AMN Reviews: Beatriz Ferreyra – Canto+ (2021; Room40)

Well, Maestra Ferreyra has done it again! Canto+ is yet another essential listen in her ever-growing register of brilliant Acousmatic releases. This is her second on Room40 and, if you enjoyed her previous 2020 release (Echos+), this one should cause cartwheels, happy dances, and straight-out exuberant joy.  (I have a few other write-ups on some of her recent material here, here, and here.) 

Despite my totally uncalled-for hyperbole, I will temper it a bit with a caveat.  It’s a harder, more difficult to grok/grasp collection of works and generally requires more patience, more attention, and a deeper commitment to unlock its particular loot box.  To continue with the gaming metaphors…once you do, the level up will provide sonic triumphs orders of magnitude above what typically earns the “badge” of experimental music.

The previous release, Echos+ certainly earned that badge, and I reveled in its “unusualness” on numerous listens but, at least a first blush, Canto+ masked its virtues to me under a (mistaken) guise of an overabundance of mid-range distortion and overly repetitive sound events that I just didn’t feel were that interesting.  So, what caused the change of heart for me?  The answer quite simply is, I have no idea…but my best guess is, it was my baggage.  I’ve said this many times, but I think it’s appropriate for this record, ESPECIALLY for this record.  Acousmatic music in the abstract, i.e. (to quote Francis Dhomont),

“works that have no other subject than music itself and which unfold solely along sonic criteria: rhythmical motifs; variations in density, intensity, material, shape; studies on how to occupy space; etc.”

require a sort of mind wipe from the listener.  On my first few listens, I don’t think I approached the work with the clean slate that is required to experience the sounds first and correlate them to whatever atavistic notions I had in my head at the time, usually of the Lovecraftian variety.

Of course, me equating these sounds with Lovecraft, or anything else for that matter then makes it a thematic or figurative listen.  Without knowing Ferreyra’s intent to begin with, it’s hard to know where she’s coming from, and to be honest…I have a feeling she wouldn’t care how you listened to it if it resulted in a rewarding experience, and that it did! 

This is all a long way of me saying, when this album clicked for me…it clicked HARD!  The mid-range distortion was easily fixed by lowering the volume a bit and frankly, the album packed a massive punch even at this lower volume.  Once again, Ferreyra mined her vast library of raw sound events, slicing, dicing, and arranging them like a master puzzle maker into epic towers of organized sound.  As in much of her recent output, the human voice plays a huge role.

On the 12-minute opening piece, “Canto del loco” (Mad Man’s Song), it took me a few listens to realize what exactly I was hearing.  What sounded like a synthetically produced sound at first, as the piece went on, I was able to conclude that I was hearing the human voice.  This revelation induced a rather unwholesome chill as my mind immediately went into overdrive.  Ferreyra started with a single layer of one human sound and stretched, contorted, sped up and slowed it down to barely recognizable levels.  Several other voice segments were slowly mixed into and on top of this unholy, inhuman cesspool of sound until the whole space was one large darkly hued puddle of organic but unnatural pealing’s.  Clive Barkers Cenobites, angels to some…demons to others exploring the further regions of experience are out of the Lament Configuration and searching for you.  Look out for the one with the Pins!

On the other longer piece, “Etude aux sons Flegmatiques” (Essay with Phlegmatic sons), Ferreyra examines the decaying ring tones of various metal objects.  Some are infinitely elongated into an endless deathroll; others experience a much shorter lifespan.  All are stacked together in a single sound space but presented in a staggered cadence emulating a sonic relay race…as one sound dies, a new one continues to carry the flag over a finish line that never seems to come.  Lurking underneath, her ever-present human voice, this time in the guise of a female two-note chant, provides the cheers from the grandstanding spectators.

On “Pas de 3…ou plus”, human breath is utilized as an unsteady bridge over a rolling, tumultuous chasm of vocal chaos.  Ferreyra’s skill of treating each single sound piece as a quantum contributor to the overall composition is on full display.  A sigh here, a cough there, a sinister chuckle above, the tinkling of glass below…all these fit like a glove into the overarching form factor of the greater whole.  This piece is as dark and foreboding as the other two, aided by a growing sense of nervousness and a masterful manipulation of dynamics.  Brilliant stuff!

Two shorter pieces round out the album, one dedicated to Francois Bayle and the other to Bernard Bashet.  As expected, both are packed with details that are unmistakably Ferreyra.  Canto+ is another gift from a composer that has lived and worked through the entire timeline of the Acousmatic space.  This fact alone earns “must listen” credibility to her output and one can only hope she continues her rapidly innovative pace of exploratory sounds.  Highly recommended!

Mike Eisenberg