m confident this journey will have an eventual “aha moment” (They always do!)…but I’m just not there yet.  That being said, things are starting to fall into place for me as it seems I’m getting used to the sheer density of sound events that are taking place.  I love the way the crowd ambiance insinuates itself into the piece, and the way it’s “played”, sometimes panning in and out quickly to establish different proximities.  Should any of us be surprised that the surveillance technology in use is able to isolate individual voices as if they were next to you?  (Are we talking “inner state” or “deep state” here?)

The second half of the piece has Barrett exploring what she calls “spatial counterpoint”.  At this point, the crowd ambiance disappears and is replaced by some complex and layered drone structures.  The “counterpoint” aspect is described “where many layers of minimal pitched sounds linger, intersect and interact.”  Active listening reveals a latticework of sonic colors that morph and expand with every play.  This patchwork eventually gives way to a reprise of the public event, only this time there seems to be more synthetic processing.  Fractured carnival-like music and wisps of frolicsome children appear and disappear like distant memories fighting to stay alive as age sets in, ending in one last joyful cry.

Innermost is a work that I’m sure I’ll be revisiting many times, with a different experience each time.  Because of the highly detailed nature of Natasha Barrett’s music, the “re-play” value is very high…and for me, that’s the most valuable quality Acousmatic music can have.

This release comes highly recommended.  It’s another great document of two of the most forward-looking composers within the field.  Definitely not to be missed!

Mike Eisenberg

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